Native and novel: Ohio pawpaws
It started with chasing a zebra swallowtail. When Lance Sinkowski was a teen, he caught sight of one’s black and white wings and raced to capture it.
He didn’t catch the butterfly. But, when he realized the relationship between it and pawpaws he hooked on to a vision. To help others learn about edible native plants, like pawpaws, and how they work with nature. Consumers, backyard growers, and producers like Sinkowski share a passion for pawpaws. Between an uptick in agroforestry and a trend toward edible yards, pawpaw trees are in demand.
In Spring 1999, Sinkowski began the process of planting a pawpaw orchard on a farm he purchased five years ago near Malta, Ohio. His grandfather raised horses on the 89-acre farm held by his family for generations. “We planted over 1400 pawpaws, mainly grafted species. My favorite, Overleese, plus some Potomac and NC-1,” offered Sinkowski. “It’s hard to beat the flavor and size of Overleese. We chose Forrest Keeling’s grafted trees, of course. Their RPM-production and wide selection of pawpaw species made our choice a natural.”
Sinkowski’s orchard is not yet producing a marketable crop. “We’re about two years from taking fruit to farmers’ markets. I’m also looking into selling pawpaw to local microbreweries.”
Pawpaw grows on a variety of sites. Its large, fleshy fruits are nutritious. But, the fruit’s fragile nature makes long-distance transport difficult. Their taste is like a delicious cross of mango and banana. So, its pulp is also marketed for beer, ice cream, salsa, jam and baked goods. Farmers’ markets and orchard sales are the best option for fresh fruit sales.
Successful fruit set requires cross-pollination of two different species. The trees and fruits are disease- and pest-resistant, and support pollinators. In fact, the aroma of the tree’s flowers attract flies that aid in their pollination.
“We’re excited about the future of pawpaw production in Ohio.” added Sinkowski. “For me, the thrill of simply putting something native and novel in someone’s hands is hard to beat. And, to know my sons, Ivan and Eric, share my passion is priceless.”