As vegetarians we often say that ominvores should know where and how their meat is produced... As a horticulturist I discovered that the world of fruit production is not commonly understood... So, that 'Gala' apple (organic of course...) do you know the history behind it, the difference say from a 'Granny Smith' or the ubiqutious 'Red Delicious'? Are you aware that all apple trees are grafted, therefore they are asexual... Did you know that the rootstock, the undergrowth, is likely the same for each of the above varieties and that often times the rootstock is cloned...? I am not making any judgement. I have always found the topic of interest. This means my first mango was asexually produced! Yikes! So many years ago, and in Hawaii! The mango almost assuredly had a seedling rootstock, and all seedlings are sexually produced, but the 'Hayden' mango, the top of the tree, was grafted! Therefore it was asexual...
This applies to all citrus, pears, peaches and plums, etc... bananas, all of them... I'm not sure but I recall hearing once from a reliable source that papayas are grown from seed... (sexual)... that would make them unique in the fruit world. Guavas are often grown from seed, but now as new selections are being introduced many guavas are grafted.
I grow dragonfruit. It is a new exotic semi-tropical cactus fruit... These are not grafted, but propagated from cuttings... they too then are asexual. So what? Again, I'm making no value judgement... but it should be recognized that in the natural world diversity is tantamount to survival.... So, in the indigenious regions of the avocado... where the trees grow abundantly, and wild... each tree orginated from a seed... Each tree will be unique from the neighboring tree! One tree may have huge fruit... the other much smaller... One may have huge leaves and thick stems, the neighboring tree almost like another species may have fine leaves and thin stems... Yes, in nature the seedling popluations of the fruit kingdom segregate like humans segregate... Human siblings have resemblances, but each individual is unique... one tall the other smaller, one musical and "artsy", the other logical and oblivious to the arts... one blue-eyed and the other with brown eyes... This is human genetic segregation, diversity. But, now the fruit world is made up of only 6 or so apples, 3-4 pears, 2-5 citrus, one banana, etc... Have we lost anything in the cloning process of fruits? We have certainly improved commercial agriculture... made it easier for the grower.. with all the trees identical... with the same season of production--the same tree vigor, etc. But, is there something lost from the genetic diversity? One has to wonder....
Meanwhile, at home, I grow 4-6 dragonfruit varieties.... !
Posted by eric at 05/01/08 11:34:51Hi Gray,
Interesting to read your perspectives on these things, thanks. Dragonfruit happens to one of my favorites, and until you mentioned it, I only thought of their being two kinds: the white inside, and the red inside. In Vietnam & Thailand, they can be bought for as little as $0.10 each and are abundant. I hope one day they become affordable here in the US, as the only one's I've seen are around $5-$7 per pound!
On the topic of diversity, have you seen the film "The Future of Food"?
It's a pretty horrifying topic, but worth learning about.
Posted by dragonfruit at 05/01/08 15:16:56Thanks for the recommendation Eric:
I'll have to wait for it to come out as a rental... but I've made a note! Your pricing discussion raises another frustrating topic with me... onsite markup... When I first began production I tried selling directly to both chefs and retail (natural food and otherwise). This quickly fizzled as chefs I tried only required a small amount weekly and the time and effort delivering made it impractical. Then retail outlets bqasically had the same result, but for different reasons... Every single store I was contacted had a 100-150% markup! This was NOT negotiabale for them... Each store justified their increase because of factors like shrinkage, etc.... I labored to explain that it made no sense to have an exotic fruit (all the red and pink flesh varieties in CA at that time required hand pollination) that required more revenue to the grower (plus we were certiufied organic) and use a percentage markup.
I packed in 6 lb boxes... I was trying to sell each box for $21, or $3.5/lb They in turn marked the fruit up to $7.99 or higher--I've seen it at $11.99. At this price volume of sale was low... Hence, these retail outlets would not require much product from me... So, I sold to a wholesaler, who markup 15-30%... this fruit sometimes goes to other middlemen with their markup, finally to retailer/chef... So, you can see that it is NOT the grower, the one who takes the risk, the one that is investing everything up front, the one who is liable, etc. The one in the case of exotics who is packing... It is not the grower that is making the money!
Library time says 2 minutes...gotta go!
Posted by eric at 05/01/08 16:14:10Thanks for the pricing explanation Gray. When you say that "at that time required hand pollination", do the dragonfruit you grow all need hand pollination now?
Are they a labor intensive fruit to grow? What else is needed? I heard about a hillside of plants growing in Hawaii on public land that never flower.
Also, what about selling farm direct, such as farmer's markets? And if you offered them at $3.50/lb at farmer's markets would you be able to sell a lot? What about approaching some of the vietnamese markets, directly in Orange County/ Fountain Valley where the demand would be high?
