I grew up hearing that “Money doesn’t grow on trees” – but I'm putting my money on fruits and nuts! Heirloom and diversified fruit and nut production is moving back on to the books of farm production budgets as value-added products, in line with a big push from the permaculture, and agro-forestry/restorative agriculture farm initiatives that are gaining momentum across the South.
But, the life of a farmer is never easy and fruit growers run a riskier-than-average business model. The mystical skills of balancing weather, pests, and highly complex biological systems aren’t really taught in books or at the University.
As the new USDA nutritional guidelines for school lunches roll out, we are finding out that most people do not consume adequate amounts of fruit (nor vegetables, but that is another issue). In order to provide dependable volumes that meet quality specifications for the buyers, farmers are monitoring and evaluating many pieces at once – from over/under planting, market fluctuations in prices, labor shortages or seasonal inconsistencies, and product quality throughout the grading, packing and transportation phases.
Working with data from the previous Ag Census (which doesn’t change too much around these parts…) we found that here in Cherokee County, Oklahoma:
• Less than 4% of all Cherokee Co. farms raise fruits and vegetables (and nuts), amounting to a combined annual sales of$265, 000.
• Only 13.6% of adults in Cherokee County eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day (the state average is 14.6% and the national avg. is 23.4%).
I hope to see both of these statistics changing with the new focus on school nutrition and healthy communities in general. Farmers with local fruits and nuts are ready to begin filling these market needs.