Prunus: Cultivar trials of stone fruit for local/regional markets

In addition to introducing new fruits and re-introducing forgotten fruits, the third goal of the fruit evaluation initiative at Carandale Farm is to determine what cultivars of traditional fruits might be adapted regionally to optimize social, environmental and economic sustainability.

Economics of scale and corporate control of the food supply system have not only promoted unsustainable mono-cultural systems, they have also centralized and concentrated production, processing and distribution of fresh and processed fruit. As with mono-cultural production systems, there are unaccounted environmental and social costs associated with this approach. Centralization results in fewer choices, concentration of waste, more food miles and generally less desirable food, especially for fresh fruits that require total ripening for maximum expression of essential nutrients and quality attributes like flavor, color and aroma.

The prunus genus is a good example of how regionally adapted fruit could provide a sustainable alternative when marketed through a regional food distribution system with a short supply chain. Stone fruits including plums, peaches, apricots and to some extent cherries, all have a short optimal harvest period for maximum nutrient expression and handling ability. This can be experienced first hand by tasting a tree-ripened plum and comparing it to one that is harvested before full maturity to expedite handling, storage and display time.

Another requirement for decentralization is to find a fruit species that is widely adapted. Prunus as a genus, and especially plums as a species, fit this criteria. The prunus research started out as a plum test plot but has been expanded to include a few other species, primarily cherries. Apricots and peaches are not as widely adaptable.

All prunus species have a central hard, stone-like pit, hence the name stone fruit. They also have similar disease and insect pests; which include brown rot, plum curculio and bacterial canker. These species are already well known to consumers and growers, so discussion will be limited to cultivar characteristics. This is a cultivar trial rather than an introduction or re-introduction of lesser known fruit species.

It should be noted that bush cherries (Prunus spp) are considered uncommon fruit because of their unique management potential as a hedgerow crop that can be mechanically harvested. The prunus species in this trial are conventional tree fruit that are produced on small- to medium-sized trees.

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