One of my lovely Facebook fans asked that I write about the gnarly subject of strawberries that are labeled as organic, but that aren’t really. I had a sneaking suspicion that this was the case because year round I can find perfectly formed “organic” strawberries in my farmers market, and well…. come ON guys! Have you ever tried to grow strawberries? They are pretty hard to grow because pests love them. Now, if you are a dedicated organic gardener (as my mother was) you may get a harvest or two of beautiful summer strawberries, but chances are you’ve had to really tend to them to keep the critters at bay. But the bottom line is this, regardless of whether I buy my “organic” berries from the health store or the farmer’s market, my strawberries are SP not organic! Shocker right?
Here’s the deal: Most strawberries across the U.S. are started in nurseries in Northern CA. But these “starter” plants are then shipped further South (and all over the country) to grow into fully fledged plants. In order for these starter plants to survive, the soil in the nursery is routinely fumigated with dangerous pesticides to keep the pests at bay. And, here’s what you need to know – they are then trucked or shipped to a certified organic grower, despite the fact that they were started with fully fumigated soil, and they can be sold as certified organic. This is because the federal code allows organic farmers to use strawberry starter plants or seedlings grown in fumigated soil if there are no organic starts “commercially available.” Most of the bigger companies take advantage of this loophole. They only use certain varieties, which the small truly (from seed to fruit), organic farmers, don’t have access to. Besides many of the farmers both conventional and organic, don’t want an infected strawberry from non-fumigated soil to wipe out their entire crop.
Before you freak out and never buy another strawberry again, there is no danger of you actually ingesting a fumigant. Once the plant has pushed through the soil, it is safe for consumption in the hands of an organic farmer (no pesticide or herbicide sprays should be used on certified organic produce). However, the danger is to the workers and the surrounding area, where these fumigants are a serious health hazard.
Bottom line, if you love strawberries, always make sure they are certified organic because the conventional ones are doused with pesticides, which you will ingest for sure. But don’t be under the illusion that your juicy berries were raised from seed in bucolic strawberry fields – they probably were not. Better still, only eat strawberries in the summer from a local grower who has heirloom varieties (and he/she will let you come and see the seeds being planted), or grow your own.