How about them apples?

My friends over at the Food Declaration Facebook page posted this piece from the NY Times. It deals with the loss of diversity in apple varieties.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/06/opinion/06fri4.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

I agree mostly with her premise, but I think her timescale should be examined. Compared to the 1905 stats cited in the article, we certainly have seen a decline in varieties and local specialties. But more recently? When I was a kid in the ’70’s, apples were red or yellow. I remember my Mother and Grandmother being very happy when Granny Smiths were once again available. Today? Fujis, Galas, Braeburns… plus other varieties I can’t think of off the top of my head are avaiable even in my nearby chain supermarket. On a shorter timescale the trend is positive.

Of course, the broader context of the article is about our food culture, and not just apples. Have we forever lost a way of life, and was it sacrificed at the alter of corporate interests?

We once had the kind of local food and small farm culture mourned in this article. Sadly it is a shadow of its former self, but not because of giant supermarkets and corporate agribusiness. It’s because in that time and that place, people who KNEW the difference between apple varieties and lived or worked on small family farms CHOSE to give it up for a better paycheck in town and more convenience in the kitchen. Monsanto and Krogers and Walmart came later. They are responses to this shift, not the original cause. (That they later accelerated and perpetuated the shift, I don’t deny.) So when we had this culture, we chose to give it up. Now that it is nearly extinct, will we choose to bring it back?

Personally, I’d love to think so. My breakfast this morning included eggs from our own hens and honey from our local bee guy. (Maybe some of my pollen is in there somewhere.) My to do list includes planting five varieties of figs to be marketed locally, and having our Nigerian Dwarf doe bred so we can have cheese next summer (And more goats!) So when it comes to the value of fresh food and minor varietals, I’m a believer. But as to how many others share this enthusiasm? Not so much.

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3 thoughts on “How about them apples?

  1. Good thoughtful post Chris. You’re point about choice is right on and, although you seem a bit down on the strength of the local food (and everything else) returning to our way of life, I tend to be a bit more optimistic. The go-go, urban and consumer culture that’s emerged over the past couple of generations relies on a lot of raw, cheap energy – delivered to us in the form of petroleum – as well as a disposable mentality. But what happens when the energy is no longer cheap? Or when mass society switches back from the disposable society to one that values thrift and conservation? I think you end up back where local food and small farms return to a more prominent position in the cultural psyche.

  2. Thanks AJ – I think energy costs is the one variable that has the real capacity to be a game changer. When energy costs go up and stay up the equation will be a lot different. Has consumer culture peaked? I’d like to think so, but it seems to me that is more a matter of hope than fact. We’ve had cooling periods before after the booms of the 50’s and 80’s, but in the past it has come back stronger than ever.

    The real question is: which apple varieties will you plant? You’re the guy to turn this all around! We can grow apples, but we don’t get enough chilling hours to get a consistent crop.

  3. Well, I’m partial to the Empire and McIntosh varieties. A bit tart, but juicy and succulent! They make great pies, apple sauce and awesome cider!

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