Strawberries: The Dirty Dozen
This year strawberries took the #1 spot on the Dirty Dozen, and not for the first time either. In fact, strawberries are often at the top of the Dirty Dozen list. What is it about strawberries that make them the worst conventionally grown fruit on the shelf? Strawberries are indigenous to the USA although the variety we buy now is bred to be bigger, easy to grow, and more prolific than the original strawberry. Strawberries typically ripen in a narrow window of time in April and May, but thanks to modern agriculture they are a year-round staple. The only problem is that strawberries are very susceptible to pests and fungus. This means that a lot of pesticides and compounds are used to create an environment where sensitive strawberries can be grown all year. California (where the majority of strawberries are grown) is arguably the most regulated state to grow in, but even California’s regulation isn’t enough to bump strawberries further down the list. For example, strawberries use 300 pounds of pesticides per acre compared to 5 pounds of pesticides per acre of sweet corn in the Midwest. However, the biggest reason strawberries top the EWG list isn’t because of pesticide residue found on strawberry samples (although pesticide residue tests high) but that 80% of the toxins used to produce strawberries are toxic fumigants used to kill anything in the soil before planting. These fumigants vary but the main active ingredient is the same active ingredient in tear gas. Under a tarp, these fumes penetrate the soil killing earthworms, bugs, good bacteria, and naturally occurring gasses that the complex soil’s biome that is responsible for supporting nutrients into a harvest. Soil health relies on compost and a decomposition process, and the strawberry crop’s soil is stripped of its biome and infused with manufactured toxins. Soil science is so complicated people dedicate their lives to it with advanced degrees, and it is speculated we understand dirt about as much as we know ocean exploration. The organic way to treat the soil for strawberries would be to cover the topsoil with a specific high carbon compost blend and let the gasses from that infiltrate the soil. Farmers who have used this method report similar pest control as conventional farmers, but the method is more expensive to use organic matter. Dow Chemical has successfully lobbied for the use of chemicals like Telone that has been banned in the EU. So, it’s important to buy organic strawberries? Maybe not. Organic strawberries can be labeled as organic if they were started in a field using the chemical fumigants and then transferred to an organic farm. This will reduce surface pesticides, but not the fumigants which is the biggest reason strawberries are labeled as “dirty”. The best guarantee to find flavorful strawberries is to go local and buy in season through April and May.