By Tina Wright
Jackie Merwin, who has harvested fruit with her husband Ian on Black Diamond Farm in Trumansburg since the late 1990s, has never seen anything like the weather last spring. A heat wave in March (which one national weatherman called "like science fiction") put northern fruit trees in a blooming state of mind, right before a series of frosts that ended with a brutal hard freeze the last weekend of April. Local orchards were hard hit.
Merwin explains, "Since things were in bloom [when the freeze hit], we have no cherries, no peaches, no plums, no pears or apricots, we got completely frozen out of all those things ... people keep asking for a number on the apples and I'm thinking maybe 30 percent is what we'll have of our normal crop. I think I'm going to sell all of that at the Farmers Market."
Andy Rizos, GreenStar's Produce Manager, winces at this news. Black Diamond Farm has been a major supplier of apples for GreenStar. "This is going to affect us tremendously because they [Black Diamond] can get a lot more at the Farmers Market than they can here."
Fruit Growers News reports big losses in apple orchards in Michigan as well as New York State this season. Michigan may produce only 11 percent of last year's crop, and fuzzy guesstimates on New York production anticipate less than half of last year's apple volume.
Getting a good supply of local apples will be a challenge this year. GreenStar apple growers report a wide range of harvest forecasts. Organic apple growers at Hemlock Grove Farm in West Danby expect only 20 percent of last year's crop, while folks at Grisamore Farms in Locke are optimistic that they'll harvest around 75 percent of a typical apple crop..
Rizos and the Produce Department are up to the challenge of finding good fruit for GreenStar customers. Rizos says, "We're going to stretch beyond who we've worked with before, which isn't a bad thing. We'll extend our stretch and be willing to find more conventional stuff. I think it's actually a good opportunity to make new contacts."
Higher apple prices are certainly possible. Rizos maintains, "It's very reasonable to expect higher apple prices — I think it would be unreasonable to not expect higher prices this year. You also have to support the people who are getting nailed this year. They are losing their livelihoods."
Melissa Smith is a partner at Hemlock Grove, a small one-acre orchard she runs organically with Brian Caldwell and Amy Garbincus. "We lost a lot of it," Smith says. "It's hard to say exactly how much we lost and how much is natural variation, but compared to last year we have less than 20 percent of the volume we had. It's a lot. We cancelled our CSA, as we lost all of certain varieties."
Raising apple prices is an option, but Smith says, "It's important to be able to offer food at a reasonable price. We're still going to be selling to GreenStar and we'll still have bushels to sell directly to people, just less than last year."
Littletree Orchards in Newfield reports on their website overall fruit crop losses of 70 to 80 percent on sweet and tart cherries, peaches, pears and apples: "This is the first time we have faced a season like this, with such great losses in all crops." They have cut their u-pick days to weekends only. Littletree Orchard's CSA is still going this season.
Black Diamond Farm has suspended their CSA this season, though. Merwin mourns the loss of some of the orchard's "workhorse" varieties, like Jonagold and Gold Rush, that have absolutely no apples this year.
As if the weather hasn't already been stressful enough for fruit growers, Merwin worries about drought as irrigation ponds dry up and the sun keeps shining. She suggests, "Right now, pray for rain."
New in Produce
|Lots to Be Thankful For|
The local bounty continues, brought to you by the sweat and toil of farmers -— surely something to be thankful for.
November ... the local bounty is bestowed upon us, plowed under the sweat-browed gaze of toiling farmers, as crouched workers pick and pull on bent knees with earth-covered hands. We stay warm within the confines of our offices and coffee shops, but those of the fields toil hard and tough to provide us with sustenance. Should we not be thankful for this? Not everyone is so lucky as to taste of these local wonders and vegetable splendor: Cider, Honeycrisp, Mutsu, and Golden Russet apples picked atop the ladders of Black Diamond, Indian Creek, and Littletree Orchards; honeynut, butternut, and kabocha squashes, parsnips, rutabagas, and radishes, kale, collards, cabbage, and other hearty greens, all picked or dug from the fields of Blue Heron, Stick and Stone, Remembrance, and Good Life Farms. Give thanks, not for memories of Pilgrims and violence, but for the lush local variety of sustainable agriculture that we are so lucky to enjoy.