It’s not widely known that Lander once was once such a leading producer of apples that it earned the nickname of Wyoming’s “Apple City.”
The area’s relatively mild climate, rich soil and plentiful water made it a haven for orchards that used to cover hundreds of acres.It’s that heritage that is being recognized this weekend as the city’s Pioneer Museum hosts the first annual Apple City Festival on Saturday.
“It seemed like a real appropriate activity for us to explore as far as Lander’s history,” said Randy Wise, the museum’s director. “When you think Wyoming, you don’t think of fruit trees. But the Lander Valley has been very productive, particularly of apples, since the very earliest days of the community.”
Wise said early settlers in the valley, led by German pioneers Ed Young and Jacob Meyer, in the 1870s thought that apple trees might do well in the valley because it is sheltered from the wind that rakes much of the rest of Wyoming.
“Both (Young and Meyer) started out raising cattle, but then they both had an interest in fruit trees and they started experimenting,” he said. “The first batch were trees from the midwest and they didn’t make it. They found that Russian trees worked best here.”
Through grafting and cross-breeding, the two were able to develop a species of apples well suited to the area, Wise said.
“Just about every property of any size had an orchard,” he said. “Ed Young had 3,000 trees. There are still a couple of hundred trees left. We’ve got an old apple tree in our back yard and I suspect it was part of an orchard.”
Several small orchards continue to grow apples that are sold at Lander’s Farmer’s Market and some are even sold to a Jackson company, Farmstead Cider, for use in its hard cider.
Plums and pears have also been raised in the valley in the past, Wise said.
Activities scheduled for Saturday include the pressing of fresh apple cider, crafts for children, live music and a contest for the best apple pie.
“I’ve had a lot of interest in that,” Wise said. “But I’ve had even more people asking to be judges. I’ve got a long list of people who want to be a judge.”
Also planned for the day is an applesauce eating contest for children. Competitors will be given a cup of applesauce and a straw.
“Who ever can eat the cup of applesauce the fastest with a straw wins,” Wise said.
A petting zoo will also be on hand, he said.“It’s very much an agriculture-oriented event,” he said.
Farmstead Cider will also be at the festival to offer adults a sample of its cider.
For more information about the day, visit the Pioneer Museum’s Facebook page.