This post, by Guy King Ames, originally appeared on Ozark Natural Foods’ blog.
I’m Guy King Ames, owner of Ames Orchard & Nursery here in Northwest Arkansas. I’m also a horticulturist with ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (www.attra.ncat.org ), a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, Fayetteville office. In the latter capacity, I write bulletins and give presentations on organic production of fruits for the whole country (go to the above-linked site to see these publications, webinars, etc.). The reason I mention this is that I have a pretty good handle on organic fruit production in the various parts of the United States.
If you’ve ever wondered why most of the organic apples and other tree fruits at ONF come from Washington, Oregon, and California, it’s really quite simple. The commercial fruit growers in those states, organic and otherwise, are growing fruit in what is essentially the irrigated desert. In that environment there are very few diseases, and if they are present, they occur with much less severity. Same for insect pests: fewer and less severe outbreaks. In such an environment, organic culture of fruit is relatively easy…relative to the eastern half of the U.S., where the higher humidity and rainfall fosters a plethora of diseases and pests.
Organic (or Certified Naturally Grown, as is my farm) fruit culture in the East is quite difficult. It’s even more difficult in the South where the higher heat favors fruit tree diseases like fire blight of pears and apples, black rot of grapes, summer rots of apples, brown rot of plums and peaches, and the list goes on. And there’s a similarly daunting list of insect pests.
So, you might think, why not just grow the tree fruits organically out in the West and truck them back East? Ah, go back and re-read your copy of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma (http://michaelpollan.com/books/the-omnivores-dilemma/)! The “food-miles” for such a system are insane and represent a huge cost to the environment, including a large contribution to global climate change. Moreover—and something I don’t remember Pollan spending much time on—the irrigation for the thousands upon thousands of acres of tree fruits in eastern Washington and elsewhere in the West comes from the many dams on the Snake, Columbia, and other important rivers. Important for whom? Salmon. It’s truly not a stretch to say that the ease of organic culture of tree fruits in the West comes at the cost of salmon habitat. It’s an ugly truth that most of us don’t want to face.
I’ve spent almost all of my adult life trying to grow fruit in an environmentally-sound way here in Northwest Arkansas. Nature has kicked my butt from Yellville to Fayetteville, but I’ve figured out a few things along the way. One of those is that I can grow certain pear varieties, including Asian pears, without any sprays whatsoever! I still suffer large losses to insects and diseases, but I can bring delicious Asian pears to Ozark Natural Foods with just a minimum of cosmetic imperfections—and I hope you’ll take those few dings and dimples as a sign that these are pesticide-free and yummy.
I really hope you will try some of these locally-grown pears. The small, yellow-gold ones are Shinkos (from Japan) and have a sprightly sweetness with a touch of citrus. The large, dark orange-bronze ones are Korean Giants and they are big sugar bombs! Both are crisp and refreshing. And they’re grown right here in your own neighborhood!