Now here’s some shocking news! It turns out that certified organic strawberries are not completely organic. Even though organic strawberries are witnessing record high sales, they are usually treated with dangerous chemicals like methyl bromide especially at the early stages of their growth.
In case you didn’t know, methyl bromide is usually used for sterilization of the soil before the strawberries are planted. So, this compound is not sprayed directly on strawberries – this is a soil fumigant that eliminates everything alive it gets in touch with. There are many hybrid seed varieties created by experts that can thrive only in sterile soil.
According to Albert Howard, the author of the Soil and Health, the soil is loaded with many different live organisms and that’s why people should look at soil as something alive.
The history of agriculture, which goes back 10.000 years in the past, is full of examples of farmers that were successful and farmers that have failed due to their (in)ability to support life located within the soil.
The earthworms and microorganisms that live in soil process nutrients that are later used by crops. In addition, they turn vegetable and animal waste into humus which means that they are regenerating the soil and keeping the thin coat of topsoil that terrestrial life uses.
However, modern agriculture treats soil as a simple medium – it is here to transfer pre-metabolized and synthetic nutrients. That’s why modern farmers think of natural life in the soil as useless or as a threat.
What does this mean?
So, before the fruit-bearing phase, almost all strawberries, no matter whether they are organic or grown in a conventional way, are getting treated with a chemical, toxic fumigants, and many other potentially dangerous pesticides.
As we all know, strawberries are very vulnerable fruits. That’s why farmers use high amounts of toxic products to maintain production.
The United States is the largest producer of strawberries in the world. About 75% of all exported strawberries from the United States come from California. In addition, almost 90% of all strawberries in the USA are harvested in California.
California is the state where you can find the highest number of strawberry nursery plants. Sadly, there is no organic strawberry nursery in this state.
A completely organic method of growing strawberries includes a system in which strawberries are rotated with other crops like broccoli or other matching cover crop. The reason is simple – broccoli and other similar crops act as natural fungicides and keep the strawberries safe.
In addition, rotating crops also keep the pathogens away by preventing them from thriving there. The majority of fungi are active during the summer period, stay alive during the winter months in the plant litter or soil and attack the plants again in summer.
This means that planting the same type of crops in the same soil every year makes it easy for pathogens to grow.
About seven years ago, the US decided to ban the commercial use of methyl bromide, a move forced by the Montreal Protocol which the US has signed. However, fumigation of strawberry fields and few other agriculture uses are not part of this ban. Sadly, methyl bromide has been linked to the increased rates of prostate cancer that occurs in farm workers.
Over 9.5 million pounds of pesticides (methyl bromide participates with 3 million pounds) are used every year to keep the pests away from strawberries. The alternative known as methyl iodide is not very healthier.
The FDA has allowed the use of methyl iodide in California seven years ago, but according to many experts, including Nobel Prize winners, this pesticide brings different negative environmental and health effects.
Over 50 scientists have created a joint letter in order to prevent the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) from allowing the use of methyl iodide. They have pointed out that the scientific community agrees that methyl iodide is indeed a highly toxic product.
This is also a very reactive compound. In other words, methyl iodide interacts with living tissue in a toxic way leading to cell damage and cell structure, chromosome, and DNA damage.
Ted Schettler, MPH, MD, and science director at SEHN (Science and Environmental Health Network) says that the main point is that this compound can trigger many different negative health effects like developing tissue damage and cancer. A few animal studies have shown that this compound killed the fetuses even with the low disease.
Jim Cochran is a farmer focused on growing truly organic strawberries. He has a 75-acre farm located in Davenport. He has never used pesticides to grow his strawberries. In fact, he was the first certified farmer to grow such strawberries in the State of California.
However, there is a catch. Namely, he purchases his starter plants from a Californian nursery that relies on toxic fumigants in the pre-fruit stage. So, the rules are not very strict. The authorities allow producers to use non-organic starter plants when they cannot rely on other solutions and they can still call their products organic.
A couple of years ago, the New York Times has pointed out that there are no organic berry nurseries in California, so the strawberries grown there are not 100% organic.
Cochran highlights the fact that multi-crop organic farms are very complex farms especially when they are compared to single-crop chemical strawberry farms. Organic techniques and crop rotation are costly and the growers can expect lower yields which is definitely not attractive.
It’s difficult and organic farmers must compete with individuals and organizations that rely on chemicals. Yet, there are many of them that are trying to create completely organic strawberries.
Practical Organic Strawberries Solutions
Start growing your own strawberries
Obviously, the use of store-bought seeds is not a smart move. You can purchase organic strawberry seeds online and in specialized stores.
Everbearing is one of the most used varieties of strawberries today.
They make strawberries during the growing season – from the beginning to the end. In other words, from early spring to the end of summer.
Once the seedlings are prepared for transplantation and in case you don’t have enough room for them, you can always use a simple garden tower for that.
Don’t forget that strawberries require lots of sun and soil that is well-drained and soil that keeps the moisture.