Our producer: Hans Peter Hediger

Posted on 6 min read
"Himbeerapfel" ("Strawberry apple") or "Dübendorfer Milchapfel" ("Milk apple from Dübendorf") – from sweet-juicy to tangy-starchy. Isn't it fascinating how two fruits that are quite similar in appearance can taste so differently? When it comes to ancient species especially, the variety of taste is a science in itself. There is a diversity of old species to be marveled at still in the case of the Hediger family.

“Those who sow can harvest”

"Hediger's Lädeli" with greenery

Not far from the train station in Affoltern am Albis in the Zurich region the Hediger family lives in an inconspicuous single-family home that is adorned with wild briers, vine tomatoes, vine branches and young fruit trees. Next to the entrance is written “Hedigers Lädeli” (“Hediger’s Little Shop”). Behind it, many neatly arranged, delicious products made from special fruit are hiding. The product assortment ranges from apple juice to sparkling wine, dried fruit, jam, vinegars, syrups and schnapps made from fruit.

ProSpezieRara

Hediger's shop showing his products

In front of the shop, there is a small, green metal table with a stout cucumber as well as a few certificates – one of which is “ProSpecieRara”. ProSpecieRara varieties are not to be genetically altered or hybrid. They should be available increasingly in whole sale again, have been traditionally cultivated and used in Switzerland or be equivalent to one such variety (see knowledge details for more info about this (German source)).

In his variety of fruit, Hans Peter mainly devotes himself to ProSpecieRara species which are endangered. A lot of effort and lifelong hard work are behind these awards. He became self-employed in the year 2000 (Hanspeter Hediger, German only). For a considerable amount of time, he was also responsible for cantonal nature protection areas in the Affoltern district. The practitioner – “The man at the front line.”

Of species – to product variety

Apple rings in a wooden tray

In the kitchen of the house, Esther Hediger is stationed. She cuts apple rings and slices and aligns them. Esther is devoted to the hand manufacture of the products and is highly precise in her work. “We’ve worked much and hard and have to take a step back now and live well at the same time – enjoy life some more.”

Esther, with a few helping hands, processes everything on her own. Only the surplus of fruit is turned into distillate so that it is used efficiently. In case the fruit are only enough for the other products, no distillates are available. Hans Peter’s favourite product is the fermented apple juice: “It tastes good, is completely natural, without additives. It’s a very delicious thirst quencher.”

Pouring apple juice through a funnel

The history of the varieties

Hans Peter is a talkative man. Always there for a laugh. In his past, they said he was a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow. Even though he simply likes to tell a joke and take things lightly; have fun in life. He also has fun in his life while working, he says excitedly – and he’s worked plenty in his life. It’s especially important to him to have a connection to the trees and to nature. Treating the trees with love is what constitutes sustainable work for him. “Every species has a story for me…”, he reports; and how he hid the particularly well-tasting pears from his sister when he was a child.

A photograph of Hediger caring for a tree

He fetches old magazines and gives a lecture about his distinctions. One of them is “Prix Bioterra“, which awards people “who have committed to organic gardening, natural gardens or organic agriculture over a long period of time to an exceptional extent” (Bioterra 2013). He takes pride in being able to talk about this. He was a pioneer in the milieu. On a picture in the magazine, the variety of his products is aligned in front of a fruit tree. He points to the image with a finger: “This picture is very beautiful to me.” A content smile crosses his face.

Portrait of Hans Peter Hediger, sitting at a table

Learning from practice

He is a practitioner and has learnt a great deal from practice. Hans Peter stresses that it’s important to make decisions concerning the protection of nature in close attunement to the practice. He regrets that most people only get to know ecology and nature conservation on the paper and that there are only few people left who establish such an intense connection to their work.

“I learnt everything from scratch…” He tells of his great coherent, practical knowledge that he built step-by-step. His work day starts with a look out of the window. “I pay very, very close attention to the weather.” The work is closely connected to nature. Next to his products, Hans Peter also offers consultations concerning garden maintenance as well as variety workshops.

Half-standard orchards

In an orchard, there are over 90 different fruit trees. Altogether, there are around 400 on his leased land areas in the region, he says. “Almost every tree is a different variety. From Juli to November you have to know what is ripe where and when. We pick them weekly by hand.” The varieties range from “Chäppeli” to “Reinacher” apple, “Oberländer Himbeerapfel”, “Leuenapfel”, “Freiherr von Berlepsch” apple, “Uster” apple, “Klingar” apple, “Menznauer Jägerapfel” or the “Stäphner” plums and “Einsiedler” pear, to name but a few.

At almost every tree, Hans Peter pulls out his pocket knife, picks a fruit, cuts slices into the flesh and let’s us try them. Each apple and pear variety tastes different – from sweet-juicy to tangy-starchy – the biodiversity knows no bounds. Some sorts are better suited to these, others to those products.

Close-up of an apple in Hediger's hand. Anja taking a slice

Old varieties, old methods

Pottery put on a tree

For pest control, he uses clay pots with wool made from straw. Green lacewings and earwigs nest there and feast on lice and other vermin.

He also shows us the bees next to his orchard. “Although they are not mine, they are a part of it all for me. I have a holistic view of everything”, he stresses. The exchange is important to him as well. He tutors workshops and project weeks, wants to include people – passing on his old knowledge.

He also tells of the pruning of the tree, which he will consider in case the tree is growing too opulently. “To calm it down, you don’t prune it in winter but in summer. If you take away shoots in summer, you take away growth hormones, thereby calming the tree. And if you prune in winter, the growth hormones have been stored in the roots and the trunk.”

Wood with wholes for insects

Give-and-take

The harvest brings the most joy to the aged man. Attending to and looking after the blooming tree in spring so that it is well cared for is a beautiful time for Hans Peter. It brings him equal joy to see how it abundantly creates happiness in autumn. “That which I am able to harvest is my wealth; in the mind, too…” To tackle work with joy and respect is especially important to him. “I give very much to nature. All my life I’ve made and done so much, but she gives so much back to me.”

Hediger's hand holding the branch of an apple tree

And what does the future hold?

Hans Peter’s biggest challenge at the moment is to ensure that the projects and ideas are passed on and end up in good hands.

Love and the feeling for nature almost exclusively exist on the shiny paper today. But outside on the field you can see how it wastes away in parts because many experts don’t have the knowledge anymore and the attention to detail is being lost. At the end of the day, we should be proud of our work, not do mass production. That is what’s missing today.

Hediger in his garden with an apple in his hand

Hans Peter suggests to increase the involvement of practitioners in cantonale and municipal work. Another message is: “Less is more.” For him, it’s not about raising as many nature conservation and land recultivation projects as possible but to implement good and sustainable care for those projects for which resources are available.

“Nature protection costs a lot of money but it should be sustainable, right? All communities that I supervised in the district are no longer equipped with a practitioner or layperson today but merely with a title. If I was young I wouldn’t be eligible anymore since I am no biologist – without title.” We ask ourselves after the conversation, however, what a title actually says about the qualities and skills of a person. Hans Peter is generous and doesn’t let us leave without filled backpacks either.

Hans Peter Hediger with his wife in their garden

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