An Apple’s Journey From Orchard to Table
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so the saying goes, and research is continuing to support the claim that consumption of this common fruit can have a positive impact on long-term health. With the potential benefits including improved digestive health, reduced risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, and a natural boost of energy, there are a lot of reasons to give apples more than just a passing glance. The Rainier Fruit Company states they are committed to making apples readily available to consumers so that everyone may reap these benefits, but what does that process look like?
The family-owned Rainier Fruit Company, headquartered in Selah, Wash., took The Daily Meal on a tour of its orchards near Washington State’s eastern Cascade Mountains. The Daily Meal talked to growers, ranch managers, and production managers to get an understanding of the many people involved in helping apples on their journey from orchard to market.
The Rainier Fruit Company began in 1888 when its founders relocated to Washington from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and planted a modest orchard on a small parcel of land. Five generations later, the company has 21 orchard locations throughout eastern Washington and supplies 13 apple varieties to consumers in the United States and around the world. Well-loved classics, such as Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples, are among the ranks, but newer varieties like Lady Alice and Junami are quickly gaining favor.
The region’s rich volcanic soil, snow-fed irrigation, and long growing season are key factors that make it suitable for producing vibrant apple crops. Daytime temperatures in the summer are typically between 85 and 100 degrees, yet at night, the temperatures drop to between 50 and 60 degrees. These dramatic fluctuations are a necessary component to the apples’ success and help to develop the fruit's sweetness. In addition, each apple variety prefers a specific microclimate in order to thrive, and as a result, orchards are placed in a number of different locations with varying topography, sun exposure, and orchard design to optimize growth.
In a time when consumers are becoming more cognizant of what they are putting into their bodies, the company has responded to market demands by increasing their organic line of apples to be 20 percent of its total output (up from 2 percent in 2002). Their experience with fighting pests, including the destructive codling moth, via natural methods has resulted in leaner operations on the conventional side as well. Pesticides are applied as specifically as possible in order to maximize product quality and minimize chemical use.
While you can’t tour Rainier Fruit Company’s orchards, you can pick your own at Johnson Orchards and Barrett Orchards. Call before visiting the Yakima, Wash. orchards, which are open daily for apple picking. You can also follow the apple’s journey with The Daily Meal’s An Apple’s Journey From Orchard to Table Slideshow to find out more.