Fresh Fruit Isn’t Always Fresh Picked [Opinion]

We get a lot of interesting calls here at the magazine. Obviously most come from folks like you – growers looking for information on a production technique or a new product. But we also hear quite often from people outside of our industry following up on something they’re heard about fruit or fruit growing.

So it amused me recently when by a producer of a national TV news program Contacted me recently seeking sources on the age of produce in the supermarket, specifically apples. It seems every year some news show comes out with an “expose” on the fact that some of the fruit in their local store was picked – gasp – more than a week ago.

I was surprised at how little this gentleman – whom I’m assuming lives in New York City – knew about growing seasons. Perhaps it’s my exposure to the seasonality of food with my family’s garden, but even as a child, I knew not to expect local produce to be fresh-picked in the dead of winter in Ohio.

He asked me everything from when apples were harvested to whether it’s true that apples are a year old when they hit supermarket shelves.

He seemed a little shocked my calm comment of “When you want to buy a ‘Honeycrisp’ in February, what do you expect?”

I mentioned that when an apple is “ready” varies from climate to variety – there are early apples, there are late apples. And, whether an apple is stored or not is also dependent on variety, the time it’s picked, among other factors.

Along the same lines, I was browsing my Instagram account two or three months ago, and saw a local farmers’ market advertising “fresh” apples, as if they were picked from trees around here. You and I both know no early season variety is ready in early June here in Northeast Ohio. And thanks to 1-MCP, we can have domestic apples in June.

This tells me there’s still work to be done on educating our consumer. Clearly, retailers are doing a good job of keeping the shelves stocked to feed the year-round demand of the produce consumer. For many people, that’s just fine. Of course, for the growing number of customers who expect everything to be fresh, local, and, yes, always available, a little education is in order.For those of you with direct ties and connections to your consumer, keep the seasonality discussion going. This discussion is important when consumers expect locally sourced produce to understand that locally sourced produce comes with the limitations of growing seasons for each crop.

I’m sure some of you with on-farm markets have consumers demanding late-season varieties right now. Or asking for sweet cherries, when the picking season has already passed. Some may even be expecting to see local avocados or bananas.

This is a fantastic opportunity to discuss with your customers what is available, and to help them broaden their produce horizons. Recipes can help introduce your produce buyer to new varieties or foods they may be unfamiliar with. Offering samples can help boost sales, too. Canning classes can also teach your customers to “extend the season” in their own homes.

If we, myself included, don’t do a better job of educating consumers on the seasonality of produce – and how produce is stored, I’m sure to keep fielding calls from producers hoping to create some sort of uproar over the way our food is produced.

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