Last week I was invited on an Apple Tour with Michigan Apples. Visiting an apple orchard and a U-pick farm was already on my list for this fall, but the tour took us to more than one farm, a processing plant and even a vineyard that allowed us to see what happens with your apples from the point they are picked from the tree and on their journey to the grocery store shelves.
First a few fun facts about Apples:
- Michigan is #2 in Apple production (there is a bitter rivalry with New York for the title, both claim to be #2).
- #1 for apple product is Washington State
- Michigan has 9.2 Million Apple Trees!
- 2013 was a record breaking year for apples in Michigan with 30 Millions bushels – 2014 is right behind that with 29 Million
- Michigan supplies several other states and 18 other countries with apples every year
- The early warming in 2012 obliterated most of the Michigan Apple crops – causing a huge price jump on apple products and cider.
- 40% of all apples are enjoyed fresh every year! From the tree to the store takes under 24 hours
- 60% of your apples are stored in a Climate Controlled Atmosphere (a sort of stasis) that makes it so we can eat them year round without any degradation in flavor, quality or nutrition (more on that later)
- They’re delicious!
If you live in Michigan, you will know by now that we’re a huge agricultural state. From dairy to corn and of course several different fruits. Our warm summers paired with the spring and fall weather make it the perfect place fr several different crops to grow. It is a big part of the Midwest area and due to this we do supply several states different products throughout the year. It’s great for our gardens, and really – who doesn’t love having four seasons a year? (Although I could argue a bit about winter sometimes). But as it begins to cool down, we are all drawn to our local apple orchards for the crisp flavors of apples, cider, donuts and even to pick up our pumpkins to get ready to for Halloween. It’s part of our lives, and something that we probably take advantage of, since it’s just considered normal here.
We started our Michigan Apple tour at Sietsema’s Orchard in Ada, Michigan. Besides growing heirloom variety of apples they host events, create their own hard cider, donuts and even delicious locally sourced meals. The family owned farm sells their hard cider throughout Michigan, and is even experimenting with making other varieties with old beer barrels for different flavors. Their hard cider, like the majority of other brands out there is gluten free! That’s something I never knew, and just assumed it was similar to beer in nature and taste. Instead it’s like a dry white wine and actually quite delicious. Sietsema’s Orchard is open to the public, and is a great place to stop in to pick up your farm fresh apples and fall flavors.
Our next stop was at Youngquist Farm in Kent City, MI. Another family owned farm, at Youngquist’s farm there are sixth and seventh generation farmers working together to bring apples to the state and beyond. On their farm apples are grown in the traditional method, but also they practice high density growth. In high density growing, dwarf trees are grown close to each other for higher productivity. High density growing allows farmers to grow 1000 trees in one acre! Could you imagine that many trees in one place? The Youngquist farm has a small section that they are testing out organic growing as well.
Their seasonal workers are busy this time of year picking apples, and filling one rate about ever 45 minutes. Each crate is between 18-20 apples. The workers are skilled at picking the apples without damaging them at all, as well as placing them in the crates to make sure the apples received are perfect when they get to you.
After the apples are picked, you would think they would instantly go to the store. Since all of our food is regulated the apples next stop will be to a processing plant like John Brown’s. Inside not only are the apples inspected by a machine that takes pictures of all sides of them as they roll through, they are graded, waxed and even packaged. While 40% of all of the fresh apples will make it to the grocery store shelves (usually within 24 hours) the rest will be placed into a controlled atmosphere, a sort of stasis where they stay frozen in their current state until they are reintroduced to the air. This allows them to be sold year round without losing their flavor, and nutritional value.
Our apples take an incredible journey from our farms draped in light and rich soil to our tables and fruit bowls. You can see several pictures from our tours in the slide show at the top of the post. They’re one of the flavors I love year round, but especially right off the tree. And all the way they’re delicious!
To find out more about Michigan Apples check out the infographic included below. There is also an apple recipe contest you can enter! Nom!