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Harvesting Alaska: Apple farmer goes out on a limb to give to others

By Shannon Ballard Photojournalist: Carolyn Hall - 12:35 PM September 12, 2016
WASILLA –

There’s just something about a crisp autumn morning. In his Wasilla backyard, Dan Elliott can taste the changing season in any of the 120 types of apples harvested on his property. Some might call him an expert.

“It’s hard when you ask for a favorite to come up with less than 10,” Elliott said.

Elliott started with 16 apple trees, but that number soon grew to more than 150; almost every one of his trees is of a different variety.

Elliott’s wife, Marian, says apples are her husband’s passion, both a hobby and a challenge.

“We pretty much ran out of space, so now what he does is when he finds a new apple, he just grafts it to one of the trees that is already here,” Marian Elliott said.

If you look closely while walking through his orchard, it’s not difficult to spot trees with as many as three varieties of apples, branched off of a single trunk.

“Here’s a tree where I didn’t like the variety — red sparkle — so I grafted some branches,” Dan Elliott said.

The Elliotts can only eat so many apples, so these days they go out on a limb to give to others.

“It seems serendipitous that we should help him out and be able to use his apples,” Dewey Taylor, board president of Valley Community for Recycling Solutions (VCRS) said.

Volunteers with VCRS collect Dan Elliott’s apples to press into cider for their annual fall fundraiser.

“I’m getting my exercise, my upper arm exercise, today turning the crank and the apple juice is beyond compare,” volunteer Rose Smith said.

The cider apples have slight imperfections and would otherwise end up in the compost. To get the flavor just right, the volunteers mix the juice from multiple varieties — and it can take a few tries.

Despite three decades of sampling and testing, Dan Elliott says he never gets sick of the fruit.

When we asked why apples? His response was simple: “Well because they taste good.”

But his wife says it’s more complex than that.

“As to why he is a person who likes to grow things, maybe it’s in his DNA,” she said.

You can try some of Dan Elliott’s apple cider at the annual Harvest Recycle Fest. The event will take place on Sept. 30 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and all the money at the fundraiser supports VCRS.

KTVA 11′s Shannon Ballard can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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