Sorry for my absence the last couple of days. I was covering events for work and didn’t have a spare second to sit down and put some thoughts together. But my thoughts have been gathered and off I go.
I like apples. And today, as I was working on some pieces for work at home, I got a hankerin,’ as we say in these parts, for an apple. A nice, crisp, tart Granny Smith apple. I wrote for a while and did some other things but my hankerin’ didn’t ease up. So off to my local grocery (HyVee in my case since it’s very close) and they had Granny Smith apples. I bagged up five and brought ’em on home. Along with dry cat food and vanilla yogurt. I sometimes think my purchases scream “crazy cat lady” but as long as I had my apples and the cats won’t need to wake me at 4 a.m. due to their self-perceived near-starvation conditions, I’m good.
Back to my apples. It’s going to be the first day of July tomorrow. Around here, that’s nowhere close to apple season. I’m not sure it’s anywhere near apple season anywhere, actually. And yet, my supermarket was able to satisfy my Granny Smith craving tonight.
Apple season around here is usually mid to late September moving into October. It’s a thing, families trek out to pick-your-own pumpkin and apple farms that feature corn mazes and all kinds of attractions. It’s a fall fun family thing to do and more and more of these pick-your-own farms have popped up. I think it’s a great thing. Any time you can get people out of suburbia and into the countryside, there are collateral benefits for agriculture of all types. People see fields, they may even see a combine running or a tractor pulling gravity wagons down a road. This time of year, they don’t mind it. It’s usually the weekend and it adds to the whole atmosphere part of a day in the country. But I digress. Anyway, that’s when apples get picked around here is in the fall. So if I wanted to truly eat seasonally for my area, I would have had to wait another 90 days or more to enjoy a local Granny Smith.
I didn’t. I’m not big on waiting. And to my benefit and to the benefit of millions of other eaters, we have developed a food system in this country that allows us to go to the store and purchase Granny Smith apples in the Midwest in June. Or in December or January. People in North Dakota and Montana can go to the store in March and buy oranges for their kids to enjoy. We’ve also developed a food system in this country that allows for produce to be shipped great distances and to remain fresh for an extended period of time. With all due respect to local and organic apple growers, if you’ve ever had a worm appear as you were cutting an apple apart – or have one suddenly grow an impressive mane of mold or rot overnight, you can appreciate the advanced preservation techniques we’ve developed for fruit and vegetables.
I did join the CSA to have fresh fruits and vegetables. But I’m not able to grow or source all the fresh fruits and vegetables I need when I need them. Sometimes I just want to chop up a tomato and toss it on a green salad in December, then dive into a hot bowl of soup. I can go to my supermarket and buy lettuce and buy tomatoes, admittedly not as fresh as they would be out of my garden but that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make to have a green salad in December in the Midwest.
Are we dependent on a food system that lets us have what fruit and veg we want when we want it and for those products to stay fresh until we can eat them all? Probably. But I would say that’s not necessarily a bad thing. By having those products available, we have the means to make our diets healthier, even if the fruit and vegetables isn’t strictly “local.”
My mom used to say “it takes all kinds of people to make the world go ’round” and it takes all kinds of food systems to feed different appetites. Some may prefer to eat seasonally. For those, the advent and growing use of the hoophouse, a sort of portable, less-expensive greenhouse, is extending the growing season throughout the Midwest. Restaurant demand for locally-sourced produce is also helping that cause along. Restaurants want to be able to serve green salads with chopped tomatoes all year long. Their desire to source those ingredients locally is helping growers of that produce find ways to grow even in the depths of a Midwest winter.
As for me, I’ll enjoy my produce from my CSA box (going to get another box tomorrow night so stay tuned; I also will need to think quick about using up a few items from last week’s box) when it’s available. My CSA bounty will last into September or October and I want to try my hand at freezing a few things to add to soups and stews and maybe try freezing some pesto and some herbs for use in the winter. But even as I add those to the soup pot, I’ll still look with anticipation on my grown-in-California lettuce and tomato salad as the snow swirls outside my window. And I’ll settle down to that hot soup, to that crisp salad – and a pile of seed catalogs and dreams of spring.