Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. ~ Martin Luther
When most people go to the grocery store to shop for their food, they don’t often think about the story behind their purchase. A bag of apples is just that and other than choosing the preferred variety, there’s not too much more thought that goes into it.
We are very different when we go to the store to shop for our food. Working in the culinary world and being a lifelong home cook, knowing where our food comes from is one of the most important things to us. The choices we make at the grocery store and the dishes we choose to eat while dining out are often based on who raised or grew the product and how it was handled in the process. It matters to us and we know that those ingredients grown and raised with care just taste better.
When I was asked to work with the SweeTango folks to help promote their new variety of apple, I was curious about more than how the apple was developed. I wanted to chat with one of the farmers who grows the SweeTango apple and get their perspective on growing a managed variety apple.
The SweeTango apple is grown in five states in the U.S. (Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York) and in two Canadian provinces (Quebec and Nova Scotia) by a cooperative of 45 members, called the Next Big Thing. First introduced in 2009, this apple was developed by apple breeders at the University of Minnesota. They used natural methods to cross two varieties, the Honeycrisp and Zestar!, which resulted in the development of the apple tree that produces SweeTango, the Minneiska cultivar.
One of the SweeTango apple growers, Rod Farrow, owner of Lamont Fruit Farm in Waterport, New York, was kind enough to take some time out from his busy harvest season to answer some of our questions about growing the SweeTango apple.
Lamont Fruit Farm was Incorporated in 1966 by sixth generation farmers in Albion, New York, brothers George and Roger Lamont. Farrow came over from England to work for the Lamont brothers in 1980 to learn about fruit production as their protégé. He returned to England after a period of time, but came back in 1986 to work for Lamont again.
Farrow eventually began to buy in to the farm as a partner and today, he and his wife, Karyn, are the owners of Lamont Fruit Farm. They grow 27 varieties of apples on 480 acres of land, of which 28 acres are SweeTango and apples are the only thing grown on their farm. This year they will produce over 400,000 bushels of apples, of which 10,000 bushels will be SweeTango.
Since SweeTango is a cultivated and managed variety, we were interested in understanding why a farmer would choose to to grow this particular apple. There is a substantial financial commitment and investment for the farmer as well as additional work that goes into successfully developing and growing a new variety. Rod Farrow answered some of these questions for us.
Q – What is the advantage to growing SweeTango over other varieties?
Rod: A managed variety like SweeTango means only select grower partners are producing the best fruit to the highest standards, ensuring a great experience for the consumer every time. That consistent quality and managed supply allows us to maintain a price that keeps the variety profitable for us as growers. It provides a great foundation for the future of our business since out of control price fluctuations have dramatic impacts on our income from one year to the next.
Q – Is it worth the investment to switch over to growing this variety? Was it a large investment?
Rod: All new apple plantings are a significant investment. The costs for developing all new orchards, whatever the variety, are significant and very similar but are an essential investment in our future. With SweeTango, it is absolutely worth investing in such a high-quality, well-managed variety. It was certainly an easy decision for all of us in NBT to invest in such a great apple!!
Q – What was your biggest surprise in growing the SweeTango apple – good and bad?
Rod: As with all new varieties, there is a learning curve that’s going to trip you up along the way. We were really pleased at how friendly the tree is to grow — it just naturally forms a well-branched fruitful tree that gives us large apples pretty much by itself. We have had some problems with skin blemishes, especially on the really young trees but experience is teaching us how to overcome that. The good news it it doesn’t have any effect on the eating quality.
Q – How do you feel about the product being controlled and not available to be grown by others? How does this impact competition and pricing?
Rod: Being one of the members of the grower cooperative allows us to set specific, enforceable grade standards that ensure we deliver great fruit to the consumer every time. This is obviously important in driving the repeat sales that keep us in business. Having the ability to match the supply to the demand also maintains a competitive price that helps both the consumer and the grower.
Rod’s message rings true in many ways. Have you noticed the taste and quality of certain fruits and vegetables has changed over the years? A good example is the Honeycrisp apple. I remember the first time I ate a Honeycrisp. It lived up to its name. It was very sweet and crispy, more than any apple I had ever tasted. Over the years, the sweetness and crispness changed and the overall quality of the apple became inconsistent. Today, the Honeycrisp can be disappointing based on where it’s from and how it is grown. The growing standards put in place on SweeTango will help control the future quality of the product.
We personally have really enjoyed the SweeTango apple this fall. Before seeing it in the markets in the Atlanta area, we purchased several while we were in Arizona last month. It truly does have a unique taste which is crisp, bright, sweet, yet a bit tangy on the finish. I’m not one to generally snack on apples, but I have found myself doing so with these. In addition, they have been great to work with in recipes, as I mentioned in the first post about the SweeTango apple. These apples have become a new favorite.
Be sure to check your local markets to see if SweeTango apples are still available, although they do have a short season. If your markets did not carry them this year, then be sure to ask the store manager about securing them for next fall.
SweeTango is sponsoring a giveaway for one of my readers. This includes a dozen apples shipped to your home (lower 48 states only), and a swag bag with a SweeTango t-shirt and a few other goodies. Directions on how to enter are below.
BTW – Don’t forget to enter the online SweeTango Sweepstakes where one lucky winner and their guest will be flown to Los Angeles to dine at Animal Restaurant. Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo created several recipes specifically for this apple.
Here’s how you enter to win the SweeTango Apple Giveway:
– Leave a comment telling me what your favorite fall dish or dessert is that’s made with apples.
* Regretfully, due to the contents (produce), this package can only be shipped to a winner in the Continental U.S. I apologize to my readers that live outside of that area.
Here are four additional ways that you can enter.
1. Like @SweeTango on Facebook. Leave a comment here indicating that you liked the page. If you are already a follower, you can leave a comment saying you are.
2. Follow SweeTango on Twitter. Leave a comment here indicating that you are now a follower. If you are already a follower, you can leave a comment saying you are.
3. Like Bunkycooks on Facebook. Leave a comment here indicating you liked the page. If you are already a follower, you can leave a comment saying you are.
4. Follow @Bunkycooks on Twitter. Leave a comment here indicating that you are now a follower. If you are already a follower, you can leave a comment saying you are.
** You can have a total of 6 entries, however, each comment needs to be left separately to count as one entry each. **
This giveaway ends at 5 pm EST on Monday November 4, 2013.
I will notify the winner by email. Please get back to me with your shipping information within 48 hours or I will have to choose another winner.
* Photos courtesy of SweeTango.
Disclosure – I was contacted by SweeTango to help promote their brief apple season in the Atlanta area. While this post was compensated, as always, the opinions expressed on this site are my own.
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