I bet if you were asked, you could either tell me your favorite apple, a story about having an apple tree in your backyard, or about a visit to an apple orchard either from your childhood or from taking your own children.
Apples are the fruit that brings people together either through a pie, applesauce, picking one right off the tree, or knowing the importance of eating “an apple a day to keep the doctor away.”
Susan Futrell’s own connection to apples began on her childhood farm. As the oldest of four children, she was raised to know where food came from, with a large garden and fruit trees in her backyard. Her father worked for the Extension Service as an agricultural economist, so it was important to him that his family knew where their food came from and understood the people who grew the food they ate.
As an adult, Futrell had been working in food and agriculture related fields.
“I always had an interest in apples — in heirloom apples,” said Futrell, who lives in Iowa City and has an MFA in non-fiction writing from the University of Iowa. “I didn’t get interested in apple growers until I met Harold, a 91-year-old apple grower, due to a freelance writing project.”
That freelance project came about after the desire to “do something else,” she said, “I wasn’t thinking about writing a book at that point. I was thinking about what I really cared about in my work and what I can take into my next thing, working with the producers and looking for opportunities to learn. I wanted to take my skills in marketing and writing and put my experience to work closer to the producer side of food.”
Working for Red Tomato, a small nonprofit that works directly with local farms and connects them to consumers, Futrell was able to meet apple- and other fruit and vegetable growers. During a talk on apples, an editor from the University of Iowa Press approached her about writing a book.
Over the next two years, Futrell focused on telling the story of what it takes to make a living as an apple grower and the ways apples touch our lives. Her idea became more of a purpose. The result is “Good Apples: Behind Every Bite.”
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Futrell hopes the book offers readers “an appreciation of what an amazing fruit an apple is and the vocation it is to grow them. Anybody who likes apples would learn from and enjoy the book. You don’t have to be a hard-core food nerd to love this book.”
The author and I talked about the closing of many small orchards due to financial reasons, family changes or urban expansion. We shared stories of visiting orchards, including Holland’s Orchard outside of Cedar Rapids, which was closed because of the expansion of Highway 100. We both had wonderful memories of visiting there and reminisced on the delicious apples and kindness of the owners. “It is more than just nostalgia, but there is a connection to the land where our food comes from that gets lost when it is no longer in view and in your community,” she said.
Futrell nearly purchased an orchard herself because of her passion for keeping local food available and supporting local growers. However, a family bought the it, and is doing a wonderful job at keeping the orchard going strong.
The bulk of the apples purchased in our country are not from local pick-your-own orchards, but through major orchards in the Northeast and Northwest. The local orchards however, still are an important piece of introducing fruit to young children and for making that personal connection. The apples we buy in our stores may not be local, but they are still largely coming from family-owned orchards across the country.
“The great thing about apples is there are different tastes and varieties for everyone,” Futrell said, adding that these days, every apple is in the store because it is a good, fresh eating apple. If you are looking to cook or bake your apples, you may be better off going to a local orchard because the stores are buying apples in response to the consumers who want a fresh, crisp, delicious apple for eating.
New varieties are coming out all the time and stores are taking good care to sell apples that are full of flavor and have those apples available year-round. Since we are coming up on apple season, Futrell encourages everyone to find an orchard near you.
“Go,” she exclaimed. “Try apples you’ve never tried before. Talk to the farmer. You won’t like every apple you try, but I bet you’ll find a new apple that you have never tasted and will like it. Enjoy the orchard itself. Take a few minutes to walk among the trees and think about all that they represent from their history, to their care, and their role in the community.”
Futrell will be at the Van Horne Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. She will talk about her book, her passion for sustainability in farming, and the tremendous resource that apple growers are.
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She also will offer apple samples from Buffalo Ridge Orchard in Central City, and allow time for questions and sharing stories of apple memories from those in attendance.
Futrell’s book is available at Next Page Books in Cedar Rapids, Prairie Lights in Iowa City and online. She also will have books for sale at the Van Horne Public Library.
Meet the Author
• What: Susan Futrell discussing “Good Apples: Behind Every Bite”
• Where: Van Horne Public Library, 114 Main St., Van Horne
• When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday.