The United States produces seven percent of the world's apple crop, 4.5 million tons a year, according to the USDA. Apple season begins in September and lasts through November. Time to get your share!

Apple picking is a great chance to bum around in an orchard in the golden autumn light for a few hours and come away with your winter supply of fruit. And it can be a unique taste (and color, and shape) treat. There are over 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, but only 100 of them are grown commercially. The most popular apple is the Red Delicious, with the trademark 5 "bumps" on the bottom, followed by the Golden Delicious and the Granny Smith. Apple picking exposes you to newer, tastier varieties, such as the Arkansas Black or the Northern Spy. As an added bonus, you're supporting farmers who're investing in biological diversity.

Buying on-site has the same benefits as buying local produce from a farmers market, because your money goes directly to the farmer. The price for picking your own top-quality, fresh, heirloom apples compares favorably with buying them in the store, and usually, it's significantly cheaper: Center Grove Orchard in Iowa, for example, sells their apples at a peck (12 pounds) for $12. If you don't want to go it alone, wrassle up a posse of friends and family, or arrange a field trip for your child's class; Bowman Orchards in New York gives group tours for just $9 per person, including a three-pound sack to fill up at the end.

To find an orchard in your area that gives tours — or just hands you a basket and says, "Enjoy!" — the website Pick Your Own has a list of apple festivals and family orchards by state. Rural Bounty sorts orchards and small farms by fruit type, so you can get your Halloween pumpkin and bushel of apples on the same trip. They even allow you to sort by organic and conventional farms to maximize your eco-awesomeness.

Rounding off this delicious post, here is a quick and easy recipe for homemade applesauce, and here is a recipe for apple pie.

Story by Rachel Brown. This article originally appeared in Plenty in September 2008. The story was added to