Fresh Question: Local Organic Peaches?

Charlotte Fresh received a great comment and question from Carol about sourcing organic peaches locally.  It’s not peach time now – most markets are getting ready to kick-off the big regular season around April 9th, and we’re not quite into our first fruit (berries) yet. But, Carol prompts discussion of good information to know when peach time rolls around. NC farmers grow about 70 varieties of peaches from June to October.

Here’s Carol’s comment:

I know I’m a little ahead of the season, but reading an old blog of yours about peaches reminded me of the problem I had last summer finding organic peaches.  Inquired at several markets, and none were raised organically as far as they knew (pesticides used).  Would you know where I would be able to find them this summer?  Would also love to find someplace that might even bake products with organic peaches (if that would even be possible).  Thanks for any info you might have.

I’ve decided to devote a blog response to her question since this is on many minds in the summer season when the fruit is temptingly sweet and juicy.

Ah, the dirty dozen of produce – peaches are high on the list as you may have seen, read or heard in the media.  Let’s talk more about this lovely fruit that is actually of the Prunus genus native to China.  A peach is actually in the drupe botanical classification – a fruit that has a flesh that surrounds a shell (pit, stone) with a seed inside.  Peaches, nectarines (actually botanically a smooth peach with a recessive gene), plums and cherries are all drupes.  Peaches are in the same subgenus as the almond, but perhaps the gardener in me is now boring you.  Peaches can be freestone or clingstone where the stone is more difficult to remove.  Freestone is much easier to use when making a pie.

Back to Carol’s question.  A lot of folks ask me about organic peaches; unfortunately, they are difficult to come by not only in our area, but in the Eastern states in general. Information from ATTRA – National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (knock yourselves out reading it) says that Western states tend to have different peach pests and diseases that make large-scale organic production more possible out there than in the Eastern states.  And just because a fruit is labeled “organic” doesn’t mean you won’t find pesticides.  In 2009, the Chicago Tribune found that organic peaches from California had residues of fludioxonil which is not approved for organic farming.  However, at concentrations not exceeding 5 percent of EPA tolerances, they can be sold as organic. The USDA allows such levels of any legal pesticide to be present on organic produce.  In concert with those findings and other allegations that USDA’s National Organic Program standards were slipping, an independent audit was issued.  Here’s a link to NOP for more information – there’s so much to read, I haven’t figured out where (if any) updates to the residue tolerances exist.

On to pesticides.  Most farmers who don’t have a full-spray program use some pesticides as necessary because peach trees, like apple and other fruit trees, tend to have pests that attack fruit and foliage and are susceptible to diseases like rot and leaf curl.  Insects and diseases are controlled to protect the trees and to keep the fruit attractive for consumers.  Clemson University has been working on research to help farmers reduce pesticide applications.  To combat pests and diseases while reducing pesticide application, some farmers will use hardier root stock (peach trees are grafted), a low-spray (low synthetic) method or biological and alternative controls.

If you are concerned about your local peaches, the best thing is to ask your farmer to explain what he/she is using for control methods and how often methods are applied; they may be using a crop protectant like “Surround” – an OMRI-approved organic pest control product using particle film technology to create a pest barrier, or biological alternatives that could be approved as organic methods, but they may not be a certified organic farm. When asked, many farmers who sell peaches in our area and who low spray will openly tell you they test for residual pesticides before the fruit goes to market.  If you cannot find organic, you could choose to buy peaches that are low residue tested.

As for where to get actual organically labeled peaches, CF has to continue more research, but here’s a start:  Windy Ridge Farm in Hendersonville, NC sells wholesale only, but they apparently sell to Earth Fare; you could inquire there.  Or you could try contacting one farm a little outside of our area that I heard grows peaches organically: Watsonia Farms, located about 40 miles west of Columbia, SC in Monetta, SC.  If anyone out there knows of a Carolina organic peach farm (or other organic fruit farm for that matter) that I should mention, please post a comment, and I will pass the info along.

For the organic pie or baked goods, contact your local bakers at the farmers’ markets. Likely you’ll find baked goods containing naturally grown local fresh fruit.  If the bakers are able to get a hold of some of these organic peaches or other fruit, they might do a special order for you.  It doesn’t hurt to ask.

I hope this information is helpful, keep the questions coming, and thanks for reading!

About charlottefresh

Helping Charlotte find fresh local food. Spread the word.
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