Fruit Ripeness: A Rant
*Long post alert…if you don’t want to read the whole thing, at least read this article: To Pick or Not To Pick.*
Beyond working with Master Gardeners and home gardeners to improve their gardens and all that good stuff, I also work with the local fruit and vegetable growers to help them start or improve their businesses. Once you step over the line from “home gardening” to “commercial gardening/farming,” there is a whole other world out there in terms of magazines, resources, and technologies. I subscribe to a wide variety of professional publications for commercial produce growers to help me stay up to date on the latest things going on in the industry. Even though most of our local growers are very small and sell directly to customers, other things will eventually trickle down in the industry.
In the last couple months, I’ve been following some articles in the American Fruit Grower magazine, about harvest quality in stone fruit. (Stone fruit are peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries.)
The first article, published in March, Stone Fruit: Truth in Advertising, was largely about methods growers could use to make sure they are harvesting their fruit (specifically peaches) at the correct time. What really caught my attention was this paragraph near the beginning of the article:
The consumer has the final say about your fruit quality, and the national trend for per capita peach consumption is downward, indicating that consumers are not happy. When surveyed, many people indicate that they were disappointed in the quality and taste of the fruit. If consumers had a bad experience with their first peach of the season from the local chain store, they may move on from peaches to purchase other fruits for the rest of the summer.
I don’t know about you, but that reflects my personal experience. I would happily buy a half dozen peaches every week they were available…if my experience would prove to me that i would be guaranteed that every one of those peaches was going to be sweet, juicy, and have a good texture. However, my experience is that maybe 1 out of every 5 or 6 peaches I buy from the grocery store is worth eating. So, I don’t buy them.
Anyway, I was interested in finding out more about the trends in peach consumption, and found this report from the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center:
Annual per person consumption of peaches in the United States peaked at 13 pounds in the early 1970s. By 2008 annual consumption had dropped to 8.8 pounds per person.
So, that’s a fairly significant drop. (Part of the drop is explained by reduced consumption of canned peaches, but people are switching to fresh over canned, they just are eating less peaches.) Obviously the peach industry has some major issues with consumers.
The next thing I saw, was the results of a reader poll, done by the American Fruit Grower. The poll asked, would you pick fruit before it was ready if a lucrative offer presented itself? 27% responding said yes, 16% maybe, and 57% no. It’s good that more than half said no, but I was still surprised by how many said yes or maybe. Obviously it’s a complicated situation.
Which brings us to the next article. The April issue of the American Fruit Grower, To Pick or Not To Pick. Largely an editorial, the writer tells about the happenings at a Fruit Ripening Workshop held in California at UC-Davis. I would encourage you to read this article, because it will put the situation into perspective for you. These fruit growers are trying to make a living and keep their businesses running. Often, they have to deal with low market prices that may not be worth the cost of producing their fruit. Large retailers often have all the power in the relationship. The growers have to make decisions that will keep their farms viable, even if it means selling the produce at less than optimum ripeness. You can hardly fault them for that.
What can we as consumers do about it? Well…obviously we already are by not buying. Of course, you can support local fruit growers, but some years our spring weather means no fruit. Beyond that…I’m open to suggestions?