I grew up in the great apple-producing state of Michigan. If you haven’t been to an apple cider mill during October in the mitten state, you are missing out on one of the great joys of life.
Thousands of apple varieties grew in agricultural fields when nation’s founders declared independence. Today, 80% of that diversity is gone and with it, the genetic variation that can save apples from pests, weather, and disease.
Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The consequences of low crop diversity were felt during the Irish potato famine in the 1840s which caused the death or emigration of a quarter of Ireland’s citizens. A pathogen entered the potato fields and spread. Since the potatoes were genetically identical, a disease that affected one could infect them all.
Today, cost and transportation constraints benefit massive agricultural operations. The efficiency of monocultures, though, threatens our food and our health. To fight off disease in genetically-similar apples, we turn to pesticides. Apples are continually cited as worst offenders for chemical coatings (fyi, the American Chemical Society recommends a baking soda solution for washing). Today, about half of apples grown in the U.S. are Red Delicious (despite tasting like wood pulp).
Consider trying some local heritage apple varieties. Apple season starts in August!
P.S. An informative Smithsonian blog post about heritage varieties of apple includes a reference to an apple sleuth who lives just down the road from me!