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Seeking Out Heirloom Apples

A cold spring may have reduced this year's crop

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The organic Gold Rush apples I bought last fall at the Mott Family Farm stand were so perfectly crisp, so explosively tasty, that I had all but dreamed of their return.

Alas, this October, the stand, a favorite of mine at the Strip District's Farmers@Firehouse Saturday market, had no apples at all.

Jeff Mott, who runs the off-the-grid eastern-Ohio farm with his wife, Shelley, and their three young sons, isn't sure what happened to their apple crop. The Motts specialize in heirloom vegetables -- tomatoes, garlic, sweet potatoes, greens, onions -- and most grew just fine. Jeff Mott suspects that the exceptionally cool, rainy spring kept pollinating insects away from the apple trees planted by the Amish folks whose 90-acre spread they bought in 2005.

One lesson for eaters: relying on small, local growers means not only eating more seasonally, but also sometimes missing out on favored foods. One trade-off is that by supporting the Motts and other natural and organic outfits, you encourage farming methods that build the soil rather than stripping it, like chemical-intensive "conventional" growers do.

And in the bargain, you get tastier, more healthful produce. Mott says his business is growing despite the fact that his wares are sometimes harmlessly blotchy, lumpy or otherwise irregular. "We get a lot of comments that ‘Your stuff taste so good,'" he says. "They're getting past the appearance part of it."

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