By Jim Siegel
Gannett Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - It's the apple versus the pawpaw. Each is trying to join tomato juice - the state beverage - as the only foods to be recognized as state symbols.
Legislation supporting the apple, which Ohio farmers produce 77 million
pounds of each year, will face off against the pawpaw, a lesser-known Appalachian-area fruit struggling to gain recognition.
Rep. Jimmy Stewart, R-Athens, is backing the pawpaw bill as a way to bring more attention to the once popular snack fruit by making it a state symbol.
"The plant has been in Ohio for thousands of years," he said. "And you can make a good case for why it's unique and important to Ohio. We just want to raise the awareness of it."
The pawpaw, also called the poor man's banana, is the country's largest edible native fruit, similar in taste to a mango but closer in texture to a banana. Its trees thrive along the Appalachian Mountains.
Stewart said local growers have organized an annual festival, and rely on the fruit as part of their annual crop production. While he doesn't expect the honorary title of state fruit to bring a financial windfall to pawpaw sellers, he doesn't think the designation will hurt them, either.
Chris Chmiel, president of the Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association, called the bill a "chance for Ohio to expand its agricultural bread basket."
But the pawpaw is the underdog in a battle against the apple. While each American consumes nearly 20 pounds of apples each year, pawpaw production is not even tracked by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
"They don't track them anywhere, as far as I know," said Jim Ramey, Ohio's agricultural statistician. "I don't think many people know what a pawpaw is."
Ramey said he has tried pawpaw jam in the past. "Let's just say I wouldn't go looking for it again," he said.
Rep. Steve Reinhard, R-Bucyrus, is expected to introduce the apple state fruit bill. He was encouraged to introduce the bill by a fourth-grade class at Taft Elementary in Marion, which organized the apple campaign.
"I figured, how better to get them engaged in the legislative process?" Reinhard said.
OHIO'S OTHER SYMBOLS
State bird: Cardinal
State flower: Red carnation
State wildflower: Trillium grandiflorum
State tree: Buckeye
State beverage: Tomato juice
State fossil: Trilobite
State insect: Ladybug
State animal: White tail deer
State motto: "With God, all things are possible."
State reptile: Black racer snake
State gemstone: Flint
State song: "Beautiful Ohio"
State rock song: "Hang on Sloopy"
Reporter Leo Shane III contributed.
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