Ditzler Orchard in Rosedale (8902 S 625 W) sits on the top of a hill off a half-paved, half-white-rock road. The orchard reminds me of fond memories from my childhood. Growing up in New England, it was a fall tradition for my aunt and uncle to take me and my sisters apple picking. As a child, the trees seemed so tall. My aunt and uncle, six feet tall or greater, would hoist me up or put me on their shoulders. I would reach high up into the tree and grab apples and pass them down below to be put in our bag. These memories are fading with future generations.
Ditzler Orchard was planted in the early 1970s. Judy Ditzler says the biggest change over that past decade is a lot of the local orchards have closed down. “I know three in the Terre Haute area that have closed down in the last five to six years,” Ditzler said. She says it is hard for local orchards to make any money when they have to compete with big box grocery retail stores. “They get an influx of apples from who knows where for half the price of what we have to charge to make a living.”
Snow White’s apple
On a recent vacation, I was sitting down near the hot breakfast buffet area of a hotel. I was contemplating what to eat for breakfast. My choices are almost always limited due to my gluten allergy. On this morning, I could have faux eggs and an apple. At first I opted just for the eggs, but wanted more energy for the day, so I grabbed an apple, too. I knew I didn’t want the shiny red apple, as my instinct told me it would taste dead. I reached for the shiny apple, took one bite and politely spit it out into a napkin. It was hard and had a green tint on the inside. Unfortunately these are most of the apples available to consumers today.
In addition to commonly available apples not being ripe, they are coated with a chemical banned in Europe since 2012. The chemical DPA (diphenylamine) helps prevent storage scald. A 2010 study conducted by the USDA found DPA on 80 percent of the apples they tested. DPA is also found in apple juice and sauce. It is as regulated as a pesticide, but its primary function is a “growth regulator” or antioxidant that slows skin discoloration during storage.
The organization Pesticide Action Network, using the USDAs pesticide data, has found 44 pesticide residues on apples: six known or probably carcinogens; 16 suspected hormone disruptors; five neurotoxins; six developmental or reproductive toxins and 11 honeybee toxins. The science is in; pesticide residue may be on your apple, even after you wash it. To learn more before you head out to do your weekly shopping, check out this app:www.whatsonmyfood.org/iphoneapp.jsp.
Tree to table
“Our apples are fresh from the tree. We wash them, but we don’t wax them or cover them with anything to preserve them. They are not sitting in shipping boxes. It is just a fresher, more direct from tree to the table experience. People can pick their own from the tree if they want and take them home, and that is the most direct way to do it,” Ditzler said.
Ditzlers Orchard has about 25 varieties of apples. Their season runs from mid-late August to the first week of November. Just because the apples are done producing, it doesn’t mean you can’t buy fresh, local produce during the winter months. “We have apples that we will keep in cold storage for up to 6 months,” Ditzler said.
Apple of my eye
The EPA reports that on an annual basis more than 36 million tons of food waste is generated, with only five percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting. A lot of waste comes from food not looking perfect. Food found in nature is often not picture perfect as nature adds nicks and flaws. “They will not find them bruised and beat up. They are handled a whole lot less than what you are buying in the grocery store,” Ditzler said.
People often have a hard time buying something that doesn’t look like what they are used to seeing in the store. It is a different mindset to buy an apple that is not shiny. “The informed public comes out here and buys the fresh apples. Lots of people just can’t afford that and I don’t blame them. They have to get what they can afford and that is fine. It is a problem that orchards have faced around here,” Ditzler said.
Ditzler’s Orchard is not chemical free. They treat their apple trees when they are blooming in the early spring. Ditzler says that is when they are most susceptible to getting diseases that will damage the tree and the fruit. They continue treating through the summer until a couple weeks before harvest. They do not spray during harvest.
“Our apple trees are treated, but just like people they get dirty, they get insects infesting them and you would no more shampoo your hair than I would not spray my apples,” Ditzler said. She did say they do not use DPA.
Picking apples is becoming a memory to a lot of people as orchards continue to close up shop. There are a lot of soft and hard costs to run a direct market. “If people wish to be able to still have the experience of tree-to-table, they have to support the local grower and not just me, but anybody around who is doing local,” Ditzler said. For local offers, the public has the option of asking the grower what chemicals they are or are not using, face to face.
Submitted by Jane Santucci