Savoring The Sweet Fruits Of Technology
Why Don't My Tree-Ripened Peaches Taste As Good As The Ones In The Store?
August 23, 2000
by Dennis T. Avery
THE BridgeNews FORUM August 11, 2000
CHURCHVILLE, Va.-This time of year brings one of humanity's greatest joys-juicy, sweet ripe peaches. I'm one of the few people in the world who can begin the day by picking a ripe peach right off my own tree to slice on my breakfast cereal.
It's not nearly as nifty as you might think. To start with, the peaches are only there for a week or so of the year. Worse, my peaches don't taste as good as the peaches in the store.
Apparently, my peach tree is not as well matched to its soil and climate as are commercial orchard trees. Or maybe it's an outdated variety.
Obviously, the produce know which trees produce the best-tasting peaches, and mine isn't one of them. My peach tree also has an ongoing problem with brown rot. If I don't spray the tree with a fungicide, the peaches begin to rot just as they begin to ripen.
Even if I remember to get out the sprayer on a cold February day and spray the tree, I'm not an expert on the pest controls. I never get rid of the brown rot completely. Whether left on the tree, or left, nearly ripened, on the kitchen counter, the rot takes over.
Like most fruit trees, it prefers to produce fruit every other year instead of every year. In the off years, I get little or no fruit. This pattern is no problem for the stores, which cheerfully buy peaches from whichever trees are producing in a given year-but I've only got the one tree. (If I had two, the first drought or spring freeze would soon put both trees into the same off years.)
All in all, I'm grateful that I can go down to our little grocery and buy a peck of commercial peaches a few times each summer. Then I can really gorge myself on good fruit.
It's quite a tribute to the modern food system that a fruit as quirky and perishable as the peach can be found in our food stores most of the spring and summer, offering fresh taste and attractive appearance for an amazingly low price.
Seasonality is also a problem for my famous organic-farmer neighbor, Joel Salatin. ABC anchor Peter Jennings recently featured Joel and his pasture-raised chickens.
Joel says free-range chickens are a fraud: The birds cluster in a barren field, swept by the cold winds in winter, and are baked by the hot sun in summer. Nor is there any vegetation for them to eat, because the vegetation in a poultry yard disappears very quickly. Joel puts his chickens in little wheeled shelters and moves the shelters around his pasture to a new spot of grass every day.
Joel has an effective rotational grazing system. The cows get to graze a strip of new grass for a few days. Then he shifts the cows to the next paddock and moves the chickens in.
The chickens not only get good grass, but also love the half-digested seeds and fly maggots they find in the cow dung. My dozen free-range chickens spend most of their time around the horse stable for the same reason.
Joel's problem is that his production system doesn't work in the winter-no grass. If you want to eat his chickens in the winter, you'll have to store up frozen ones during the summer.
The American Indians used to spend most of their waking hours either hunting and gathering food, or moving to new hunting grounds. The early settlers worked from dawn till dark just to feed, clothe and shelter themselves and cut firewood.
Today, First World residents can get the safest, most varied diet in history just by going to a nearby store and spending about 10 percent of their disposable income.
Is it the healthful food or the absence of worry about getting enough to eat that added 30 years to our average life span in the 20th century? Most of my kids' income is spent on things that would have amazed the pioneers: ie homes, personal computers, sport utility vehicles, music systems, vacations, concerts and health clubs.
They have more free time and more pleasant choices for using it than any previous generation. All that and fresh peaches too. It's a good time to be alive.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.