Campus News

History professor works on ‘Noah’s Ark’ for apples

Stephen Mihm, professor and head of the department of history in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, discussed his hobby of apple growing with Atlanta Magazine.

Mihm, along with fellow UGA faculty Ray Covington, work together to run the Heritage Apple Orchard, a special type of orchard that is working to reestablish disappearing apple varieties.

Mihm moved to south Oconee County in 2015 and started to read a copy of “Old Southern Apples.” The encyclopedia showed Mihm the diversity Southern apple varieties once had. Many of the apples have since been lost to history, grown in a yard here or there, but not on a large-scale.

“So,” he said, “I started planting my own orchard.”

As a historian, Mihm saw the importance of preserving the life and history of forgotten apples.

“I realized that, as romantic as it is to find varieties that have not yet been rediscovered,” said Mihm, “there was a more practical and consequential thing to do, which is to take the varieties that do exist—however rare they may be—and preserve them in some way.”

One hope is that some of the apples being saved at the Heritage Apple Orchard may be able to get back into the commercial market. Georgia used to be the home of craft cider, and Mihm thinks it can be again.

“I’d consider it a significant victory if a few orchards opened for cider production using these apples,” he said.

Mihm said this orchard is a manifestation of history, carefully cultivated and selected.

“This plant material, which we think of as nature, is actually in this case very much tied up with history, and the history of the human past,” he said. “And it should be preserved for that reason alone.”