Friday, July 22, 2011

An Apple A Day Gets Thrown Away

Something we've mentioned in our meetings thus far has been the problem of apples being dumped by farmers because of the high cost of having them collected. Many times, trees get thinned out so that the remaining fruit will get larger, and the apples removed just get dumped. Sometimes it can be an aesthetic thing, with fruit that doesn't look perfect getting thrown away. Often a farmer will be left with a quandary - what to do with a bunch of apples that no-one wants to buy? Waste haulage firms charge an arm and a leg - and it's hard enough for fruit farmers to get by anyway.

Since the 1950's this country has lost over 60% of its orchards, mostly to development. A recent study found that 46% of the remaining orchards are in poor condition. The website Love Food Hate Waste estimates a whopping 4.4 million apples per day are wasted in one way or another.

I was alerted to the apple dumping by Laura who often walks by the area in question, in the woods between Belgar and Belcot Manor Farms with her dogs. She first told me about it when I was doing some 'thinking out loud' to do with CleanUp Tenterden Day, which is due to take place on Sept. 24. She told me that not only was this area notorious for flytipping but that waste apples got dumped there too. This is when I started to do some research and found that there were various groups around the UK that had come across this very situation in myriad forms and had decided to either formally take the apples away for the farmer, therefore saving him a bob or two, or that the orchard had lapsed into a neglected state and volunteers had rescued it and nursed it back to its former glory. In both of these types of situations the end result had been either some wonderful home made cider or freshly pressed apple juice. In some circumstances the cider had been of sufficient quality to win awards.

A few days ago Laura and I walked down to the wood and sure enough, there were some apples there.

I resolved then and there that I was going to go back with a bag and collect some to see if they were good enough to use in any way. I went down there today and discovered that more had been dumped. Many more.

I loaded about 20 or so into my bag and took them home. After sorting and washing them, I cut a piece off one and tried it.

It was tart but still edible. So I'm going to use them as cooking apples, make a bit of chutney. Need some jars, if you have some.

But what got me was that on the way home, we walked through a pear orchard. Pristine, nicely pruned trees, loaded with beautiful pears. Next to this was a smaller pear orchard, a bit tatty and overgrown but lovely fruit. And then an apple orchard. Unmowed, unpruned, trees so loaded with fruit the branches were almost touching the ground.

Who owns this orchard? I thought. Then a thought struck me. If the owner of the orchard is in the same situation as another former fruit farmer was a couple of decades ago, they might have decided to sell to a developer. Which would be why nobody was tending the trees. And if this is the case, then a load of very old apple trees (look like Jonathans or similar) will disappear, tragically. We need to study the land registry or similar and find out. Meanwhile, I am going to make as much chutney or apple crumble as I can, while I can.

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