Heres why you havent seen many Colorado-grown apples this year

There are a couple of reasons why you saw so few Colorado-born apples for sale in Front Range grocery stores this year (and last year, and the year before), according to Steve Ela, operations manager and partner in Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss.

“Delta County grows 75 percent of our state’s apples, but since 2000, it’s also lost 80 percent of its apple production,” he said. “There just isn’t the production anymore.”

Apple output is way down because weather — mostly devastating, tree-killing freezes — wreaked havoc on apple orchards three years in a row. “At least for us,” added Ela, “we’ve had three poor apple crops in a row: 2020, 2021, 2022. This last year was so short that we couldn’t even offer our CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] program.” CSAs offer summertime weekly or biweekly crates of seasonal produce to subscribers.

Did you know that most apples produced in the Northern Hemisphere go into cold storage in order to pass through and be offered throughout the winter months that follow the harvest? The apples are kept at very low temperatures while the twin gases of carbon dioxide and oxygen are strictly monitored: oxygen is lowered, carbon dioxide raised, essentially putting the apples to sleep and markedly slowing their ripening.

Adding to the woes suffered by West Slope apple producers (and Front Range consumers) is that “In Delta County, there are just a couple of packing sheds left [where cold storage could take place],” Ela said. Fewer sheds mean fewer grocery store produce section sales.

One final factor explaining the dearth of Colorado-grown McIntosh, Braeburn, Gala and Jonagold — to name merely four of the dozens of varieties of apples raised in Colorado — are what Ela calls “Club Varieties” such as Pink Lady (also known as Cripps Pink), SweeTango, Cosmic Crisp, Opal and other sorts of apples new to grocery stores over the past few years.

“You must be a member of ‘The Club’ to grow and sell these apples,” said Ela, because the names of apples grown by “The Club” are registered trademarks. “Their producers have bought the growing and naming rights” to those apples.”

“So,” he added, a rueful note to his voice, “if they can control the tree, they can control the supply and the price.

“If you’re not a member of ‘The Club,’ you can’t grow them,” Ela said. “We’ll never have access to grow those apples. But that’s why we” — and, note, other Colorado apple producers — “grow heirloom varieties.”

The mysterious apple

Is there a more desirous, yet distant-seeming and mystery-laden, fruit than the apple?

Cut it along its “equator” and you’ll see a pentagram, a form used by ancient magicians to cast spells. (Cut it downward at its poles into equal halves and are there present two images of the female reproductive tract?)

We have the apple and Eve and The Garden of Eden; the apple and Snow White and her Witch. Merlin sat beneath an apple tree to teach. The gods of Valhalla are made immortal by eating only apples.

Mistletoe grows on apple trees. Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry sings — hauntingly, woozily — of “Avalon” (“the fields of apples”) that cured King Arthur of legend.

November First may be All Saints’ Day for Christians and Día de Muertos for Mexican folk, but it was the first day of the New Year for the ancient Celts. The preceding night was called “Samhain” (what later became “All Hallows Eve” or “Halloween”), on which night the Druids cut down mistletoe from the apple trees and sanctified the fruit that had borne it.

Apple facts

– As a plant, apples are a member of the rose family.

– The crabapple is the only apple native to North America.

– Apple varieties range in size from a little larger than a cherry to as large as a grapefruit.

– The largest apple ever picked weighed three pounds.

– It takes the energy from 50 leaves to produce one apple.

– Apples are one-quarter air. That’s why they bob.

– Some, but few, apple trees live to be 100 years old.

– Two-thirds of the fiber and many antioxidants are found in the peel of an apple.

– Apples are the second most valuable fruit grown in the United States. Oranges are first.

– Apples are grown in all 50 states, although because apple trees require cold each winter, warmer states such as Florida and Texas do not produce commercial crops.

– The globe’s top apple producers are, in order, China, the United States, Poland, Italy and France.

– One of four apples harvested in the United States is exported.

– Only 5-6 percent of apples eaten in this country come from other countries such as New Zealand and Chile.

– Depending on the total volume of the harvest, between 40-60 percent of each year’s U.S. apple crop is processed into apple juice and cider, applesauce, apple butter, dried apples and other apple-derived foods such as baby food or apple cider vinegar.

– Washington State is by far the largest producing state in the country. It grows over half of all U.S. apples.

– In 2020, the Gala apple took the top spot of favored apple variety from Red Delicious, with 46 million bushels produced (about 20% of the total U.S. crop).

– The top five apple varieties grown in the U.S. are, in order: Gala, Red Delicious, Fuji, Honeycrisp and Granny Smith.

– The most ascendant variety of apple in the U.S. is Cripps Pink (also known as Pink Lady).

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