Wednesday, October 08, 2008

the apples

If you like feeding people as I do, it's upsetting to know that anyone is going hungry. This year, many people will likely be hungry as the cost of heat, medicine, gas, and food has gone up.

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may remember last year's discovery of an apple orchard on my husband's family's land. The short version is that the family stays in an old farm house on vacations, and rent out the farm land. When they changed farmer/renters, they discovered there'd been an orchard on the land all along. Probably the fruit had been feeding horses or cows before, but now, we had access to it again. I asked the professor to take this trip with me at this time of year because of the apples.

Access is a funny word. It's clear that the farmer who planted this orchard did it in a field that was not actually useful for modern farming. There's a ravine, some damp boggy areas, and no sane person would attempt to work this field on a tractor. Instead, there are rows and rows of trees. Even with 40 years of neglect, it is possible to see the rows of trees, the hard work of the farmer, and the beauty of these fruit trees.
Access means that first, we drove the rental car across the "big field" which had been hayed relatively recently. The professor does a lot of field work with four wheel drive and knows about what a car can do on minimal road surface or none at all. (Folks, don't try this at home.) Here's a photo of the view, and you can just about see the car tracks in the damp grass.
We came prepared. We brought every single plastic shopping bag from home, and we scrounged every shopping bag we could find in the farm house. Our raincoat pockets were stuffed with plastic bags. Then we climbed over an old barbed wire fence, goose stepped over some very tall weeds, and plowed through. (imagine weeds at thigh height...)
The views were great--note the traditional red barn in the distance here.... and the professor and I both love spending time outdoors in the fall. Our first date was picking apples. This was far less romantic, but our first apple picking session on Thursday was a good 3 to 4 hours outside in the orchard.
We've revised our estimate and think now that there are perhaps 30 bearing trees, although it's hard to tell. Everything needs to be pruned and worked on, but even so, we saw many trees had a productive year...and then their fruit dropped onto the ground. (pears and apples everywhere.) We caught the late bearing fruit this time.
The apples taste great, full of that delicious crunch and tart sweet vigor that makes New York State's crop one of the best in the country. The fruit are somewhat small, have blemishes or black spot mold, but taste fabulous. With some work, it would be possible to produce perfect apples, but as is, there's nothing wrong with this fruit. Of course, maintaining the orchard would guarantee us fruit in years to come, but for now? We had more apples than we could ever use. I made 3 pies and enough apple sauce for 16 or 20 servings and we didn't use up even one whole bag of apples!
Once I started looking for trees ripe with fruit, I saw them everywhere. In upstate NY, in Vermont, and even in downtown Bowling Green, Kentucky. What surprised me most is that more people aren't picking the fruit. When we arrived in upstate New York, we saw this article headline from the local paper:
A friend asked me, "So, the food bank always asks me for did you know what to do with the apples?" I got the idea because we walk by a food pantry every day when Harry and Sally dogs need a walk. I asked them if they took fruit donations, and they said yes, but normally they had to buy fresh fruit. It only took a little research online to find out how to donate food in another location. I used a food bank locator and called one of the regional food bank distributors. I explained the situation. We located a small food pantry 3 miles from the farm (6 shopping bags of apples.) Another food pantry, slightly farther away, sent two older gentlemen in a pick-up truck to pick up this trunkload...we couldn't really close the trunk!
Then, on Saturday, we went back out to the orchard with a ladder and some help from relatives. That was about 12 heavy shopping bags full of apples, 124 lbs, which we dropped off in Glens Falls at the location mentioned in that article, above.
I'm really proud that our family could do this! All in all, this took a couple of hours of organizing and phone calls, perhaps two days of picking, and that was it. 400 lbs of apples harvested. We're talking maybe 1500 apples here.
Right, you're thinking, but not everyone has an orchard just sitting around....or people who want to pick the fruit! Here's a simple set of ideas to think about:
1) Even one fruit tree feeds a lot of people. If you have access to one, see one in someone else's yard, or by the side or the road, ask if you can harvest some for the owner if they allow you to donate some of it for the hungry. A ladder, some plastic bags, and a friend to help...that's all you need. First, do taste the fruit make sure it's good before going to the effort!
2) Pick your own orchards charge less for fruit than grocery stores. Pick your fruit and find some to donate. (Think about large amounts here, the food pantry needs more than a few apples at a time.)
3) If you live in an urban area or can't pick food for others, no big deal. Look to see if your local grocery store has a food bank drop-off. Buying canned goods? Buy double and drop half those cans into the drop-off. You'll maybe spend an addition $1-5 on your groceries each time. If you can't imagine swinging that, ask yourself if you can cut back on some other purchase to help others...processed food costs more, so cut back on that stuff, cook one meal at home...and that money can be used to feed the needy.
Last night, I listened to the latest presidential debate. A smart person asked the candidates--Given what's going on in our economy and in the world, how will you ask Americans to sacrifice?
One candidate said, "I'll cut spending across government programs across the board and that way, everyone will have to sacrifice." (but of course, the wealthy will likely not suffer from those cuts as the poor will, such as the children who need insurance or who are in Headstart programs, for instance)
The one I'm voting for (hint, he's younger) suggested we all have to start conserving resources, limiting our energy usage, and making small changes in our daily lives. I think that's a great suggestion. Even better? Why not simply stop wasting the fruit growing by the side of the roads...?
Don't worry, I'll talk about yarn purchases in my next post, really! Sorry to sound so preachy this time. So, how 'bout them apples? What are you thinking? Say something in the comments....


