With all the high tech screenings, procedures, drugs, and research, one would have to think that the “war on cancer” would be seeing some forms of success. Yet, men still have a slightly less than 1 in 2 lifetime risk of developing cancer, and for women, the risk is a little more than 1 in 3. Approximately 77% of all cancers are diagnosed in people 55 years of age and older.
Van Aken started this project back in 2008 after discovering an orchard in Geneva, New York, which housed a variety of stone fruit 200 years old. The orchard was to be torn down, which led Van Aken to purchase it. Not wanting such a precious resource of nearly 250 native, heirloom, hybrid and antique varieties of stone fruit to disappear, he started experimenting, and that’s how his project began. Van Aken began creating the Tree of 40 Fruit using a process known as chip grafting. This method involves taking a sliver of a tree with a bud and inserting it into a cut of a living tree. The sliver is then secured with tape and left to fuse with the working tree over winter.
The process is repeated using slivers from different types of stone fruit trees. Once healed, the working tree becomes a hybrid of different trees and can produce the fruit from each added tree. For most of the year, these trees look ordinary, but in the spring they blossom in various hues of white, pink, and crimson. As the trees grow, Van Aken records a timeline of when the trees blossom in relationship to each other. This way, he can essentially sculpt the tree.
Currently, 16 trees have been created. Some have been placed in museums and community centers, and others belong to private art collectors. Unlike trees that only provide one type of fruit, these trees won’t inundate the yard with fruit. This is because the fruit ripen at different times, therefore steadily providing “the perfect amount and perfect variety of fruit.” Van Aken began this project to transform and interrupt the everyday by changing the way we see and perceive things in general. The Tree of 40 Fruit also became a way to preserve the variety of heirloom, native and antique varieties of stone fruit that are not commonly available.