Two Peachy Economies 


p
From GENE LOGSDON

I cheer for the local food movement  every chance I get, but I’m a little uneasy with the word “local.”  Just as all politics are local, as someone famous has said, all food is local. And like politics, just because it’s local does not necessarily mean it’s good.  I recently ran into an example that addresses this conundrum.

I got a phone call from a friend in Kentucky and she was all excited because what she referred to as “the peach truck” was in town. She had just come home from buying peaches from The Peach Truck (first letters all capitalized), the best peaches in the world, she declared. “There were 40 people lined up in front of me to buy peaches and just as many behind me. I counted them,” she said. Pause. “Guess what they were selling for.”

I had no idea of course and nearly dropped the phone when she told me. “Thirty nine dollars  a HALF bushel.”

She thought that they are worth it. They come from a specific farm in Georgia, the Pearson Farm, that has been raising them for years. (You can find this all on Google.) The Peach Truck is the brainchild of a couple in Nashville, Tenn., Stephen and Jessica Rose, who knew about those peaches. They are picked just before they are fully ripe, loaded on The Peach Truck, which is really a fleet of trucks now, and transported far and wide, where the trucks park at prearranged business sites to sell their fruit. The Peach Truck people make every effort to project a local character to the operation even though the orchard may be hundreds of miles from the sales site. They have popularized the phrase “from truck to porch.” And as the customers wait in line to get their peaches, The Peach Truck salespeople brief them over loudspeakers as to just exactly how to handle these peaches. Do not put them in the refrigerator, wait a day or two or three for them to ripen fully. You can tell the right time by pressing them gently with a thumb until they give just a little. Then eat. Or can. Or freeze.

Truckers have always hauled produce from the south to northern markets. But rarely has there been so much effort made to personalize the process as sort of local artisanal operation, moving from orchard to truck to porch as quickly as speed limits allow with no intermediate handling or storage or middlemen. Customers of The Peach Truck feel like they are dealing with a local farmer at a local farmer’s market. The piston engine has made almost every part of the nation “local.”

So what’s the fly in the ointment here, so to speak? As any champion of literally local food will quickly point out, it requires lots of fuel. That means, if the scientists are correct, contributing a lot of CO2 to the atmosphere, thereby speeding up climate change. So how far away from the customer can a farm be and still not contribute unnecessarily to environmental damage? I leave that question to someone smarter than I am.

But The Peach Truck gives me an opportunity to compare the difference between high tech and low tech farming, which I so love to do. Here on our little farm, we have been eating our own peaches every day for a month now. I don’t think they are quite as good as the best Georgia peaches, but almost. The trees grow wild, first from when we scattered seeds and skins of Red Haven peaches we had bought around the henhouse for the chickens to peck at. The trees volunteered. We don’t do anything for them except prop up branches heavy with fruit. Some have died, but others come up from pits left by discarded or fallen fruit. Some years the weather kills the fruit buds, but most of the time we get plenty for eating fresh, canning and freezing.  We generally pick ours several days before they are juicy ripe, just to keep the wild critters from eating them, so our peaches, just a couple hundred feet from the kitchen, are no fresher than The Peach Truck’s peaches sold hundreds of miles from the orchard. The difference: high tech peaches are $39 a half bushel; ours are zero dollars a half bushel.
~~

14 Comments

Gene: You win. Keep on truckin’–but from your own volunteer trees, not from the Peach Truck.

I live in north Florida. Even with my best efforts, I do try, really, my trees produce almost nothing. My three pear trees, one is 40 years old, produced 4 pears this year, only one was edible. Of my 6 ten year old citrus trees, only one is over five feet tall. This year most have no fruit. The grapefruit tree has about six small grapefruit on it, they will probably be hard and tasteless just like last year. My 15 ten year old blue berry bushes had their best crop ever, enough to make one pie. My two 15 year old muscadine grape vines produced enough grapes for about 8 pints of jam.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly enjoy them!🙂

I planted a peach tree in my front yard last fall. It is 7ft now and I can’t wait to bite into some low cost (not free) peaches in a couple of years. My neighbors think I am strange for planting a peach tree in front of my house in town. I predict they will all be my pals in 2-3 years when my peaches are turning ripe!

