John Mazzarella thought he’d get a degree in computer science when he went off to school at the University of Minnesota in the 1980s. He ended up studying art history at the U of M, but other than that, nothing went as planned.
Today, John is a lead gardener at the Horticultural Research Center. “I got the job because of my knowledge of farm equipment, not because I knew anything about apples,” he says while walking among Minneiska apple trees, which bear SweeTango apples.
He also serves in the Navy Reserves. “I was actually supposed to turn in my paperwork on September 11 .” He eventually served a tour in Iraq and sometimes wears old fatigue trousers to work. “They’re very lightweight,” he comments, a definite plus on a hot summer day.
While it may seem like a stretch to go from studying art history to growing apples, John doesn’t see it that way. “My degree in art history has served me well. The communication and writing skills I acquired [in the College of Liberal Arts] helped me with my work in the Navy Reserves. Also, for exams our professors would throw up images of two paintings and have us compare them. Building these visual skills have translated over to identifying apples.”
Describing the Honeycrisp apple, he mentions how it became the Minnesota state fruit in 2006 (not just the Minnesota state apple, the Minnesota state fruit) and comments, “It’s a balanced apple between sweet and acid, and it acquires a floral taste if you leave sit in the back of the fridge for a few weeks.”
Finally, a tip for Honeycrisp fans: “I like to say the ideal Honeycrisp is fire engine red and John Deere yellow.” He expects the 2023 crop of Honeycrisps to be ready around mid-September at the AppleHouse. If you can’t wait that long, First Kiss, SweeTango, and Zestar apples should be available in late August or early September.