August 25, 2013
Thornapple CSA members have been getting e-mails about an unexpected crop of “organic” apples out at Appleschram Orchard. We had a picking party a couple of weeks back. Members were invited to harvest these tasty little boys at the bargain rate of $10/bushel. Thanks to the generosity of Jane Bush, proceeds were applied to the Thornapple CSA financial deficit that we were blogging about in July. Jane had no plans to sell these apples, so why not?
Both regular readers of the Thornapple blog know that a simple statement like this is usually a set up for a long tangential discussion that eventually treads into the vagaries of food ethics. And who am I to disappoint expectations? So I might pick up on the little quotation marks around the word ‘organic’ up above. In the world of technical writing, the use of single quotation marks (like the ones in the previous sentence) indicate that you are talking about the word, rather than using to mean what it would ordinarily mean in a grammatical sentence. Double quotation marks around a word (like in the first sentence of the blog) are called “scare quotes” and they indicate non-standard usage. Sometimes its irony or sarcasm, but we don’t do irony or sarcasm in the Thornapple blog, (he wrote sarcastically). But often scare quotes are a tip off to the reader that the word shouldn’t be taken at face value.
Which would be the case here, because according to the U.S. Federal Code, you can’t actually call something ‘organic’ unless the production process has been inspected by a certifier and deemed to comply with United States Department of Agriculture (that’s You Ess Dee Hay to the insiders out there) organic standard. Now Jane’s apple orchards were certified organic at one time. I’m told that they were the first apple orchards to be certified organic in the State of Michigan, which is kind of a big deal and one of the reasons Jane made the rockstar farmer list we did back in the dead of winter. But Jane stopped doing apples a number of years ago because she was having pest problems she couldn’t control organically and she wasn’t making enough money from it. She hasn’t ever used any chemicals on the apples since they were certified, but if you don’t pay that certifier every year, you are kind of back to square one when it comes to getting your apples certified. It’s not something that you can just wait until you have a great crop and then decide that it’s worth the money to pay a recognized You Ess Dee Hay certifier to come out and look at them, expecting to be able to get that premium price for organic apple cider.
So maybe there’s a food ethics point in here somewhere and if not maybe there’s some of that irony that we never indulge in here in the Thornapple blog. In the meantime, Thornapple CSA members are enjoying these apples that it’s not worth the trouble to pick and sell because they are kind of small and they aren’t USDA Organic, just “organic”. You’ll run into those farmers at markets all over the You Ess of Hay who hold up two fingers on each hand to do the scare quotes dance when you ask them if their produce is organic.
Well, you’ll just have to decide for yourself, I think.
Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University