At the 2013 American Folklore Society annual conference held in Providence, Rhode Island two weeks ago, there was, miraculously, a session on Rhode Island orchard traditions. Ann Hoog from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress was on hand to talk about some of the archival material. Michael E Bell, retired from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission discussed the field research contributing to the film. Alex Caserta, the producer, was also present to talk about the making of the film.
Here’s the abstract from the program:
Vanishing Orchards and the Rhode Island Folklife Project. From July to December 1979, the American Folklife Center, in cooperation with several Rhode Island cultural agencies, conducted a field research project in Rhode Island concentrating on various ethnic, regional, and occupational traditions. The resulting documentation includes audio interviews and photographs of the Steere family, owners and operators of a fruit orchard in Greenville, Rhode Island since 1930. That orchard is featured in the new documentary film Vanishing Orchards: Apple Growing in Rhode Island. This session includes an overview of the 1979 project followed by a showing of the film. After the film, discussants will address the subject of family farms, agriculture, and changing neighborhoods; documentation of this changing landscape through fieldwork and archives; and the genesis of this documentation coming out of the collaboration of multiple Rhode Island cultural agencies.
The film was shown on Rhode Island PBS. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find a full version of the film online. However, there is a promo for the film available here: on the website for the film project. The film itself was full of interviews with Rhode Island orchardists discussing the challenges and opportunities facing orchards in the Ocean State as pressures on land from development make the economics and pragmatics of farming close to urban and suburban areas challenging. The loss of orchards is definitely a theme – many people interviewed recall orchards no longer present on the landscape. But the resilience and innovation of those who are continuing on is also impressive. Two orchardists featured in the film joined the panel and fielded questions from the audience. Surprisingly, hard cider did not seem to be an economic project for those present, nor did it feature in the traditions documented in the film. It would be interesting to dig more into the archival information to find out if there is anything there.
Cider enthusiasts and researchers, be aware of the opportunity to seek out the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress as a resource for information on orcharding and cider traditions.