There are no apples at the apple farm this year. The tantalizing spring weather mid-March coaxed out all the apple blossoms, only to kill them with frost in April. Apparently, there are a few poor-quality ones out in the field that people can pick for $1 per pound, but they’re no good for eating. The kids and I went to check things out yesterday. The front of the little market was piled with beautiful pumpkins and inside displayed bins of strange, knobby, artisanal squashes, but the whole place lacked that sweet, sweet apple smell that almost made the air thick. There was no ‘apple slinky’ maker in action — a fun hand-cranked machine that skewers a whole apple, peels it, cores it, and slices it all around continuously so it can stretch out like a slinky, until it snaps or gets devoured. The little guy was pretty disappointed. We stocked up on apple cider vinegar, a pumpkin, and a squash before heading out, thoroughly saddened by the absence of apples.
Living in farm country for the past two years has taught me a lot about food. I’ve become far more aware and connected to the food chain. The terrible drought that we had all summer took on new, intensified meaning as I watched usually verdant fields of corn and wheat shrivel up and die. The countless cows along the roads were grazing on brown dirt, as there was no more grass, and apparently farmers were having to kill cattle because there wasn’t enough grass to keep them fed. Farmers were also delving into winter supplies in order to keep cattle alive. Seeing the effects of the drought around me made me pay attention and realize how connected we humans still are to the land, even if it’s deceptively easy to pretend it’s not happening.
And now there are no apples. When I was living in Toronto, I wouldn’t have paid much attention to that because apples would continue to appear on the grocery store shelves — Canadian, American, Chilean, at least there would still be apples. My reaction now, after becoming more aware of everything I buy and eat, is different. I feel deeply saddened by this, aware of how tough it must be for the apple farmers who depend on each year’s harvest for their living. What a freakish, uncontrollable thing, too — for a few days of warm sunshine and cold frost to determine whether or not an entire region eats apples for a given year, yet this is what farmers have battled for millennia. It’s reality, but one that we food-saturated North Americans too often forget.
Not all of Ontario’s apples were destroyed in the spring, so at least there are a few local varieties available at the store, as I won’t be buying any imported ones. At least there’s solace in thinking how amazing those apples will taste next fall when we go back to the farm and see the trees drooping with juicy, shiny fruit.