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Apples cost much, much more during Great Depression
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Honey Crisp. Gala. Fuji. Pink Lady. Jazz. Butterfly. Granny Smith.

That - plus a few more - is a quick rundown of the apples that were at Save Mart on North Main Street Saturday where I shop.

Big deal, you say. Well, yes, it is a big deal.

We are so spoiled being consumers in America in 2010 even in the middle of The Great Recession we don’t realize how good we have it.

Go back 30 or so years and the variety in your neighborhood supermarket when it comes to apples - or many other fresh selections - weren’t nearly as varied as they are today.

A lot of it has to do with the global economy. As far as I’m concerned it’s pretty tough to beat Fuji apples imported from New Zealand in late winter. I’d argue they taste better than those from around here or even from Washington.

Agricultural research has improved apples and other fruits and vegetables as well giving us more variety and less spoilage.

A decade ago I’d never heard of Ambrosia apples. Today, I can’t wait for them to appear at Save Mart even though they are $2.99 a pound. I always start my shopping trips with apples since I usually buy 14 each week. If Ambrosia is in season and the North Main Street store is out of them, I’ll simply leave and head on down to the Ripon Save Mart that usually has them in stock.

If it wasn’t for the global economy and other advances produce sections would have slim pickings and they’d cost much more.

If you doubt that, consider a few statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture.

In 2008, the typical American household spent 9.6 of its gross income on food whether it was at home or dining out. That is the lowest level ever. The same is true if you are simply eating food you buy at a store to prepare at home. The 2008 figure for those expenditures was 5.7 percent of overall income. Dining out expenditures for households has hovered between 4 and 4.2 percent of annual income since 1984.

Back in 1993 in the middle of the last big recession Americans typically spent 10.8 percent of their income on food.  Go back to 1980 when variety was a lot smaller then the amount of household income going to food was 13.2 percent or about a quarter less than we are spending today. Back when I was born in 1956 it was 18.1 percent of household income. At the height of the Great Depression in 1933 it was 25.2 percent - the most Americans had spent on food since statistics started being kept in 1929.

It basically has cost us less and less with each passing year in terms of percentage of income to buy food at supermarkets such as Save Mart.

Food on the table probably wasn’t such a painful proposition back when we were growing up because our parents concentrated on the basics. Typically that meant they had one car, their house was less than 1,100 square feet, electronic gadgetry consisted of a black and white TV, a transistor radio and - if you were fairly well off - a stereo complete with turntable.

We’ve gotten to this point for a variety of reasons including the fact the most efficient business is farming. The only way they can squeeze more money out to pay for rising power costs and such while staying competitive on razor thin margins is to learn to produce more. That means not wasting water or fertilizer and keeping tab of everything you do while striving constantly to find more efficient ways to do things.

The young Wall Street Turks that crashed and burned the economy don’t understand value or long-term investments nearly as well as a farmer.

It is the farmer - more than anyone else - who has enabled our transformation from an agrarian society to what we are today. Over a  century ago, more of us were still farming than working in other jobs since it took that many of us to keep the country fed. Today, less than 2 percent of Americans farm for a living.

It’s something to think about the next time you want to complain about food prices and variety.

We don’t know just how good we have it.