Where your food comes from: Pineapple

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PA greenhouse pineapple

Being a student in agriculture, I am constantly reminded of how naive the general population is when it comes to the knowledge of where our food comes from. We all know that food is available for us in the grocery store wrapped in nice shiny packages, but where did it really come from? Do the cashiers have secret side jobs as farmers? Today the greenhouse manager’s pineapple plant’s fruit was at the peak of perfection and I tasted some of the best food I have ever had in my life. The pineapple is one of the most popular tropical fruits in America, only second to my favorite, the banana.

The Technical Stuff:

Family: Bromeliaceae (also in this family: flowering tropical plants, Spanish moss)

Genus: Ananas Mill.

Species: Ananas comosus (L.) Merr.

Description: 5ft tall, 4-5ft wide terrestrial (land) herb. Ever seen an uncut pineapple? The crown (or leaf like structure at the top) is a good visual of how the plant actually looks in the ground. A pineapple “fruit” is actually multiple fruits. The many flowers on the pineapples fluorescent will fuse their fruitlets together around a core creating the structure we cut up and eat. Fun Fact: you can grow your own pineapple plant from the fruit you get at the grocery store with the uneaten crown at the top! Here is a video from youtube with exact instructions, complete with some soothing background music to really get you in the mood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTn4SDMZQes.

Origin: Northern Brazil and Paraguay

A Brief History: The plant was supposedly domesticated by natives in Brazil and taken up the coast to Central America and Mexico. Some Caribbean Indians placed the pineapple crown next to their door to serve as a symbol of friendship. Europeans in Spain and England later adopted this tradition creating carvings of the fruit over their doors (if you travel there, you may still see some today). The seeds were spread around the world throughout the 14th, 15th, and 16th century to areas such as the Philippians, China, Africa, and Europe.  While Europeans mostly grew the pineapple in greenhouses (for obvious climactic reasons), others attempted growing the fruit outside which resulted in some successes and many failures. The first major pineapple plantation was established in 1855 in Oahu, Hawaii on two acres. In 1939 the commercial pineapple industry was formed and began to flourish after the opening of a canning plant in 1946.

So where does our tasty delicious fruit come from? Like most fruits and vegetables, pineapples are easy to spoil without some refrigeration and quick transportation. Dole and Del Monte are the two biggest players in the pineapple industry. In fact, the Dole pineapple plantation in Hawaii is the second most visited landmark of the state next to the Pearl Harbor bombing site! Up until mid century (the 1960s), Hawaii was on top of the canned pineapple industry. Eventually the industry began to collapse, forcing the Dole’s canning plant on the island to shut down in the 90s, around the same time that Del Monte moved their pineapple production elsewhere. So now that pineapple production in the U.S. is down, where is all this fresh fruit coming from? After all, we put out the number one demand for the fruit worldwide. Brazil, Thailand, the Philippians, and China produce the highest amounts (around 52% of the world demand). Other important areas of cultivation are Costa Rica, India, Nigeria, Mexico, Indonesia, and Kenya. So U.S. pineapple production still does exist, but unless you live in Hawaii you are most likely not getting any. Or maybe you also work at a greenhouse with an awesome pineapple growing manager, who knows.

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