PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Dave Benscoter is a former FBI agent who, over the course of a 24-year career, investigated political corruption, bank robberies and a variety of other crimes.

“My time in the FBI mostly was spent in Seattle, North Carolina and Chicago. And then I joined the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Division here in Spokane, Washington,” Benscoter told KOIN 6 News.

These days he’s on a different kind of investigation — searching for nearly forgotten apple varieties and orchards for his non-profit, The Lost Apple Project.

“I had a lot of cases that involved a lot of records, which I think helped me in now looking for lost varieties because a lot of it is diving into old records to find out what apple varieties actually grew out here,” he said.

His first apple case was a bit of an accident while he was helping a friend who lived nearby.

“She’s a disabled missionary, and I would go over and help her with little chores. And one day she asked me if I could go and pick some apples for her in her orchard,” he said. “She lived on the property that her dad and granddad had lived on.”

He did some research on the orchard that was more than a century old, trying to find what he could on Eastern Washington apples.

“I don’t know if your viewers know, but in eastern Washington this is not where all the Washington apples are grown. The Washington apples are all grown basically along the Columbia River and its tributary,” Benscoter said. “Probably closer to 120 years ago, this was a big apple growing area. And of course, all homesteaders would have large apple orchards whenever they homesteaded a property.”

Since that time, The Lost Apple Project has discovered more than 29 varieties and followed up on new leads in Oregon, Washington and Idaho while also working with the Whitman County Historical Society.

The Lost Apple Project is now part of a large online network, including a Facebook page with more than 14,000 followers.

“I think people just get a thrill of finding out that we’re bringing back something that a lot of people thought was going to be extinct,” he said.

A Surprise Apple is one of the nearly forgotten apple varieties found by Dave Benscoter and his Lost Apple Project (Undated, courtesy photo)
A Surprise Apple is one of the nearly forgotten apple varieties found by Dave Benscoter and his Lost Apple Project (Undated, courtesy photo)

Each year about 250 bags of apples are sent to the Temperate Orchard Conservancy in Molalla to identify their varieties. Washington State University has a database with more than 3000 apple varieties to do DNA testing.

Benscoter also wrote a book, “The Lost Apples of the Inland Empire,” which he expects will soon be printed.

Whether it’s the excitement in another discovery or tips on how to graft an apple tree, The Lost Apple Project is helping to preserve parts of history in the Pacific Northwest.

“A lot of people also have memories of maybe going to their grandmother’s house and she had a special apple tree and they’ve haven’t tasted that apple tree in, you know, 50 years or something. And it brings back a lot of memories for people,” he said.