The Planted Row: Comparing apples to apples

Stan Wise

by Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

When I sat down to write this column, I sliced an apple to eat while I tried to figure out a topic. Once I bit into the apple, I knew what I wanted to write about.

The apple, which I had purchased at a store here in Aberdeen, was bland and tasteless. If people grow up in Aberdeen and eat only store-bought apples, they might reach adulthood thinking that apples are just supposed to be bland.

What a travesty.

My grandparents’ garden was really the family’s garden because, one, it was huge, and two, most members of the family helped out in the garden from time to time. It had all the staple southern vegetables: sweet peas, purple-hulled peas, butter beans, carrots, turnips, radishes, onions, mustard, peanuts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, cabbages, cucumbers, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, banana peppers and jalapeno peppers.

It had its share of fruit as well: watermelons, cantaloupes, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, several kinds of grapes, muscadines, figs, pecans, peaches, plums and, of course, apples.

When I was playing outside as a kid, if I was hungry and wanted a snack, I rarely went inside. I’d just take a trip through the garden.

As a family, we consumed the bounty of this horticultural and arboreal masterpiece when each vegetable or fruit was in its season. We either ate the food fresh soon after it was picked, or we canned or froze it when harvested at its peak ripeness.

All of this produce was, quite simply, magnificent. It was bursting with flavor. At the time, I didn’t know I was being spoiled and, compared to all my rural neighbors, I wasn’t really spoiled at all. Many of them had similar gardens of their own.

When I was a little older, I attended a high school in a city about an hour-and-a-half from our farm. Students came from all over the state and lived on campus, but few grew up on farms. Most of my friends were city kids and had no idea what life was like back on the farm.

I was still studying there the first time I bought produce from a store. When I brought it back to the dorms and tried to eat it, my friends had no clue why I complained about how it tasted. They tried my bland apples, plums and peaches and said, “There’s nothing wrong with these.”

Those poor souls had never tried fruit that had ripened on the tree. The fruit they had eaten was picked green so it could survive long storage times and transportation over long distances. By the time they ate it, it was a pale shadow of what fruit is really supposed to be. I felt sorry for them and enjoyed widening their palates with food from the farm whenever I could.

That’s why I like the local food movement. I know their adherents sometimes vilify the products from larger farms as a marketing strategy, but at their core, they are trying to give people the same eating experience that many of us who were raised on family farms enjoyed.

The realities of modern agriculture, our infrastructure, and international trade basically assure that there will be no mass transition back to small farms and universal locally-grown food. So, I’m confident the larger row crop farms and feedlots are at no risk from the local food movement.

That’s why I don’t get upset when they market their food as being better than the store-bought food produced by modern agriculture. They won’t really make a difference in the commodities markets, and through their efforts some city kids might actually find out how an apple is supposed to taste.