Dear Gene Logsdon, Wow, your name popped into my head and though it’s been years (decades?) since we met at Rodale, I had to google you. Now I know why. I’ve just been doing a rant on Facebook about how pit-a-full the peaches/nectarines from our “local” farmers markets in San Francisco have been. No one disagreed. All have sense memories of what a peach should be. Clearly, they are picked too unripe and don’t ripen properly and the price, when you factor in what we have to toss, is off the Richter—not a good place to be in SF. Will read more of your site now. Thanks for your good words. Camille Cusumano (P.S. I met you thru your then-editor, Dan Wallace)

Sloganeering doesn’t do much except show the infinite capacity of human beings to reduce things to a formula. So. . . “local” is not a sacrosanct word regardless of the distance from producer to market.

Tonight we are eating kohl rabi, salad (lettuce our own greenhouse-grown tomatoes), our own potatoes, and bacon which the local area doesn’t produce in sufficient quantities for our butcher. So our pork arrives at the butcher from about 12 hours away. I will eat the bacon with no guilt whatsoever about it not being “local.” We try not to eat plums from Chile, or tomatoes from outside British Columbia, and don’t even eat the B.C. greenhouse tomatoes much during the winter/spring. I can’t understand what is so wrong with eating seasonally: eat what you can’t, and what you can’t. . . can. Or freeze. My Wisconsinite brother gives up home-grown watermelon for Lent. He gets the point.

Our peach tree has been generous enough to provide us with several batches of jam, five trays of fruit leather, “gorge”ously delicious eating, and trimmings to infuse a half gallon or so of vodka. We practice a lot of benign neglect in the orchard but are not disappointed by the results. Growing for flavor, not looks.

Thirty-nine bucks for a half bushel sounds a little steep until you do the math. One US bushel is about 37 1/4 dry quarts and will yield (as per the Extension folks) approximately 16 quarts of cut up and ready to process fruit. That works out to about $2.10 per qt. raw and a little less than $4.90 prepped. That is a heck of a lot less than what the local Farm Markets get for a quart of peaches. It appears that volume buying by the Peach Truck people works to everyone’s advantage.

And just remember that the sausage sandwiches, funnel cakes, and deep fried whatever which you may consume at your County Fair have NO calories if such items are a one time a year thing. Go enjoy the midway and the critter barns!!

We just polished off southern peach cobbler last night.🙂 We prefer going peach picking ourselves. I am amazed by those who manage to grow peaches without much effort. My friend here has a couple peach trees, but nothing good ever produces on them. Some years fruit is very small. Other years, like this summer, appears the fruit will never grow or ripen. The peach farm in Michigan asked: do you do anything with your peach tree? If you do not, don;t expect much, they said. So what is the mystery of having the fruit?

We don’t all live where it’s possible to grow peaches, or lots of other fruits and veggies. Where I reside, the growing season is extremely short but for the past four years has been even shorter than usual. We can’t plant anything outdoors until mid-June and sometimes we have our first frost in September. Not enough time to grow a cuke much less a peach tree – and have it survive.

I don’t believe in global warming, never did buy that story but that’s just me, and greenhouse gasses are just ridiculous in concept. We have enough oil and water in america, which has yet to be tapped, to keep us going for a long, long, long time. The universe knows how to take care of itself and if man would just stay out of it, things would probably go much better in the long run. The global warming/greenhouse gas agenda is all about re-arranging money in the gubmint system, from one enterprise to another – within the system.

$39 per half bushel! I have trouble convincing myself to pay more than $10 per half bushel and I usually am not successful in doing so.

We have a few of our own peach trees, but with seven children, we can always do with more peaches.

We live in an area of South Central PA which was hailed by the likes of Thomas Jefferson as THE greatest peach producing area of the country, and I still feel like our peaches here are above and beyond anything Georgia could offer. Add into that equation the fact that these peaches are ripened on the tree in the sun and WATCH OUT, these puppies have flavors you may never have experienced before!

I get upset when I see apples from Chile and Washington in the grocery store. Adams County, PA (home of Gettysburg) is the Apple Capitol of the US. Is the import / export price difference really that much better that we should ship all of our apples to China just so that we can buy inferior apples from Guatemala?