Wish I lived nearby, would love to buy a $21 box from you... if you're ever up in Santa Monica, please let me know!
Posted by dragonfruit at 05/01/08 21:14:50Eric... we're going to keep this thread going... cause I can tell you story after story... I'll edit this note better (Sorry I was rushed with the last!)
First, thanks for your interest in DF. The "reds and pinks" I was referring to were hybrids of the Vietnamese whites (not sweet!) and the Guatemalan reds (sweet but need hand pollination!).. The two species are easily hybridized.... take pollen from one and supply it to the other... wait for the fruit to mature, collect some seed from it and grow the seed... As I explained in the original article... the sexual nature of the seed will result in each seedling plant being unique (like humans, siblings are different). So if one grows 50 seedlings ALL 50 will be different!!!! From the 50 different plants... one or two may have special qualities... like flavor or size or production or appearance, etc... then you can take cuttings from this plant and make more identical plants (asexual). And in this process one has "hybridized" the fruit! Simple! Just takes time... So this was done many years ago but the self-pollination feature of the whites did not come through... only improved fruit quality... So when I was growing the fruit commercially I was growing the improved varieties... but they still needed hand-pollination to set.
Selling at Farmers Markets: I know some growers find this successful. I actually started the Orange County Farmers Market way back in 1981 )I worked for OC Farm Bureau.) It was the 13th certified Farmers Market in the State... I think the Santa Monica Market was the 11th. Now how many are there? Hundreds! I also sold exotic citrus for several years at them... Burned up motors, transmissions, axils, and a wife! Ha! She quit all Ag on me one day! Just fed up... The long drives to various markets... If your fruit is seasonal then you have to leave when the season is over, it takes time to gain back customers when you return... She didn't like the haggling.. I didn't mind but she did...
With DF the crop comes in waves... I mean to say the fruit matures, your busy harvesting and packing, there is a great supply, then it's over... low supply, then another wave comes as the next batch of fruit mature... It's easier to sell wholesale and let those guys distribute it as it gyrates in production... I just wish they had their markups realistic! If I could contract with a retailer--say Whole Foods or someone... And get them to understand the concept of a lower markup... they would move more volume and I could go direct... win/win/win...
Lastly: The white Vietnamese varieties are so easy to grow that the existing growers dump it on the Asian buyers... That market is now dead! And since the fruit is not very sweet... repeat sales are low... My new selections... (some self pollinating) are as delicious as a pear!
Posted by eric at 05/04/08 09:15:17Hi Gray,
Had a thought...
Have you considered building a website, and selling your boxed organic dragonfruit nationwide?
I know postage is high these days, but that still work out better than going thru wholesellers.
Also, do you take unsold fruit and dehydrate it? Trader Joes has been selling that, but not organic. You may be able to something like that in Whole Foods.
btw- wondering if you happened to be at the recent earth day event in Los Angeles and also if you plave to come up to WorldFest May 10th?
Posted by dragonfruit at 05/05/08 09:07:35Hello Eric:
Thanks for your interest! I do intend to go to Worldfest! Maybe we could meet… I'm going to try and connect with LA Vegetarians (Meetup)… The DF story is kinda complicated… at least the Trader Joes dry fruit.. See there is another species, a red species that is/was grown in SE Asia.. And it tastes like earth/dirt… This is the species chosen for the Trader Joes fruit! When you taste mine… season: Aug-Dec. you will compare it's quality to that of a sweet pear, a fresh Navel orange, any of the top ten favorite fruit! Cherimoya! Papaya… Yum!
Shipping online: Love the idea… requires a team (interested?)… See, the fruit sets in what has been referred to as "waves"… So if you have a acre of plants (2,000)… and each plant has 3-4 fruit… they mostly mature at roughly the same time! (Maybe an 8 day spread…). The season has about 3 of these waves… Anyway, can you see that one week you end up with 6-8,000 fruit! Just from an acre! This kind of fruit maturity is not uncommon in fruit crops… avos and citrus are the exception… One barely has enough resources to pick and pack and deliver to a handler! I mean think about it… for most of the year you‘re by yourself caring for these plants… then all of a sudden all this fruit has to be cared for… (cut daily… cleaned, cooled and stored, packed and palletized (fruit is best picked within two days of maturity!). It is absolutely crazy and if problems arise… nerve wracking! This is when I have one handler… Imagine 1000 different shipping sites at 8 lb boxes… or even 100 different shipping sites (billing??!) See Eric, you are a knowledge person in this natural food movement and YOU didn't know this! Most people don't know where or how their food is grown! Funny really. Most of us took Algebra… and so many other "essential" classes in school… I've never cubed anything! Or even square-rooted anything… But we eat food ALL the time! And we know so little…. Peace (where do we connect?)