How Did This Happen? Even Organic Strawberries are Grown with Pesticides
By Rachael Bale, Center for Investigative Reporting
After our investigation revealed just how much dangerous pesticides it takes to grow strawberries, many people wrote to us saying they would start buying organic.
But even that won’t fully address the problem: When they are starting out, organic strawberry plants are grown with the help of fumigants, the hard-to-control class of pesticides that have been linked to cancer, developmental problems and the hole in the ozone layer.
Strawberries don’t grow up where they are born. They get their start in nurseries in inland Northern California before being shipped south in an effort to mimic natural progression of winter to spring. They finish their lifespan along the California coast in places such as Monterey and Ventura counties.
Regardless of whether one of these baby plants – known as starts – ends up on a conventional or organic farm, the nursery soil is pumped with fumigants to eradicate the pests and diseases that can haunt strawberry farmers.
If they’re matured on an organic farm, these strawberries still can be certified organic.
The federal code allows organic farmers to use strawberry starts grown in fumigated soil if there are no organic starts “commercially available.”
And that’s the case in California. There isn’t a single organic strawberry nursery in the state. James Rickert’s Prather Ranch ran one from 2005 to 2009. The few who used his organic starts loved them. But, Rickert said, many organic farmers worried that they might import soil-borne pests into their own farms, even though Rickert’s plants were certified pest-free.
That’s only the beginning…How did this happen – why?