Angelika St.Laurent: January 2008 Archives

By Angelika St.Laurent

Fruits are an important source of vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals in our diet. Traditional dietary advice recommends two to four servings of fruit a day. In addition to the nutritional benefits, the very sweetness of most fruits makes them excellent snacks and treats. Unfortunately, the tasty combination of high sugar content, ranging from 4% (cranberries) to 16% (grapes), and high percentages of water (usually 80% or more of the fresh weight) makes fruits very perishable. The transport of fresh fruits is very energy-intensive, since often cooling and high speeds are required. Even using today's (2007) high-energy transport systems up to 40% of highly perishable fruits, such as raspberries, are lost on their way from farm to consumer. Increasing fuel prices will drastically affect the availability and price of imported fruits, as the necessary speedy high-energy transport systems will become extremely expensive, and slower alternatives are likely to allow for considerably more spoilage on the way. A strong local fruit production industry is essential to provide enough fresh and affordable fruit to the local population.

There are several successfully operating fruit-growing businesses in Tompkins County and the neighboring Counties. However, the present harvest volume is not sufficient to supply the local population year round. Most commonly grown fruits are harvested from shrubs and trees. Thus, new orchards take a while to establish: Strawberries bear fruit a year after planting, currants and raspberries usually take about two years to come into full production, the onset of productivity in many modern fruit trees ranges from three to five years, with comparatively lower yields during the first years of production. The sooner an increased local fruit production can be encouraged, the less severe will be the shortage, when imports become exceedingly expensive.

Fruit trees and shrubs lend themselves to a variety of growing systems. High-density orchards are among the most productive agricultural systems. However, they require considerable up-front investments and have to rely on seasonal labor. Providing cheap loans for beginning farmers and help with hiring seasonal workers might ease the establishment of high-density orchards. Improved public transportation access to the orchard-site might make it more attractive to turn an orchard into a U-pick operation, which reduces the need for seasonal workers and improves the access to fresh fruit for residents with low incomes.

However, fruit can also be very successfully produced in small scale settings and gardens. Berry bushes, vines, and small, dwarfing fruit trees require little growing space and can fit in even small urban gardens. Owners of larger, suburban properties might be able to grow all fruit needed for their own consumption. Home fruit processing, such as drying, freezing, and canning can preserve the bounty of harvest time well into winter and spring.

Private gardeners might be encouraged to grow additional fruit for the public, if they are provided with a flexible option to sell their product during harvest time. Suburban land-owners might be convinced to lease part of their land to beginning small-scale farmers, if the land-owners could receive tax-breaks for agricultural land for small acreages. Access to rental cold storage places and rental certified kitchens (like in the Varna Community Center) also could be substantial help for starting small businesses.

Many fruit trees are a very pleasant sight, especially when spring flowers blossom. Using trees and shrubs bearing edible fruit for landscaping in parks, and eventually even as shade trees on sidewalks or along county roads could help to reduce acute shortages. Harvesting fruits on public land harvested on first come first served basis has been successful with fruit-bearing alley trees in Brandenburg, Eastern Germany. A sign at the entrance of a park might be enough to encourage residents in need to harvest.

Local fruit production is seasonal (see table). July to October is the time of most abundant fruit supply. Some fruit, especially apples, can be stored for several months. The supply of fresh fruit is lowest in spring. Novel ways of production, such as greenhouse production of raspberries, can provide fresh fruit in the off-season and should be encouraged. Currants and gooseberries are even more cold-and-shade tolerant than raspberries, and might also lend themselves to early spring greenhouse production; however, more research is needed to establish good growing procedures.

Table: Harvest and storage times for some fruits suitable for growth in Tompkins County:

Fruit J F M A M J J A S O N D
Apples Harvest               x x x x  
Apples Storage x x x x           x x x
Blueberries             x x x      
Cherries             x          
Currants and Goosberries             x          
Hardy Kiwis                   x x  
Honeyberry         ? ?            
Paw Paws                   x x  
Peaches and Nectarines               x x      
Pears (Harvest and Storage)               x x x x x
Plums (Harvest and Storage)               x x x    
Quince                   x x  
Raspberries (fieldgrown + tunnel)             x x x x    
Raspberries (greenhouse)     x x x              
Strawberries (spring bearing)           x x          

Action items for local residents to increase local fruit production:

- Buy locally grown fruit in support of your local fruit growers.

- If you have a garden, plant trees and shrubs of your favorite fruit varieties.

- If you have a garden but no time to plant it, consider renting out some space.

- Learn how to preserve fruit.

- Start now! Fruit trees take time to grow!

Action items for local legislators to encourage increased local fruit production:

- Enable small growers and home gardeners to sell their products to the public, providing them with flexible market options during harvest season and help with access to rental storage and kitchens.

- Encourage local fruit processing.

- Strengthen the already existing 'Pride of New York' label as a marketing help for local farmers and fruit processors.

- Work for easier tax-assessment of small acreages as agricultural land to ease the use of suburban properties.

- Sponsor gardening and canning classes.

- Encourage use of edible plants for landscaping in public parks.

- Encourage research on off-season fruit production.

- Help to establish public transportation access to U-pick operations.

- Help starting farmers with cheap loans.

- Start now! Fruit trees take time to grow!

Planning for Energy Descent

Some time in the next 30 years, life will start to become very different from what it is now. By mid-century we will use much less energy; we will live every aspect of our life much closer to home; and we will be much poorer in material terms, because energy and wealth are basically the same thing in an industrial society.

Energy descent β€” a radical reduction in our use of energy β€” is certain, but it’s not clear yet which of several factors will cause it to begin. Perhaps we will decide to do the right thing about climate change and reduce our CO2 emissions 80 or 90 percent, which would require changes almost that large in our actual consumption of energy. And there are other ways we might experience a radical reduction in our use of energy; for example, economic collapse, or an expanded war in the middle east. But the factor that makes energy descent a sure thing and sets the theme for this century is "peak oil" β€” the leveling off of global oil production and then its eventual and inexorable decline.

The timing of the peak is debatable, with forecasts ranging from 2005 (that is, already here) to 2030. But most credible estimates agree with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which concluded in a recent study that "world oil production is at or near its peak," and with the director of research at OPEC, who said recently that "we are at, or near, the production peak of world oil, if not on the downward slope."

After the peak, the growing gap between falling world oil production and ever-increasing global demand will send prices skyward, with economic results that can only be imagined but will certainly include greatly restricted mobility due to the high cost of fuel and much higher prices for most goods, including food. The result will be less disposable income, a life lived closer to home, and a greater reliance on the goods and services that can be provided locally. Since the supply of oil and other fossil fuels is finite, this outcome is guaranteed. The only question is, Shall we plan for what we can see coming, or just let it happen to us?

A group of area citizens, TCLocal, has begun planning now. TCLocal contributors are committed to researching various aspects of energy descent in Tompkins County and writing up a preliminary plan for each aspect based on purely local challenges and resources. This is one such plan.

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Angelika St.Laurent in January 2008.

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