Shawnee News Star Blog for June 18th Becky Emerson Carlberg Pollinator week is June 19-25 2017.   The first 'National Pollinator Week' was celebrated 10 years ago.   How very important pollinators are.   An article published in The New York Times stated that the decline of pollinators pose a threat to Global food supply.   We might not [...]

Shawnee News Star Blog for June 18th

Avocados from Peru

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Pollinator week is June 19-25 2017.   The first 'National Pollinator Week' was celebrated 10 years ago.   How very important pollinators are.   An article published in The New York Times stated that the decline of pollinators pose a threat to Global food supply.   We might not see the bees, butterflies, flies, bats and hummingbirds in action, but the summer veggies and berries and autumn seeds would disappear without them.   Do you love your chocolate?   Then thank the itty bitty chocolate midge no larger than a pinhead.   It becomes most active just before the sun rises in the morning in perfect sync with the opening of cacao flowers.  The teeny insect is vanishing.

In the wild, cacao trees (Theobroma cacao) prefer to live in the moist understory of the rainforests in Central and South America, Africa and Asia.   The flowers sprout straight from the trunk and lower branches to form cacao pods, courtesy of midge pollination. The National Park Service works with 'sister parks' in South America that are looking into the problem of disappearing chocolate midges.   Today, more and more cacao trees are being cultivated in large plantations formerly occupied by rainforests.   Compared to wild cacao trees that produce over 75 distinct aromas which attract the midges, the cultivated trees only send out a few whiffs into the windy exposed open environment.   The midges don't like the unsheltered landscapes replacing their former habitats.   The 'lungs of the planet' are being cleared and turned into monoculture farms that support little wildlife. In 2015, United Cacao cleared over five thousand acres of pristine rainforest in Peru to make way for their cacao plantation.   Efforts are now being directed toward locating small cacao farms at the edge or within the rainforest ecosystems.   How much do you like your chocolate?

My Kakao Grove

Plantation farming is not sustainable.  Three out of one thousand flowers are pollinated and produce seed pods.   Unable to be protected by their own hospitable rainforests, the vulnerable cacao plants can be attacked by pathogenic fungi and viruses.   The farmers retaliate with pesticides and herbicides to destroy the enemy, including the beneficial midges.   The chemicals contaminate the water.   The diverse rainforests are being decimated for chocolate bars and guacamole.

What a good time to talk about avocados.   This fruit has gained enormous popularity during the last decade.   My dad preferred to eat slices of avocado on saltine crackers.   Now the avocado shows up at every south-of "the-border type restaurant, in dozens of countries, as an ingredient in chocolate cake recipes, ice cream and even spread on toast as a butter substitute.   The Shawnee News-Star article from last Sunday 'Toast with the Most' featured avocado toast as the breakfast du jour.    It was written by Ari LeVaux, a Montana food enthusiast who puts out a weekly syndicated column 'Flash in the Pan' in various publications.

His smashed avocado article was just fine until the paragraph about price of avocados going up this year due to severe floods in South America.   I believe Ari was being quite facetious when he said 'not to worry, because in Mexico, huge swaths of old-growth jungle are being clear-cut in order to plant more avocado trees.'   West-Central Mexico's pine forests are slashed and burned as farmers expand their avocado operations to satisfy their north-of-the border customer's demands.   Their tactics are sly.   The avocados are planted underneath the pines and as the trees grow, the pines are cut down.   The Mountains of Michoacan happens to be part of the wintering grounds of eastern Monarch butterfly populations.

The avocado farm uses twice the water as a pine forest.   Orchards planted near the Michoacan preserve are limiting the amount of water reaching the plants and animals in the Michoacan Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Mexican farmers can make much more money selling avocados than saving butterflies.   The bad news is the drug cartel has also discovered selling avocados is quite lucrative.   The good news is the Mexican government has stepped in with some success. The countries of Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Columbia are the largest producers of avocados.

The avocado (Persia americana) has been cultivated for thousands of years.     There are about 500 varieties of avocado, with the Hass variety dominating the field. California postman Rudolph Hass patented his avocado in 1935.   The Hass mother tree was planted in 1926 in LaHabra Heights, CA.   In recognition, the CA Avocado Society and CA Historical Society installed a plaque in 1972 to mark the spot where she lived! In the USA, California grows the most avocados (first planted in 1856), followed by Florida (first planted in 1833) and Hawaii (Guatemalan variety found growing in 1825.)   The California market is year-round, but Florida's season runs from June to March. Avocados do not ripen on the tree.   Thus, mature fruit can be stored while hanging on the tree.   The Bacon avocado can sway in the wind two months, but the Hass can dangle on the tree 8 months.   When harvested commercially and under controlled atmospheric conditions, the Hass avocado can be stored for six weeks; other varieties two weeks.

Avocado Seedling

The Hass will turn from green to black as it ripens.   The oil content is twenty percent, plus the Hass has a thick skin which makes it a good shipper.   The Choquette variety from Florida may reach two pounds in weight (Hass weighs about one third of a pound), but most is water weight with a flavor described as avocado rainwater.   The classic pear-shaped Tonnage is about ten percent fat, buttery and sweet, but only appears in September.   The Daly 11 is a relative of the Hass and tips the scales at five pounds of oily flesh enclosed within a durable rind. It comes on the market August to October.   Other USA grown avocados are the delicious Macarthur, the drier Hall, the black-skinned Mexicola Grande, the large nutty Anaheim, the mid to late winter Bacon, the small seeded Pinkerton, the softball sized Reed, the grass green Fuerte, the dwarf Gwen produced on a compact tree that only reaches 15 feet in height (average avocado tree height is 40 feet), and the hardy Lamb Hass with its cold hardy tree that can endure 26 degree temperatures.  In other words, you can buy USA avocados and feel virtuous that you have not destroyed the Monarch habitat.

To honor this year's Pollinator Week, the 2017 poster, produced by Pollinator Partnership, is the I-35 corridor 'The Monarch Highway.' Myriad Botanical Gardens had 'Buzzing Bees' for kids on June 17th and will host the 'Infused Honey Workshop' on June 24th.    So, with the chocolate midge and Monarch in mind, let's celebrate our pollinators by taking good care of their habitats and providing water during the dry spells (which could be the entire summer.)   By the way, the poster is cool.