Rotting Apples

by Paul K. Haeder & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & ne of the most haunting images in the documentary Broken Limbs is a blazing pyre of bulldozed apple tree limbs, the flames rising up in the cold fall air to make way for a Home Depot across from the Wal-Mart in Wenatchee.

In March of 2000, Wenatchee apple grower Denny Evans had his farm loan called. That meant that the bank wanted $750,000 by October. The financial reality meant there was no money to get the following year's crop going. Denny Evans had to cut down some of his trees and sell some of his land. He also had to lop off five year-round employees, including Solomon Mendoza, who had worked the orchard for 23 years.

And it's not just Evans; hundreds of Wenatchee Valley orchardists have given up growing apples over the past 20 years. As global competition has increased, the symbol of the state of Washington has fallen on hard times.

Denny's son, Guy, along with Jamie Howell, set out to tell the story of the rotting apple industry, and they'll be at the Met on Saturday to answer questions as a part of their screening of Broken Limbs.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hat was once a Mecca for apple growing, warehousing and shipping, Wenatchee is now a sprawling city with subdivisions popping up where orchards once took root. Golf courses now cover the loam of once-rich apple groves.

For Guy Evans, the demise of the independent apple grower represents the sad tale of his own family and others in a place that once grew 12 billion apples a season.

The broken limbs represent the impact of globalization -- conglomeration, economies of scale, cheap offshore labor. American growers just can't compete. The Chileans and Chinese do just as good a job of growing apples as Wenatchee farmers but for a lot less.

"Every dime we made was put into the orchard," Dave Crosby, an orchardist who saw his orchard auctioned off, tells the filmmakers. In the end, the grower gets no fixed price for the crop, Crosby laments. By the time the money gets to the farmer, it's already been siphoned by the grocer, wholesaler, trucker, broker and warehouse owner.

"The farmer takes what he gets and lays down like a whipped pup," Crosby says.

Evans and Howell's film reflects this despair, humanizing the fact that farmers in the United States commit suicide at a rate four times higher than the national average.

"I sometimes see the cloud in my father's eyes and I worry," Guy Evans adds.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & lthough the demise of the state's apple industry is both an outrage and perhaps even tragic, there is hope to be found in Broken Limbs, as it also explores what it calls "the new American farmer." Evans and Howell breathe life into this prototype by showing us several small, organic farmers who are making money.

Near Leavenworth, Grant Gibbs runs Grant's Organic Farms, 20 acres of heirloom apples he sells to local and national food co-ops, setting his own price based on his operational costs. On his farm, Gibbs grows hay in the frost pocket, fruit on the slopes, uses compost liberally, puts chickens into the orchard to mow the grass and feast on pests, and moves pig pens throughout the orchard to feed on damaged apples and till up the soil. His orchard is labor-intensive, but Gibbs knows his sustainable practices are good for the land.

Throughout Broken Limbs, sustainable agriculture is discussed by John Ikerd, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri. This new American farmer, Ikerd says, works with the three central ideas of sustainable agriculture: First, the farmer needs to take care of the land so he works with nature's cycles, not against them. Next, the farmer can't go broke doing what he does -- even if it's organic and environmentally grand. And finally, Ikerd says, while the operation might meet the food and economic needs of the farmer and consumer, the sustainable farm must provide opportunities for the farmer and rural communities to live successful lives.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n the end, Evans' father Denny symbolizes the new American farmer because he's worked hard and has become smarter. He now raises llamas and sells their poop for top dollar. He's put in grapes instead of apples and is working on a business plan for a winery.

"The kind of farming we're talking about in terms of sustainability requires the creativity, it requires the imagination, it requires now determining what you can do in terms of recreating agriculture in a particular area," Ikerd said.

Guy Evans has grafted back to the tree of his father, returned to Wenatchee to grow fruit and sell vegetables. It's a life of reclamation.

"To live a simple, sustainable life, you need other people," Guy Evan says. "You won't be making the kind of money that allows one to use dollars to get things done. What other options exist? Interdependence." n

Broken Limbs, a benefit for the Friends of the Market, is showing at 7 pm, Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Met. Tickets: $3. Call 951-4361. For more information, check out at Windmills