Monday, April 6, 2009
Strawberries -- the Grim Truth
We love strawberries, and it's a rite of spring for our family to treat ourselves to a breakfast of German pancakes topped with strawberries. Our May birthday is celebrated with Swedish "Blotkake" (literally Blood cake) with layers of cake, whipped cream and fresh strawberries.
Today I was listening to a science & technology program on NPR about the heavy use of a soil fumigant (methyl something or other), which is used on something like 80-90% of commercial strawberry farms in the US. I had no idea! I know from my nerdy love of soils how terrible the practice of killing all the soil organisms is. And I immediately realized the need to look more closely at the labels and origins of strawberries I buy -- in the past I've often been sceptical when organic produce costs WAY more (I can see 50%, but balk at anything approaching double the price)-- I'm not exactly made of money and got to watch the bottom line.
I learned on the radio program this afternoon that those big strawberry producers feel they can't get away from fumigating for a number of complicated reasons -- the crop is so high in value yet the risks of failure are high, and they can't get financing/insurance if they don't practice fumigation...
Yet this methyl-fumigate is terrible stuff, and there's a movement to outlaw it in the US -- not only is it terrible stuff for the health of any farm workers who come in contact with it, but it also contributes to the destruction of the ozone hole.
Now I feel guilty -- my love of strawberries is destroying the planet below-ground and in the atmosphere too!
Now some good news: researchers at the University of Sonoma (if I remember correctly) are experimenting with application of ground up mustard seeds as an alternative to fumigation. BRILLIANT -- I just love it! Good old natural remedy -- turns out the mustards not only work as a deterrent to the bad fungi that can hurt the strawberry plants, they also help the good symbiotic bacteria that help the roots. BEAUTIFUL.
So now I'm REALLY looking to the strawberries in my garden this summer, and this week's CSA box, which will have organic (=guiltfree) strawberries.