Mommy to 4 year old daughter: Do you know where apples come from?
4 year old daughter to mommy: The store.
And just like that, the ABC's of Agvocacy is underway. Seems my subjects are prime for information absorption about the sources of their food. And, I know the timing couldn't be better for all of us mommies - VP's for Groceries - to pay more attention to where our food comes from.
My background is that of a conventional agriculture and livestock production operation. And today, those systems are extremely scrutinized. I won't point fingers, but I will take action. While agriculture has made great strides in capacity for production over the past fifty years, we have failed to tell our story.
So this is my way of helping the message to get out. First, to help mommies make more informed choices. Secondly, to make sure my kids don't become part of the problem. (And thirdly, to give me something else to think about when the mess, the laundry and the whining make me want to eat everything chocolate in sight.)
Our project begins with apples. Appropriately. My roots are in Doniphan County, Kansas - the most northeastern county in the state. A county that was once rich in orchards, especially in the eastern half.
In fact growing up, my best friend's family was in the apple orchard business. I remember playing in endless rows of apple trees, climbing tree after tree, and looking awestruck at the thousands of apples stored in the warehouse.
That's me perched about halfway up the tree. And that's my little brother standing below me on the ground - stuck inside a gray sweatshirt. (He did manage to get out of that sweatshirt and make quite a successful life for himself.)
Today, the orchards are mostly gone. Soybeans and corn now occupy the land once home to the orchards. Why? A number of reasons. Many of the orchards were located in the flood plains of the Missouri River. Significant floods - and diseases carried in those flood waters - wiped out many of the orchards. The orchards in more northern states such as New York and Washington enjoyed a climate more suitable to apple production, and it eventually became cheaper to grow apples in those states and ship them to Kansas. And lastly, orchards are extremely labor intensive. Apple production requires a minimum of 100 hours of labor per acre per year, compared to 3 or less hours to produce wheat. Fruit growers simply couldn't bear the burden of labor any longer.
Apples are still grown in every state in the United States, yet grown commercially in 36 states. Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, California and Virginia are the top producers. Approximately 7,500 apple growers managed orchards covering 379,000 acres in 2005.
Apple orchards are time intensive. Trees take 2-4 years before they reach maturity and are able to produce fruit. Tree must be pruned in the winter, blossoms managed in the spring, pests managed and grass mowed in the summer, and apples finally harvested in the fall. Because apples bruise easily, they are usually harvested by hand.
Two thirds of conventional apple orchards use integrated pest management - balancing pesticide use with cultural, mechanical and biological means of controlling pests. Most pesticides are removed or are inactive long before they reach your table.
Organic production does not use pesticides or chemicals to control pests, however this production is even more labor intensive and requires numerous naturally occuring agents for pest control, thus resulting in higher retail prices. Practices such as using Borax to control pests and painting tree trunks with latex paint to prevent borer attacks are considered acceptable organic practices. Organic apple production accounted for 4% of total apple production in 2007.
As of last week, Red Delicious apples are selling for $1.21 / lb retail in the Midwest; their organic counterparts for $1.49 / lb.
Apple growers, and other fruit and nut producers, are not eligible for commodity support programs from the federal government. However marketing programs, and disaster assistance, protection against pests and diseases, export promotion, research, and domestic food assistance (nutrition programs) do serve to enhance the domestic fruit market and production.
And so in my household three basic tenets have been established:
1. Apples grow on trees.
2. Apple farms are called orchards. (This is a challenging word for a 4 year old.)
3. Apples come in different colors and varieties.
And let's not forget, apples are a tasty and nutritious snack. Some say the Gala apple is great for kids because of it's mild, sweet flavor and thin skin.
Thanks for tuning in. Be looking for beef and bovine information coming before long!