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Why are apples left to rot on the ground in orchards after the season is over?

Crane's tells us they're still able to donate a large amount of their dropped apples, just not for humans. Here's why.

FENNVILLE, Mich. — A viewer reached out to 13 ON YOUR SIDE this week after they noticed apples rotting on the ground at orchards in Sparta. They asked why the orchards don't donate or sell the apples and instead, leave them to waste.

We reached out to the apple experts at Crane's Orchard in Fennville for an answer. With a rich history in West Michigan fruit farming dating back to the 1800s, they were sure to have a reason.

Trevor Crane tells us the orchards would love to sell the apples, but as soon as they hit the ground, they're no longer safe for human consumption by FDA standards.

Crane says they also get an earthier, less-sweet taste after they fall, so they wouldn't want to sell them anyway. Their staff teaches everyone who enters the U-Pick how to select an apple without knocking too many others, in hopes of decreasing waste in the off-season.

The Orchard is still able to donate a large amount of their dropped apples, just not for humans — they're used to feed livestock or as ingredients in dog treats.

Even if they could catch them all before they hit the ground, it would be a large labor cost for a small business to collect and distribute them. 

"It's just tough, labor is high, the price is low, so we try to find those organizations... to have them pick it up," Crane says.

One such non-profit is The Arc of Allegan County, for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They make 'Beyond Bones' using the dropped apples, which are natural dog treats handcrafted by individuals supported by the organization.

Crane says after skyrocketing costs in 2022, it was hard enough to do their normal business, let alone add more services like donating apples.

"Just getting them off the tree was tough, let alone the ground," he laughed.

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