Retired Engineer Tom Brown Saved 1200 Types Of Apples From Extinction.

Tom Brown is on a mission to protect apples, a significant component of America’s culinary legacy.

Finding rare, old apples wasn’t always something the former chemical engineer was too interested in. In fact, until he came across them at a farmer’s market in the late 1990s, he had never even heard of a heritage apple.

Brown talks about trying certain fruit kinds with flavors and hues he had never experienced. White Winter Jon, Arkansas Black, and Etter’s Gold, to name a few, were all intriguing names.

Meet the Appalachian Apple Hunter, Tom Brown

Meet the Appalachian Apple Hunter, Tom Brown

Tom Brown motions at groups of maturing trees as he leads a couple of young, aspirational homesteaders through his personal apple orchard in Clemmons, North Carolina. The 79-year-old, a retired chemical engineer, lists variations and occasionally pauses to share a story. Unfamiliar names like “Black Winesap,” “Candy Stripe,” “Rabun Bald,” “Yellow Bellflower,” and “Night Dropper” go along with stories that seem to have been taken straight out of pomological legend.

Retired Engineer Tom Brown Saved 1200 Types Of Apples From Extinction.

Consider a Junaluska apple. According to lore, The cultivar was called for its most ardent supporter, an early 19th-century chief, by Cherokee Indians in the Smoky Mountains more than 200 years ago. The apple, according to veteran orchardists, was formerly popular in the South but vanished before 1900. After finding references in an antebellum orchard catalog from Franklin, North Carolina, Brown began looking for it in 2001. He used detective skills to find the abandoned 1859 country orchard. He then hired a neighborhood mailman and hobby orchardist to serve as his guide. The two went door-to-door for days seeking out old apple trees. They eventually found the remnants of a mountain orchard that had long since been engulfed by forest thanks to the guidance of an elderly woman.

Brown discovered a single, gnarled Junaluska tree during the fruiting season using historical documents. For his new conservation orchard, he cut down scion wood, and then he began reintroducing apples to the world.

Tom Brown’s Race To Beating The Clock

“The Apple Hunter” – Tom Brown’s Race To Beating The Clock

In the nearly 25 years that Brown has spent looking for Appalachia’s missing heritage apples, he has amassed dozens of stories about apple hunting similar to these. He has recovered 1,200 kinds so far, 700 of the rarest of which are found in his two-acre Heritage Apples orchard. Some were cloned from the last known trees of their kind, and the majority haven’t been commercially sold in at least a century.

There are certainly still thousands of different species, but it’s a race against time to preserve them. The people who can provide information about where they are usually live into their 80s or 90s. Trees are lost every year as a result of storms, development, pests, and blights. In his later years, Brown focused on speeding up the time.

What Are Users Saying?

This man should have a grant and be able to preserve all the apple varieties left in the world. These strains are part of human history and it’s a shame modern agriculture has lost so much of its past.


How can we reach Tom Brown? We have discovered an old heirloom orchard up on Lake Ontario, with what appears to be scores of different varieties, around 100 years old or older, overgrown and unattended, but clearly structured as an orchard back in the day.


GOAT. Saving things we didn’t even know needed saving.


Brown works tirelessly to ensure these heirloom apples don’t disappear.

Southern Living

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