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The Basics: 2021 is the 16th year of the Eco fruit program, founded in 2005 to support growers in our region by bringing together the best of Local and Eco-friendly. Eco Fruit = Local Done Right! Eco is a rigorous, ecology-based farming, certification, and marketing program for Northeast tree fruit growers that supports both local + ecologically grown. Eco practices are based on creating an orchard ecosystem that supports pollinators, keeps damaging insects in balance with biological and preventive methods, and promotes soil and tree health. A partnership among local farmers, scientific advisors, the IPM Institute of North America and Red Tomato, Eco delivers the freshest, best-tasting locally grown fruit while supporting and rewarding progressive, environmentally responsible growing practices specific for the northeastern region.
Growers in the Northeast are longtime leaders in adopting and promoting eco-friendly growing practices, and have worked hard to find practices that work best in our climate and growing conditions. The most ecological and effective practices aren’t the same for every locale. Eco supports both local farms and environmentally sound practices.
The Eco program brings the expertise of scientists and farmers throughout the region together to develop a rigorous growing protocol based on the most environmentally-friendly practices possible in our region. Eco-certified practices protect pollinators, promote soil and tree health, and treat orchards as holistic ecosystems.
An organic protocol works well for growing tree fruit in the arid regional climate of central Washington. Even though the Northeast grows some of the best apples in the world, over 93% of certified organic apples sold in the US come from central Washington. The climate in the Eastern US is very different – much more rain; twice as many diseases; over sixty species of damaging insects – and the national organic standards do not always offer the most sustainable treatments for those conditions.
For responsible growers and conscientious eaters in the eastern US, Eco-certified offers the best combination of Local + Ecologically-Grown fruit.
To qualify for Eco certification, growers meet a rigorous production protocol that has been developed to ensure that consistent, environmentally responsible, and transparent practices are behind every piece of fruit.
The Eco Protocol is revised annually to reflect the most progressive growing practices and new research. Growers meet regularly, together with Red Tomato staff, scientists, and international experts. The Eco Core Protocol is extensive, and covers 7 areas of farm practices:
Operations and Management
Ecosystem, Soil and Water Conservation
Pesticide Risk Reduction
Pest Monitoring and Management
Food Safety and Product Quality
Energy and Waste Management
In addition, Eco Apple and Eco Peach certification each have unique crop-specific guidelines, designed to offer advanced management techniques for specific fruits and pests. All protocols are available on-line, along with additional information at https://redtomato.org/eco
The IPM Institute of North America, a non-profit organization, administers the growing protocol and conducts annual audits. Every three years, each orchard is also inspected by an independent third party organization, Apple Leaf. Red Tomato manages the Eco program and works on behalf of the grower network to market and distribute Eco-certified fruit.
The orchards in the Eco program are a powerful, resilient force in our region’s food system, combining deep family roots and experience with new, young energy and innovation. They represent some of the oldest farms in the region, with family roots that go back centuries, as well as the newest generation of fruit growers.
Eco growers blend decades of stewardship and knowledge of their land and trees with the latest science and innovative practices. They bring both skill and experience to the many complex challenges involved in growing healthy, great-tasting fruit and carefully bringing it from tree to table.
Some of the best-eating apples in the world are grown on Eco-certified Northeast orchards: established varieties like Macoun, McIntosh, Cortland, Empire, JonaGold, and new varieties bred especially for the region: Evercrisp, Ruby Frost, SnapDragon. The most popular varieties nationally also grow well in here: Gala, Red Delicious, Fuji, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Cripp’s Pink/Pink Lady, Braeburn; as well as dozens of heirlooms with unique local history and flavors.
Northeastern apple orchards add beauty and value to the land, communities and tables of our region. The challenges they face — global markets, centralization and consolidation of retail buyers, invasive pests, changing climate, and standardization of varieties — make their livelihoods more risky every year. You –eaters and citizens who love these orchards and the unique Northeast fruit varieties they grow — have an important role in helping them thrive for many generations to come.
Buy Local: look for, ask your grocer for, and buy fruit from local NE orchards.
Buy Eco-certified. Seek out growers who use management practices suited to this region, like Eco Apple, and ask for Eco Apple and other locally adapted sustainable practices.
Eat regional! Only the Northeast can boast truly exceptional varieties like McIntosh, Macoun, Cortland and Empire, as well as dozens of other popular national varieties, new regional specialties, and heirlooms grown and loved here for generations.
As one of the oldest continuously operating orchards in Vermont, we take pride in growing over 50 varieties of apples, as well as peaches, pears, plums, cherries, nectarines, and berries.