Books

REVIEW | 'Good Apples' gives readers plenty to bite into

Do you have a favorite apple? Have you ever thought of the work and care that goes into the planting, harvesting and selling of apples? Susan Futrell takes readers through the history of the very first apple tree to the more than 2,500 varieties of apples now available to consumers all over the world.

Futrell’s background in writing, marketing, sustainable farming and her love for apples combined in a perfect challenge to share the journey of an apple from a seed to a tree to our grocery stores and finally to our tables. Through meticulous research and visiting with apple growers all over the United States, Futrell, of Iowa City, shares the stories of family orchards as well as major corporations providing our apples. She also shares heartbreaking stories of families watching as the trees they planted with love were bulldozed to make room for roads, housing or other farming land.

After reading about the numerous issues that can arise during just one season of apple growing, it’s a wonder to me how we have any apple growers left. Growing apples goes far beyond planting a tree, and includes the intricacies of trimming trees and the biology of grafting branches together to create new varieties to meet market demand.

One whole chapter looks at the delicate science of managing pests. Many insects have become resistant to chemicals, but growers have to be careful to not use too harsh of chemicals that will turn off the anti-pesticide consumer. Of course no one wants to buy an apple with a bug inside or brown spots, but consumers also are very vocal about the desire to have organic and pesticide-free apples. This makes for a tricky balance for apple growers to keep grocers and their customers happy.

As if the difficulty of keeping pests away from the apples weren’t enough, growers are constantly trying to find employees willing to do the hard work during the harvest season. Many of the orchards turn to immigrant workers, which does not come without obstacles, including ever-changing government restrictions. Apple growing has become a multifaceted business that leaves many growers saying it just isn’t worth it anymore.

One of the most interesting pieces of the book happens early on when the author shares her story of nearly buying an orchard at an auction. As I followed along with the auction proceedings, the anxiety built and I had this incredulous feeling of wondering what the author was going to do with an orchard. The orchard is purchased by another family and I breathed a sigh of relief — one not nearly as big as the author or her husband — but what it did show me was the passion and heart the author has for family orchards and sustaining that piece of the food chain.

This book will offer readers a new insight into what goes into owning an orchard and appreciating the abundance of apples available at our local grocery stores. It also offers readers a chance to see a connection between supporting local farmers and growers and what it takes for those products to actually appear in our stores and farmers markets.

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After reading this book, you won’t be able to take a bite out of an apple and not wonder about the person who first planted the very seed or grafted that branch that led to the creation of the apple you are eating.

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