How do you like them apples from 18,000km away when they’re in season here?

Spend It Better: Kiwi apples in Irish shops is a troubling sign of a wayward system

These apples have fallen as far from the tree as it’s possible to be. Photograph: Getty

These apples have fallen as far from the tree as it’s possible to be. Photograph: Getty

 

I like to think it’s the pocket forests that have prompted my parents’ old lady apple tree to flourish. Her gnarly branches are laden. We planted two test plots of native trees and shrubs near her on a bright winter morning earlier this year. The pocket forest trees are too young to be producing any food yet, although the spindle has some beautiful seed pods. But a ripple of life has spread through the soil. Mushrooms have been sprouting. And the apples have a tang and taste that you don’t get from a supermarket bag. 

Journalist John Gibbons posted a picture of a bag of apples from Dunnes Stores grown in New Zealand. “Our food system is so so broken,” he tweeted. Why are apples in Irish supermarkets more likely to be from Chile or New Zealand than Tipperary or Wexford? 

Those Kiwi apples haven’t just been shipped thousands of miles. They also suck up energy in storage. It’s spring in the southern hemisphere. So the long-haul fruit is up to six months old. Industry practice is to store apples in an atmospherically controlled warehouse to stop them rotting. And so by the magical powers of a globalised commodity market (the not-so-magical trio of industrial scale growing, cheap labour and cheap energy) they end up being sold more cheaply than locally grown fruit. These apples have fallen as far from the tree as it’s possible to be. 

Fruits of charity

Eco hero Bernie Brannick founded Falling Fruit in Dublin in 2015 to try to share the generosity of Irish apple season, matching people who have had fruit gluts and volunteers to pick them. Last year, safely outdoors and taking full Covid precautions, volunteers picked more than 1½ tonnes of apples. Food Cloud juiced a lot of them and the rest were delivered fresh and tangy to charities and food banks. Falling Fruit would love some more volunteers this season, preferably people who can pick on weekday mornings, as that’s when the food charities are open. You can find more details on fallingfruit.ie.

So seek out farm boxes, community-supported agriculture growers and farmers’ markets for Irish apples or you could plant your own orchard. A smaller start might be the crab apple. Crab apples grow true from seed. The Tree Council of Ireland’s Our Trees book recommends collecting the seeds from crab apples in October, stratifying them for three months (try combining them with moistened leaf mould in a plastic bag in the fridge) and planting them in February. You can do this with regular apple pips. It’s horticultural heresy because the tree you get won’t be the same variety. But one day soon, growing an apple pip into a new tree at home will make more sense than shipping a zombie one from 18,000km away. 

Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests

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