It's apple season‹the time of year when it¹s easy for almost everyone
to see and taste the benefits of food produced nearby. This weekend,
look for local apples at farmers' markets, roadside stands, cider
mills, pick-your-own orchards, and some neighborhood markets. Fresh
picked in nearby orchards, Macintoshes, Macouns, Cortlands, Baldwins,
Northern Spies, Staymans, Winesaps and Ida Reds are all delicious.
They have the wonderful firm texture and flavorful juiciness which
distinguishes fruit grown close to home. Their patina, a faint milky
bloom, says they are fresh.
Oh, I know. You can go down to the supermarket any day in any season
and find some red, yellow and green apples. They come from such
places as Chile, South Africa, New Zealand and even as close as
California and Washington State. They're very shiny because most of
them are coated with waxes and maybe fungicides, too. These apples
always look better than they taste. This time of year, you may even
find some local apples in the supermarket, but they soon pick up the
flavor of their surroundings. There's no way around it, the closer you
get to the tree, the better the apple tastes.
Apples get tired, sort of beaten up, if they travel too far, are
roughly handled, or spend too much time in a plastic bag. Imagine if
you were popped into a box with dozens of your kind, shipped 6,000
miles and then dumped out onto a supermarket shelf. You might be a
little tired and beaten up too.
Compare one of those apples with a just-picked Connecticut one.
You'll soon recognize the effect that long-distance shipping has on
Apples are alive, respiring and carrying on other biological
processes. (If you want proof of this, take the seeds out of an apple
and plant them. After winter's cold, many of them will germinate.)
Using an understanding of apples' breathing, local growers are able
to keep them for more than three months with ³controlled atmosphere²
storage. This system seals apples in a cool, air-tight room, and then
replaces most of the oxygen with inert nitrogen. Without much oxygen,
apples' respiration slows down, and with it, their biological
imperative to rot so their seeds can get to the soil.
If we want to enjoy the pleasures of these fresh apples, we need to
support local orchards, or grow our own. However, it's not so easy to
grow a good crop of apples. Fungus diseases like scab, and insects
such as plum curculio, oriental fruit moth, and apple maggot also find
this fruit delicious.
Fortunately, a lot of progress is being made in reducing the chemicals
needed to bring in a good crop. The University of Connecticut IPM
(Integrated Pest Management) program helps orchardists to reduce the
use of toxic sprays by monitoring insects and diseases carefully. The
Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven is testing hardy,
pest-resistant varieties which will produce a good crop without using
pesticides. Some of these varieties are ideal for the home gardener.
At High Hill Orchard in Meriden, Wayne Young uses compost and rock
powders in a long-term, soil-building program, and is experimenting
with compost sprays to control apple-scab fungus.
Notice our double interest in reducing the use of toxic materials in
agriculture. We would like our farmer neighbors to use fewer or no
poisonous chemicals, and we'd like to eat fruit with fewer chemicals
The Macoun is our favorite apple- a wonderful mix of tart and sweet
flavors, firm and crunchy. It is usually available for a limited
time, so eat them while you can. Wayne Young says his favorite
variety is whichever one is ³just ripe.²
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture publishes a list of state
apple orchards, and a listing of farmers' markets. To get these lists,
send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the attention of the
Marketing Division, Department of Agriculture, State Office Building,
Hartford, CT 06106.
There are two lessons to be learned with every bite of a local apple.
First, local food tastes better. And second, in order to have local
food, we need to have an ecological agriculture that we can live with.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
© 1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT
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