Monday, September 29, 2008

Losing ground

Writing in Sunday's Boston Globe, Matt Gunderson charts a distressing trend: local apple orchards giving way to recreation, development, and other uses. The reason:

Quality apples are flooding in from China, Washington state, and South America, keeping local apple growers at bay, excluding them from the wholesale apple market.

I will be glad to eat these durable imports come springtime, but today? The growing season is in its prime, the trees full of the best fruit anywhere. Even an enthusiast like me can't keep up.

Many of these varieties are only available here and now. And people prefer the industrial apples? Talk about selling your birthright for a mess of potage!

Gunderson interviews several growers who are curtailing their business. The only hopeful note comes from Jon Clements, an extension educator at UMass Amherst's Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, Massachusetts:

"We have been losing wholesale-only orchards because the wholesale market is extremely competitive," said Clements. "But I think it's a mistake to say the [New England apple industry] is going south. It would be wrong to say it's all gloom and doom."

Rising energy costs and economic volatility may eventually make local apples more competitive. In the mean time I intend to do my part to keep these orchards in business, one bite at a time.

Really, faced with a McApple airlifted from New Zealand, a local apple in high season is no sacrifice.

Update: The Globe published my letter in response to this story on October 5.

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