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February, 2010

Snow Fruit

By Dennis Linden

It is truly amazing, though it is February, that one can take a break from shoveling snow to make a quick trip to almost any local grocer and load up on avocados, plums, plumcots, nectarines, peaches, currants, blueberries and even raspberries

Mixed Fruits
These unseasonable summer fruits are just a few of the more than seventy-five varieties of fresh produce items shipped worldwide from the country of Chile, whose fields and orchards are basking under the summer sun of the Southern Hemisphere. While it may go against a popular movement that promotes buying only foods produced within one-hundred miles of one’s own kitchen, these winter fruit purchases do complete an orchard-to-table distribution network that stretches across continents, supporting many individuals and families along the way. So, if you need a few conscience-clearing reasons to bite into your next Chilean nectarine without guilt, here are some facts to aid digestion.

Support small family farms is a familiar mantra of those championing The One-Hundred Mile Rule. According to the last count by the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, there are approximately 16,300 growers tending about 544,000 acres of export quality fruit crops in that country. That works out to a little more than 33 acres per grower. Since this acreage average includes a few very large corporate growing operations, most farms are actually much smaller than the math indicates. These small farms would simply not be sustainable if they all had to compete against each other for a share of Chile’s small domestic market. Instead, these growers are not only able to support themselves and their own families, but the families of their hired farmhands and many others for thousands of miles beyond their small orchards.
In fact, the volume of fruit produced by these small farms combined trigger an economic chain of events that snakes from the Chilean countryside, usually to the Port of Valparaiso or one of the other prosperous port cities in the country, with the help of many local businesses. Domestically, the Chilean fruit industry is composed of more than 550 licensed export companies; all but 4% of these businesses are small or medium-sized and locally owned. In addition, the infrastructure in place to handle all this fruit heading to destinations around the world requires over four hundred commercial cold-storage facilities clustered around each port and more than one hundred large packing plants, as well as about a thousand small packing operations. The network of jobs and revenue spreads as this harvest is transported by sea to U.S. Ports of Entry. On the west coast, the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland receive the bulk of these shipments; the ports of Miami, Wilmington (Delaware) and Philadelphia are the major hubs of distribution for the eastern seaboard markets. The Chilean fruit season generates thousands of jobs for many hands, at all levels in the U.S. labor force. Each lot of fruit must be unloaded from ships and inspected by USDA officials; the paperwork is coordinated by customs expediters, the fruit is loaded onto trucks hired to transport these perishables to wholesale and retail warehouses. The fruit is then sold by produce brokers and eventually ends up in retail outlets where produce department personnel stack the fruit into attractive displays. At every stage of the distribution pipeline there are people being employed to move the fruit along to the next stage in the system.

I guess an economist would say that the Chilean fruit harvest generates millions of dollars to the global economy. But the term “global economy” is such a clinical phrase; in truth, that economy consists of thousands of individuals and families who depend upon this harvest to put food on their own tables. So, in these challenging times, the “luxury” of enjoying summertime fruit during a break from snow shoveling is the culmination of an economic domino effect that has definitely reverberated way beyond the one-hundred milepost and that is a good thing. So enjoy that juicy nectarine and then get back to shoveling off the driveway with a clear conscience and satisfied appetite!