Tough apple harvest could mean less for the hungry

Apples are seen before sorting (Alex Kolyer for MPR)

When Mother Nature cooperates, apples are a windfall for hunger relief groups in southeastern Minnesota. Last year, Channel One Regional Food Bank delivered 150,000 pounds of apples to local food shelves.

"This year is different," said Vince McCoy, food resource coordinator at Channel One.

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As Elizabeth Baier reported on MPR's Morning Edition, unusually warm weather in March followed by a hard frost in April killed off a lot of apple blossoms. Then summertime hail storms and drought damaged apples left on the trees. Minnesota apple production could drop by as much as 40 percent this year, University of Minnesota Apple Breeder David Bedford estimates in Baier's story.

That would be a blow to hunger relief organizations that rely on orchards for donations.

"If we're down 10 to 15 percent, it's not that huge of a deal," McCoy said. "But if it gets to be half of what we usually get, that's going to affect what we're seeing in the food shelves."

Volunteers have already been out in the orchards picking surplus apples, McCoy said. So far, those donations are keeping pace with last year. But McCoy worries about December and January, when orchards ordinarily donate large amounts of apples that they didn't sell.

"We're hearing that some of the big orchards, for instance Pepin Heights, they aren't going to have apples into December at all," McCoy said. "Whereas last year they did have some to donate, this year I seriously doubt that they'll have extra."

Apples are particularly welcome at food shelves.

"It's healthy, nutritious produce, and we love to see that available to our food shelves," said McCoy, who is working with other hunger relief groups in the state to capture more agricultural surplus.

McCoy is nervous about the apple situation, but he doesn't yet know how much donations will be down from last year.

"It's kind of wait and see how the season goes," he said.