Key Words: Apples, Organic, Sustainability
Apple farming is directly connected with the upper crust of the earth, making the process and practice a part of the geosphere. The geosphere can be defined as any part of the spherical region of matter that makes up the earth, but apple cultivation deals with the surface layer of the earth’s crust. More specifically, many apple orchards can be found in mountainous regions of the geosphere, due to their ability to withstand cooler temperatures. Fruit tree cultivation is also interconnected with the atmosphere, as the practice of farming would not exist without the atmospheric earth system at all. Due to its crucial relationship with the atmosphere, apple farming also has an effect on oxygen emission and carbon absorption, leading the practice to have positive impacts on the environment.
Function, Significance and Role of Apple Cultivation in the Geosphere
Apple trees provide clean air for humans to breathe, fresh fruit to eat, and improved soil quality for future seed plants. The process and life cycle of the apple tree is inherently natural in its design; its existence alone bears a positive environmental impact from the beginning to the end of its life. Apple trees fix CO2 from the air, instead of giving off heavy emissions. This process is known as carbon fixation, as the apple trees convert inorganic carbon in the air, into organic compounds. These compounds can be used by the apple tree to store energy, and provide structure for biomolecules (Lasko). Apple cultivation as well as other tree fruits grown today, have the potential for low and even positive environmental impacts when farmed sustainably. Organic farming and soil health are key components when considering the effects of tree fruit agriculture on the geosphere. When orchards are maintained properly, the methods of organic agriculture help keep the soil, trees, and surrounding environment healthy. Some of the main goals of organic farming are replenishing nutrients to the soil, and building up fertility using various methods of soil enhancement. This is done by utilizing animal and plant based fertilizers, and cover cropping. By maintaining the soil, it is able to increase its fertility. The more fertile the soil, the better it is able to deliver nutrients to the plants. This keeps the soil in an active state, supported by a diverse biotic community that prevents environmental degradation in the geosphere (Andrews, et al. 2019).
A major aspect of apple cultivation is its profitability, and accessibility. Apples are one of the most valuable fruit crops in the United States, selling around 11 million pounds of apples in 2017. They are in very high demand, as they are the most consumed fruit in the U.S. When organic apple orchards produce over $5000 in annual sales, products labeled as organic are required to be certified by a USDA-accredited certifier. Qualified inspectors conduct annual on-site inspections, and farm records track all management practices and materials used in organic production. Organic farms also must have a written “organic farm plan” made available to the public upon request. These formal requirements ensure that the correct farming practices are being used, and that the environment is not being negatively impacted (AgMRC).
Interactions with other Earth System Spheres
As mentioned above, apple orchards can be thought of as carbon sinks. Fruit trees naturally take in more carbon than they release, and this has an inevitable, positive effect on the environment and the atmosphere. In the example of the apple tree, the atmosphere and the geosphere are interconnected. Without the atmosphere, fruit trees and all other flora would not be able to survive due to a lack of oxygen and other compounds. Without the geosphere, apple trees would not have a stable place to grow. Both spheres in combination with each other are necessary to support any sort of crop cultivation, let alone apple orchards. With the existence of orchards, they become essential carbon reservoirs while also emitting oxygen into the atmosphere. This positively impacts the environment because it acts as a combative agent to the looming issue of climate change. The process of carbon sequestration is when carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is absorbed by trees, plants and crops through photosynthesis. It can be used as a device to reduce or even begin to reverse the effects of climate change. Fruit trees and adaptable species to harsh environmental conditions can be selected to exploit their capacity in carbon sequestration on homesteads and cultivated lands offer some benefits towards tree biomass demand (Rajan, et al. 2019).
Specifically looking at the upper layer of the earth’s crust, the use of compost could be most useful. It is one of the most reliable methods for stabilizing organic waste, and improving soil structure. This happens when compost breaks down toxic contaminants such as inorganic pesticides or metals. For example, a large amount of hydrocarbons, common industrial contaminants found in soil and exhaust gas, degrade rapidly during the composting process. The addition of mature compost to contaminated soil accelerates plant and microbial degradation of organic contaminants and improves plant growth and establishment in toxic soils. Under federal regulations, property owners of contaminated land are required to decontaminate the soil, or properly dispose of it. This can be fairly expensive, so many property owners are hesitant to begin the removal process of the contaminated soil. However, organic compost is a possible solution for remediating soil quality. Organic fertilizer decontaminates, as well as rejuvenates nutrient-depleted soil. Financially, compost costs little to no money at all to collect, and could be used as an alternative to physical decontamination, or abandonment of the property. One positive impact of cultivating organic fruit trees is the abundance of raw compost material from fallen fruit. This is able to be gathered in mass and mixed with other organic compounds to create a simple but ultimately effective organic compost (Diaz 14, 2003).
Any issues /problems with your topic (climate change, humans, ?)
Humans often pose a threat to the environment in pursuit of capital gain. In the case of “agritourism,” some family operated farms are willing to open their gates to the public for the opportunity to make additional income. Agritourism can be defined as an agriculturally based operation that is meant to bring the general public into a functional farming space. An example of this kind of tourism is “U-pick” apple orchards, where guests are encouraged to harvest their own produce. This can have negative environmental effects, particularly with vegetation loss and compacted soil. In addition to these bigger issues, soil erosion and litter left behind by farm patrons cause even more of a disturbance to the regular flow of an apple orchard. A possible solution could be to enact better management practices, and being more intentional with the design and layout of the orchard. This means restricting access areas to guests, controlling the flow of people entering the orchard, and properly maintaining designated areas with mulching materials and impact-resistant vegetation (Kline et al. 2007).
