Certified organic strawberries aren’t so organic after all. Although organic strawberries sell for 50% to 100% more than conventional berries, organic strawberries are fumigated with toxic chemicals, including methyl bromide, at the beginning stages of their life-cycle.
Methyl bromide, is used to sterilize the soil before strawberries are planted. It’s not sprayed on the fruit. It’s a soil fumigant that kills just about everything it touches. Many hybridized seed varieties have been created that can only grow in sterile soil.
“The soil is, as a matter of fact, full of live organisms. It is essential to conceive of it as something pulsating with life, not as a dead or inert mass.”
– Albert Howard, The Soil and Health, 1947
“For most of agriculture’s 10,000-year history, farmers have succeeded or failed based on their ability to nurture life within soil. The microorganisms and earthworms that thrive in healthy soil metabolize nutrients and make them available for crops. They also convert animal and vegetable waste into humus, thus regenerating their own habitat and maintaining that thin layer of topsoil on which all terrestrial life depends.
In modern agriculture, however, soil operates as a medium, not a habitat: It exists to transfer synthetic, pre-metabolized nutrients from factories to crops. In this regime, any life form found in soil is at best innocuous — and at worst a threat. When a vast field is planted in the same crop year after year, its pests concentrate in the soil, waiting to strike.”
Prior to the fruit bearing stage virtually all strawberries regardless of if they continue on as conventionally grown berries or organic ones—are treated with toxic chemical fumigants and other unsavory pesticides.
Strawberries are particularly subject to pests. It takes a lot of toxic chemicals to keep production and thus profits up in these vast monocrop strawberry farms.
The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of strawberries. California is responsible for approximately 75 percent of the fresh and processed strawberries exported. Almost 90 percent of U.S.-grown fresh strawberries come from California. It’s also where the majority of the world’s strawberry nursery plants emanate, but there’s not one single organic nursery there.
A truly organic approach to growing strawberries involves rotating strawberries with other crops like broccoli or a suitable cover crop. Broccoli is a natural fungicide and protects strawberries.
Rotating crops prevents pathogens from setting up house and multiplying. “Most fungi attack in summer, survive the winter as spores in the soil or plant litter, then attack again in the next growing season. So planting the same crops in the same fields year after year allow pathogens to build their populations.”
In 2010 as part of the U.S. agreement to the Montreal Protocol
Methyl bromide commercial use was supposedly banned. But strawberry field fumigation and several other common agriculture applications are excepted from the ban. Methyl bromide is also associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer in farm workers.
More than 9.5 million pounds of pesticides, including over 3 million pounds of methyl bromide, is used annually to keep strawberries pest free.
And the replacement is Methyl Iodide is not much better.
The FDA approved Methyl Iodine for restricted use in California in 2010, but many scientists, including five Nobel laureates, decry its negative health effects and environmental impact.
In a joint effort to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from approving the use of methyl iodide: “More than 50 scientists, including five Nobel laureates, stated in a joint letter, “As chemists and physicians familiar with the effects of this chemical … we urge you to do whatever is possible to prevent this chemical from ever becoming a registered pesticide.”
“Everyone agrees, without exception, that methyl iodide is a very toxic compound. It’s very reactive. That means it interacts with living tissue in very toxic ways, causing cell damage and damage to cell structures, DNA, or chromosomes,” explains Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, science director at Science and Environmental Health Network. “The upshot is it can cause a lot of health effects, including cancer and damage to tissues that are developing. In animal studies, it killed the fetuses of developing animals exposed by inhalation; fetuses were killed at relatively low doses. Nobody doubts it’s a nasty chemical.”
Jim Cochran, has been growing real organic strawberries at his 75 acre Swanton Berry farm in Davenport minus any pesticides for over 30 years. He was the first farmer to grow organic strawberries in California.
But here’s the rub, he buys his starter plants from a nursery in northern California where toxic fumigants are used pre – fruit phase. Jim explains: “There’s a gray area in the rules.” Both Federal and state organic regulations give the nod allowing organic farmers to purchase non-organic starter material when they have no other options and still call their strawberries organic.
According to the NY Times: California “doesn’t have a single organic berry nursery—hence the practice of relying on plants that grew on fumigant-using nurseries.”
“The multi-crop organic farm is vastly more complex than the single-crop chemical strawberry farm. It requires much more management,” says Cochran. Crop rotation and organic methods are expensive and the yields are generally a little lower. “It’s not easy. What we’re up against is people who use chemicals and produce strawberries at $2.50 a basket and can still be quite profitable.” Cochran adds, “What we are trying to do is have it be organic from the very beginning, but it’s going to take some time to get to that point.”
Viable Organic Strawberries Options
Grow Your Own
For obvious reasons, I don’t recommend using seeds from store bought strawberries. You can buy organic, heirloom strawberry seeds here. You can find detailed information on how to start your seeds here.
Everbearing is a popular variety of strawberry. They produce strawberries throughout an entire growing season. Beginning in spring you’ll start seeing berries with intermittent fruit throughout summer and into early fall.
When the seedlings are ready to be transplanted and if you’re pressed for space, you can use a garden tower. Keep in mind, generally strawberries need lots of sun and a well-drained, loamy (a soil that drains well but still retains moisture) soil.
Paul Fassa is a contributing staff writer for REALfarmacy.com. His pet peeves are the Medical Mafia’s control over health and the food industry and government regulatory agencies’ corruption. Paul’s valiant contributions to the health movement and global paradigm shift are world renowned. Visit his blog by following this link and follow him on Twitter here.