Monday, May 31, 2010

Eating Local, Organic Fruit

Here Nora and Paul pit cherries, some we got from our own two trees, and some from a neighbor's tree.  We've been freezing and drying them.
   A couple weeks ago we began talking about what it would take to really get away from the conventional industrialized food system and all its pesticides, fossil fuel based fertilizers, etc.  We want to continue this week talking about fruit and what we would recommend for someone wanting to eat real homegrown fruit grown with old-fashioned organic integrity.  What would a person have to do to eat fruit that was grown the right way?  As with vegetables, one would have to eat the fresh fruit that was in season and put up fruit for the off-season.  Some fruits (notably blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.) can be almost as good out of the freezer as they are fresh.  A lot of fruits are also especially well suited to drying/dehyrdating (figs, sour cherries...)  Unlike with vegetables, however, switching from grocery store fruit to homegrown fruit would require a lot more changes in what kinds of fruit we eat.  The fruits that are sold in grocery stores -- and therefore our habits and expectations as grocery store-bred consumers -- are largely those fruits that have lent themselves best to industrialization: fruits that are good for shipping and that have fairly long shelf lives, fruits that can be grown in large acreages with labor-saving chemicals, etc.  We think the kind of fruits that lend themselves to local, organic management are just as good if not better, but they're mostly not what we're used to or what we might go looking for.  Obviously, bananas and citrus aren't the fruits to look for, but other fruits that are grown locally, like apples and peaches, are generally dependent on extensive arsenals of nasty chemicals.  As much as Eric loves peaches and Melissa loves apples, learning just a little about how the local commercial orchards grow these fruits has made it really hard to feel right about buying them.  We do have some hope in growing cosmetically less perfect, disease-resistant varieties of apples, and we did plant a couple peach trees hoping against hope to harvest some edible peaches, but for us eating local fruit means turning primarily to other fruits.  There are some familiar grocery store fruits for which there are excellent local alternatives.  Even though conventional strawberries are one of the most pesticide-laden fruits there are, it's very feasible to grow strawberries organically.  We're just finishing an excellent strawberry year, and we hope you all got plenty these last few weeks.  Local blueberries, on the other hand, tend to be a very low-spray crop, even on non-organic farms.  (That's not true of some of the blueberries in supermarkets from other areas, whose pesticide residues we've been told have been linked to behavioral disorders in children.)  No-spray melons may be somewhat scarcer at farmers' markets, but that's something else to look for.  For a fuller variety, though, we think a person would really have to eat fruits that aren't common in supermarkets.  Figs have a short shelf life, but they're delicious and very well suited to organic management.  Mulberries (the fruit of a large tree, similar in appearance to a blackberry but with none of the bitterness) can also be grown very easily, and we've really been enjoying them lately.  Even some of the wild mulberry trees have really good quality fruit.  Persimmons are one of our favorite wild fruits -- some trees have lesser quality fruit but there are a lot of very good wild trees -- and they can also be planted.  Wild blackberries are more familiar.  There are quite a few old sour cherry trees in local farmyards.  Although they're called “sour cherries,” some varieties are plenty sweet and are excellent for fresh eating, although typically not as big as conventionally grown varieties.  Muscadines/scuppernong grapes fall into the same category as local blueberries, being a cultivated fruit that tend to be very low-spray even on non-organic farms.  We've been told that Asian pears (the pears with a more apple-like shape and texture) could also fit into that category.  And the list goes on: pawpaws, jujubes, raspberries, tame blackberries, serviceberries, mayhaws...  We wouldn't be satisfied simply with the fruit we could find at farmers' markets, but if you can go out into the country and find additional types of fruit, we think one can find a full assortment of fruit grown the right way.  If you're motivated to eat good quality fruit, we'd love to help you with whatever know-how we can share.