Apple pie lovers, behold: Wisconsin apples just got a lot greener. Ever since a 2011 myth-busting adventure in which I learned apples are epically difficult to grow organically, at least in the Midwest, I’ve been giving my once fave fruit the cold shoulder. After all, pears were easy enough to find locally grown and organic…

See? Sustainable apple-growing is fun. (pic via Wisconsin Eco-Fruit)
See? Sustainable apple-growing is fun. (Eco-Fruit)

That’s why I’m extra pleased to report that it may be time to lift the Iron Curtain on my erstwhile beloved fruit. True, the EWG still ranks it number one in the list of Dirty Dozen produce. But gone are the hopeless days of thinking organic, local options were a pipe dream.

Progress comes to the Midwest thanks to the Eco-Fruit Program, a UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS)-backed program, which helps apple growers around Wisconsin reduce pesticide use. And so far, so good: According to a recent UW statement, participating growers have reduced their pesticide risk by 46 percent, and increased reliance on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies by 54 percent, since the program launched.

For those of you not familiar with the term, IPM is a sustainable approach to pest management that emphasizes pest prevention and monitoring in order to minimize multiple layers of risk: economic, health, and environmental. Rather than trying to eliminate all bugs ‘n’ slugs (including the many good ones) with blanket pesticides, IPM farmers monitor pest populations so that they can intervene when crops are threatened. Their first lines of defense include crop rotation, planting resistant seeds, and row covers. If those fail, they may employ targeted chemical controls, choosing the least toxic, most controllable pesticides available.

To be clear, the result of IPM is not necessarily organic, which can present a problem even if only a small amount of pesticides are used. That’s because pesticides are absorbed into the apple core, so you can’t just wash ’em off. Still, in the case of the pest-loving Midwestern apple tree, it is a thoughtful approach to a complicated challenge.

Interested in ensuring the sanctity of your own fave fruit? The best way to do that is to talk to your local growers at the farmers market—you may be pleasantly surprised to learn the many ways growers around the country are working to make our food safer.

American as...Bulgarian apple pie.  (just click Google's "Translate" button at the top to see it in English.
American as…Bulgarian apple pie. (Delicious With Yoli)

In the meantime, I’m off to celebrate the news by making my contribution to the Thanksgiving festivities: apple pie. The recipe pictured here has some serious visual appeal, right? Hint: Click Google’s “Translate” button at the top to see the recipe in English.

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