Blogger Mary G said...

oooo, I so want some of those beautiful apples! we go thru TONS of apples around here in a year.

Gorgeous pictures of the orchard ... wish I could find one here.

October 8, 2008 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger Geek Knitter said...

Did you have apple pie and cheddar cheese for breakfast?

My favorite grocery store has scannable donation tickets right at the register. You just tear off the amount you want to donate and it goes right on your total.

October 8, 2008 at 12:29 PM  
Anonymous AlisonH said...

Here, I know, you can call Second Harvest Food Bank and they'll send out volunteers to pick your tree. I'm thinking of it as a great way for singles to meet each other while doing good, and our neighbor, with a tall persimmon tree, was thrilled to find out that all her fruit could go to a food bank without her having to do a thing.

Meantime, thank you thank you thank you and your family for all that hard work and effort!

October 8, 2008 at 12:45 PM  
Blogger cyndy said...

I'm sure the farmer who planted the trees would love know what you did with the harvest ;-) What a nice tribute to the hard work of past generations.

Do you know the names of the variety of trees that you have? Often, those old orchards have heirloom trees...

I'd love to see the orchard in springtime it is gorgeous!

October 9, 2008 at 7:22 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

What an excellent family trek.
I wush that people would realize how very unimportant their $120. jeans and other designer wear is...and their techie stuff that is hazardous waste. My one little ole computer and one cell phone are bad enough... I've always felt that we were going to be heading toward depression or worse and have tried learning skills which would bring me through.

October 9, 2008 at 7:54 AM  
Blogger annmarie said...

love the picture of the trunkload of apples. :)

October 9, 2008 at 9:03 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

It's nice to read that a family can get together and do some good for someone else.
We visited the apple orchard yesterday and tried Honey Crisp apples for the first time. They are wonderful.
I also bought a bushel of what they call drops for my animals at a very reduced rate. I went through the box and could find nothing wrong with most of them. They will make wonderful apple sauce.

October 9, 2008 at 12:10 PM  
Anonymous Janet said...

That's a serious mitzvah, there, Joanne. Makes me glad to know you, virtually speaking. I may have to go back to the market tomorrow and buy another $5 of "seconds" for the food pantry. Why didn't I think of that before!

October 10, 2008 at 4:57 PM  

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