Sam Van Aken is an award-winning artist and a professor of art at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. While he’s had many projects that have gotten people’s attention, his latest work is turning some serious heads all around the Internet. Aken grew up on a small family farm, but then largely focused on his artistic side for many years and stayed somewhat removed from agriculture. When an orchard full of heirloom fruits was about to be demolished, he picked up the lease until he could graft all the varieties onto trees in his own nursery, preserving them in the process.
That’s where he got the idea to get back to his roots and use grafting as a way to create art. Aken started grafting various varieties of stone fruit (chosen because they are the most inter-compatible with each other from a grafting perspective) onto a single tree, eventually ending up with “The Tree of 40 Fruit.” This tree has more than 40 varieties of apricots, plums, almonds, nectarines and more. By creating a timeline of when each variety blooms and bears fruit, Aken can control the way the tree will blossom in the spring.
So far, he’s planted over a dozen such trees around the United States and by speaking with local farmers and grafting local varieties of fruit, each tree serves as a living index of that area’s agricultural diversity. Aken also says that because the tree will bear different fruit all through the summer, a family wishing to plant such a tree in their yard would have a steady supply of fruit without having too much of any one kind.
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