Another environmental complication with apple cultivation is “food miles,” and carbon emission through the transport of the crop. The term food miles refers to the distance over which a food item is transported during its journey from the producer, all the way to the eventual consumer. With this in mind, food accounts for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions, this includes livestock to fresh produce. Livestock and meat products have the highest carbon footprint of all food products, while fruits, vegetables and nuts are some of the lowest emitters. This is due to the fact that livestock require high amounts of their own food and water, contributing to higher amounts of food miles. The main contributor of carbon emissions with fruits, vegetables and nuts is the actual transportation of the product, but this amount is still significantly lower that the total carbon footprint of meat products (Ritchie, 2020).
One inevitable problem with apple cultivation is of course climate change. Extremities in the weather can cause uncontrollable issues with growth patterns and harvest. During the summer, solar radiation levels are extremely high, and often exceed levels that can be utilized by the trees. When combined with high air temperatures, which also raise the fruit temperature, sunburn browning and other skin disorders can result in making fruit unmarketable. For young trees that do not yet have an adequate canopy established, sunburn can also occur to the unprotected bark of south facing tree trunks. Cold temperatures can also result in damage. whether it is before the trees become completely dormant in the fall, during winter dormancy, or during early growth and flowering in the spring. Hail can also cause cosmetic damage to fruit making it undesirable and also causing damage to leaves, shoots, and bark. This may produce wounds on the tree that could lead to disease and infection (Tree Fruit WSU)
Apple cultivation can be sustainable if done correctly with proper techniques and thoughtful farming practices. With an emphasis on organic farming techniques, the process of growing and harvesting apples can become much more efficient, sustainable and profitable when considering their high demand. Sustainable and organic farming practices are proven to provide positive environmental impacts compared to standardized, inorganic methods. In fact, organic agriculture has a reversal effect on carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere, as well as in the soil. When presented with toxic, contaminated soil, organic compounds have the ability to neutralize and replenish it with biotic nutrients; transforming the soil from unusable, to incredibly valuable.
Environmental Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://treefruit.wsu.edu/web-article/environmental-stress/?print-view=true
Hannah Ritchie (2020) – “Environmental impacts of food production”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food’ [Online Resource]
Lasko, A. N. (n.d.). Estimating the Environmental Footprint of New York Apple Orchards. Retrieved from https://nyshs.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/estimating-the-environmental-footprint-of-new-york-apple-orchards.pdf
Kline, C., Cardenas, D., Leung, Y., & Sanders, S. (2007). “Sustainable Farm Tourism: Understanding And Managing Environmental Impacts Of Visitor Activities.” Journal of Extension, April 2007. Volume 45, No. 2, Research in Brief #2RIB2. Publisher version of record available at: https://joe.org/joe/2007april/rb2.php
Rajan, Rajni & Sinha, Suparna & Aman, Ankita. (2019). Carbon Sequestration by Fruit Trees-A Strategy for Climate Change Mitigation. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331396769_Carbon_Sequestration_by_Fruit_Trees-A_Strategy_for_Climate_Change_Mitigation
Diaz, L.. (2003). An Analysis of Composting as an Environmental Remediation Technology: Anon. US EPA, Solid Waste and Emergency Response (5305W); EPA530-R-98–008, April 1998 (www.epa.gov/osw), 115 pp.. Waste Management. 23. 101. 10.1016/S0956-053X(02)00035-1.
I decided to visit an apple orchard to observe what interactions farming practices had on the geosphere, fully absorbing the natural environment. I went to this place with my mom, and as we were walking through the orchard, we stumbled across a large boulder to sit on under the apple trees. There was a lot of walking involved along with steep uneven inclines, so this boulder was something great to come across during our trip. As we sat on the rock, I made a conscious effort to enable all of my senses, and engage with the present moment. I could feel the warm sun peeking through the leaves, as well as a light breeze that gently swayed through the trees. We were surrounded by hundreds of green apples, the aroma of the fruit all around us. There were also other earthy smells that I can recall, specifically the smell of dampened mud and the dusty scent of the leaves and tree bark. The noise level at the orchard was fairly quiet, at least at this boulder spot. I remember hearing the rustling of the tree leaves, with the faint sound of children laughing a few hundred yards away. At this moment I felt incredibly connected to the earth system, allowing myself to become a neutral observer of my surroundings. I also remember feeling very peaceful and content with the present moment as it was happening. After taking time to ourselves to relax and tune in to the frequency of the apple orchard, I decided to take out my camera that I had brought with me. I didn’t have a specific idea of what I wanted to shoot, I just let myself take pictures of whatever I felt instinctively drawn to capture. Though I always try to shoot intuitively, I tried focusing my attention on visualizing the geosphere, and it’s interactions with the orchard. For me, this meant the fallen apples that have gathered below the trees, the various tractor markings in the soil and broad views of the mountains against the sky.
Creative Work: A Photographic Study of Apples
1., 2. 3. 4. 5.
- The first image is a broad overview of the apple orchard, meant to capture the interaction between the geosphere and the atmosphere.
- I was drawn to the tractor marks in the soil, this made me think of the human impact of farming on the geosphere.
- For 3. and 4. I wanted to document the interesting lighting on the ground, illuminating the fallen apples.
The last image shows the hillside of the orchard overlooking the valley, again drawn to the visual interaction of the atmosphere and the geosphere.