U-No-Pick

apples

Expectations versus Reality:

The things we think should happen versus the things that actually do happen.

This has been the theme of my week from start to finish – imagine something, visualize it, place it inside whatever box it belongs in…then watch that box get smashed to smithereens, for better or worse.

As it was with Brooke And Shawnté Go Apple Picking.

We started off on shaky legs: a combination of jetlag, errand failures, highway inattention, and general full moon juju. But once we settled in on the eastbound I-10, spirits were lifted, moods were elevated, and sights were laserbeamed on distant Oak Glen, home of seemingly every single apple orchard in Southern California. We drove through sleepy Yucaipa and coasted up into foothills dotted with autumnal color. Our mission was to pick apples – all the apples, every single apple – and once home, learn how to preserve them in pursuit of the Foods Badge, which we’re doing as a joint venture this month.

However, dreams were dashed. So very, very dashed.

Hungry and in need of a restroom, we pulled over at the Parrish Pioneer Ranch, which hosted, among other things, a restaurant full of wilted iceberg lettuce, a kettle corn stand, and a Wild West Pirate Show. Not the pastoral orchard we were hoping for. Only slightly disillusioned (at this point), we decided to walk up the road to Law’s Coffee Shop for a bite to eat, but couldn’t find the place despite our various electronic devices insisting that it was exactly where we were standing.

Slightly more disillusioned, we wandered across the way to Mom’s Country Orchards, which was not actually an orchard, but rather a roadside store jammed with nut butters, apple butters, plum butters, jams, jellies, tchotchkes, and insanely expensive apples. When one single crisp Fuji apple costs more than a large bag of Cheetos, you start to understand why Americans are married to processed food.

canned apples

When we asked for directions to Law’s, the nice lady at Mom’s explained, “There are a lot of tourists on the road, so you should drive up there instead of walking.” I was only slightly alarmed at the “tourists” designation – surely these people were all down at the Parrish Pioneer Ranch Insanity Parade, so we would slip gently past the hordes and meander up to Law’s, a surely quaint rural coffee shop, where we’d sip coffee, eat home-cooked goodness, and figure out where to pick apples.

No, no – nononono. This was not to be. Law’s was the tourists. All of them. Bulging masses of people with strollers and flip flops and cameras and sunhats and caramel apples. There was a forty-five minute wait, so we wandered across the road to a dusty Mexican restaurant, where we were dutifully ignored for an extravagant amount of time, whilst being serenaded by what sounded like a dying cat strapped with a six-string. Oak Glen was like Big Bear and Wisconsin Dells and Myrtle Beach all mashed up into some sort of catastrophically crowded rural theme park nightmare.

We walked back to my car. We were now hangry. There were no apples. Things were going south very, very quickly.

Optimistic, we decided to try Greenspot Farms in Mentone, one town over from Oak Glen. Earlier in the day, I saw them listed as a U-Pick farm, with apples, avocados, pumpkins, and more. Buoyed by a sliver of hope, we drove in semi-silence through the Inland Empire’s post-apocalyptic landscape for eighteen long, apple-deprived minutes until we rolled up to the very charming Greenspot Farms gate…and some country-fried caterwauling.

Karaoke.

We used the facilities and went to investigate any potential U-Pickins; the only things we turned up were baskets of dejected grapefruit and some pear-shaped avocadoes. We left when a very sincere woman began to belt out “Black Velvet.”

“Let’s just go into town and get some lunch,” suggested Brooke. Via Yelp, she turned up Heska’s Sugar Shack, a promising coffeeshop / café not too far down the road. We chortled as we pulled up – it was cute! Very, very cute! If we weren’t going to have orchards, we could at least have lunch at a quaint coffeeshop, and all would not be lost.

However, we were once again dutifully ignored by every single person in uniform as we drummed our belligerently hungry fingertips against the counter. Brooke asked me what I wanted to do. I asked Brooke what she wanted to do. We did this a few times until she said, “I want to go somewhere where we sit down and they bring us food. That is all I want.”

And so we wound up down the road at the Mill Creek Cattle Company, surrounded by mounted animals, beer signs, and an entire Halloween Superstore’s worth of decorations; the Packers were on TV, the waitress was attentive, and the menu was lengthy. Nachos were ordered. We were going to be okay.

On the way home from our long, strange trip to San Bernardino County, Brooke entertained me with the area’s history. Turns out that citrus, rather than apples, helped bring the area to prominence at the turn of the century, and the Redlands area held court as one of the busiest citrus markets in the world. However, as urban life encroached on the farmland, the packing plants shut down and the industry moved elsewhere.

All of this – not just the area’s history, but the entire day – led Brooke to comment on how distant we are from our food sources, literally and figuratively. Although recent years have brought a spate of interest in all aspects of urban farming, industrial agriculture is now the norm. Even the “farms” and “orchards” we visited today had the produce pre-packaged and ready to go – pumpkins cleaned and laid out on tarps, apples sorted and piled into bags – like a glorified farmer’s market.

bagged apples

When I started researching places for us to visit, I also investigated local dairies, since one of Foods Badge requirements is to “go through a dairy or milk processing plant” – but all of the cows are gone, consolidated up north in dairy industry megaplexes, save for one small-scale goat farm in Altadena. On a Chowhound message board, someone remarked, “Visiting most dairies will turn you off dairy products forever.” The person offered no explanation, but what a horrifying sentence in its implications.

We set out today to get really, really close to our food – picking our own apples, canning them, cooking with them – but instead what we realized is that we’re all really, really far from our food. I guess I’ve already thought about this – after all, I’ve read Fast Food Nation and I’ve seen Food, Inc. – but when an idyllic day in orchard country turns into an hours-long frustration fest, you think some more about these things.

I feel like this Foods Badge is going to be a bit transformative – and that accomplishing its requirements is going to be a whole lot more difficult – and maybe at times, uncomfortable – than I thought. But that’s what we’re here for, right?

Onwards, Scout, onwards.

 

P.S. This is just my take on the day; it’s going to be interesting seeing how we write about our Foods Badge activities, since we’re doing them together! Stay tuned for Brooke’s take on it all…

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