Living in South-western Ontario, I’m surrounded by orchards, all within 50 miles. A great day trip is to go to one of the many farm gate locations for peaches, peach jams, and, on one glorious occasion, we sipped coffee and waited for the peach pies to finish baking in an Amish wood stove. Right now, it’s the best of the peaches, the Red Haven. Sitting on porch steps, biting into a perfectly ripe peach is one of the best experiences of summer.

Our local economy here in Central and Eastern Washington State is based largely upon fruit, beef, hops for beer, wine and juice from locally grown grapes and vegetables. The residents in Central and Eastern Washington are simply too few to consume all of this bounty. The supporting industry technology , such as keeping apples in cold storage in a large room essentially free from Oxygen, means that apples can be sent worldwide and the customer can reasonably expect to bite into a crunchy and tasty apple if the store keepers do their part to maintain quality before the apples are sold. Nevertheless, all of us locals enjoy the opportunity to harvest tree ripe or vine ripe fruits berries grapes etc. which are simply too ripe to ship. So to a regional economy based upon agricultural products shipped around the world such as ours, if everyone ate truly locally, it would mean our regional economy would probably collapse. So a local food movement, while commendable, should also recognize the very real potential for unintended consequences, as in causing economic collapse of regions economically based upon agricultural products for shipment worldwide.

The winds of what is commonly thought to be environmentally, socially and political correct in regard to local food are known to shift at almost random intervals. For example: author Marc Reisner ( I think he is now deceased) in his 1986 bok “Cadillac Desert” lambastes the western America practice of raising irrigated pasture and alfalfa to feed cattle because (summarize paraphrase follows):

the dams to provide the irrigation have damaged salmon runs and cattle are evil anyway because they produce flatulence, erode soil, cause pollution etc It makes more economic sense to feed westerners who refuse to stop eating beef and dairy products to eat beef and dairy products imported from states where it rains more than out here in the west.

That last comment is directly opposed to the local food concept, yet was the environmental wisdom of the time. I somehow think Mr. Reisner missed the point that not only do the western cows produce delicious, nutritious human food but the pastures and alfalfa for feeding the cows sequester huge amounts of greenhouse gases while providing the basis for fertility for all of the other crops produced in the west. I’m not saying everything is perfect in regard to manure management but the vast majority of manure produced by western USA cattle is indeed put back on to the land to recycle fertility.

Gene wisely indicates the difficulty the non-homesteader faces if they want to be environmentally and socially responsible. Just before I read Gene’s blog I dined on a locally produced peach, which was also raised with irrigation water. Following his example, I’m re-purposing the peach pit to go in the ground to produce more peaches. If the seedling produces good fruit -great; if not I’ll graft on a scion of good fruit, also as per Gene’s advice in prior writings.

I can’t fix the problems of the two peachy economies Gene describes but I certainly do enjoy slurping down a fresh peach I just picked. If someone wants to pay big bucks to dine on shipped-in peaches from the peach truck, instead of planting seeds and waiting a few years for backyard fruit, well at least they are helping provide employment to others. Of course if the predictions of peak oil in the future are true, then local, as in backyard, fruit will probably be all that is available to anyone. OOPS, I need a napkin to wipe the peach juice from my chin.

I keep waiting for a few volunteers around my chicken coop. I must have some industrious chickens as nothing grows there. I’ve even gone to the local cannery and brought home buckets of peach and pear leftovers…that is peels, pits and a few whole fruits and thrown them out to the chickens. You’d think they never get fed (and I can assure you they do) the way they pounce on those luxurious leftovers.
One thing about farmers, especially the small backyard farmer…we are frugal most of the time. Who else uses their gloves for myriad purposes like padding the top of the old recycled extension ladder or cutting a portion out to patch this or that. Occasionally I splurge but more often than not you’ll find me rooting through a pile of “I might need that later” to solve a problem. Maybe it’s just that we need a creative outlet. Don’t think so….

And there is nothing better as a parent than watching your child wander to the orchard, grab a fruit and eat it on the way to the house. You can’t buy that for $39/bushel.

Please leave your comments...

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>