If there's one thing Shaun Shepherd knows how to do, it's grafting fruit trees.
He spent much of Saturday doing it at the annual Spring Propagation Fair at Lane Community College, and grafting is on the agenda again today as the fair continues.
The LCC cafeteria buzzed with home orchardists, vegetable gardeners and native plant lovers, many flocking around tables laden with packets and resealable plastic bags of seeds for the taking. There were countless varieties of vegetables such as Tuscan arugula, beets, black-and-white lima beans, shelling peas and salad greens, and just as many types of flowers, either brought by home gardeners to share or surplus from vendors such as Territorial Seeds.
"This is my kind of deal," Eugene gardener Bill Adams said, picking up a bag labeled "mystery mixed greens." He'll plant the seeds in one of the raised beds where he grows vegetables, instead of fighting the battle to amend the heavy clay soil so prevalent in the area.
Nearby, 4-year-old Willow Castro sat on a bench, plucking kernels of corn from a table filled with cobs and dropping them into a paper bag.
"This is not a job," Willow announced. "My parents did not ask me to do this. I didn't have anything to do, so I am doing this."
A few tables away, his mother nodded her approval.
"We will take the corn home where we have a grinder, and we'll make it into flour," she said.
In the next room, others stood patiently in long lines to wait for volunteer grafters like Shepherd to snip, whittle and bind cuttings from apple, pear, cherry stone fruit trees and persimmon to root stock grown by orchardists throughout the state, many of them members of the Home Orchard Society.
As they grafted the cuttings -- called scions -- that will bond with the root stock to form new trees, the grafters chatted with their "clients," who paid $3 for each root stock, got one graft done free and made a donation for additional grafts.
Shepherd tossed bits of historical information -- apples originated in Kazakhstan, for example, and people have been grafting them for thousands of years -- and horticultural facts, such as that the root stock determines the size of the tree, while the scion contributes the variety of fruit.
Apple trees grown from seed "will not be true to the apple they came from," he said. "Every apple is like a person, a genetic individual that is the product of both parents" from the pollination process.
However, instead of starting entirely new trees, many people, including himself, graft scion wood from one tree to another, and the grafted branch produces its original type of fruit.
"I've done a lot of that," Shepherd admitted. "I've had trees with 30 or 40 different varieties on them."
He pointed out an elderly man across the room who was constantly surrounded by people peppering him with questions.
"That's Nick Botner -- he has the world's largest private collection of identified apples," he said.
"He has 4,300 varieties that he has grafted and grows near Yoncalla."
It's true, Botner said. He also has 550 grafted pear trees and 525 grapevine varieties. Many of the cuttings at Saturday's fair came from his orchards, he said.
Botner started his orchard project nearly 40 years ago, after he and his family moved to Oregon from Alaska.
"My son came home from school and said a man had come and demonstrated how to graft a fruit tree," he said.
"He said, 'Now I can make a tree.'"
Botner also became interested in the process, and his hobby soon became a passion.
"I send out thousands (of cuttings) all over the world," he said, adding that he doesn't conduct his business via computer. "I'm on the Internet -- I'm on the 'Outernet,'" he quipped.
Preserving what Botner has accomplished has become part of the goal of a group called the Temperate Orchard Conservancy, of which Shepherd is a principal, on top of his day job in vehicle maintenance at the University of Portland.
"What typically happens is that someone like Nick (Botner) creates an extensive collection of identified varieties, and then somebody says, 'Somebody ought to do something to make sure this is saved for the future,'" Shepherd said. "We created the conservancy to start repropagating what he has achieved in Yoncalla. We've been at it four years, and we're up to about 3,000 trees now."
The conservancy has applied for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service in hopes of expanding its mission to save and catalog fruit tree varietals and expects to have its certification soon.
Right now, much of what the group has accomplished is stored at the Home Orchard Society's arboretum, a demonstration orchard run in cooperation with Clackamas Community College, Shepherd said. But the group soon may have access to 40 acres of land near Molalla, which will create a permanent place for the Temperate Orchard Conservancy's work.