Technology Meets Taste: Cornell Works with Local Farmers to Extend the Availability of Sweet Cherries
Submitted by Patricia Hawley on September 3, 2009 - 12:11pm
By Becky LeFevre
Summer is almost over! Labor day is approaching, school is about to start, and the cherries are in season. Cherries in season? Thanks to creative cultivating and new storage technologies, local farms really do have fresh cherries in season RIGHT NOW! Schwab Farm, located in Gasport NY, has been working with Cornell researchers this season on testing the effects of Modified Atmosphere Packaging on different varieties of sweet cherries. Modified Atmosphere Packaging, or MAP, is the technical term for plastic storage bags that extend the life of fresh produce by controlling the atmosphere (specifically the CO2 and O2 levels) inside the bag. Given a more controlled climate, produce stays fresher longer. But, its not as easy at it sounds. Each type of produce, and each variety within each type, reacts differently to the MAP. At Schwab Farm, different varieties of sweet cherries are placed in MAP and the effects of the MAP are carefully studied to see which varieties of sweet cherries perform best in the new packaging. This current testing will help fruit growers in the future know which varieties to grow for use in MAP, so that the freshest sweet cherries can make it to market much later into the season.
Sharon Brent from Schwab Farms sells produce at the Genesee Country Farmers Market (located in the Batavia Downs parking lot on Park Rd.) every Tuesday and Friday, and hopes to have sweet cherries for sale until Labor Day. That is remarkable, considering the typical sweet cherry season in western New York ends around the first of August. In addition to the use of MAP, cherries are available from Schwab Farm because the farm grows a wide variety of cherries that mature at different times. While some varieties are done around Aug. 1st, many other varieties continue to mature throughout the month of August.
Cornell chose to specifically study the effects of MAP on sweet cherries for a few reasons. Cherries are becoming more popular due to recent discoveries of their health benefits. Cherries have powerful antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and even the ability to reduce the risk of some types of cancer and Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, sweet cherries have a very short shelf life, and here in the northeast we have a relatively short growing season. MAP can greatly help farmers meet the local demands for cherries. Instead of purchasing an alternative at the grocery store, local consumers can buy fresh produce from local farms much later into the season. This means our dollars stay in the local economy, and fruit we eat is as fresh and nutritious as possible.
With fresh cherries available later in the season, there may be a need for some fresh ideas on how to use them. Pick up some sweet cherries this week at the Genesee Country Farmers Market and try one of the quick recipes below.