Red. Ripe. Delicious. That’s how you might describe the baskets of strawberries you see at your local farmer’s market or neighborhood store. What you don’t see are the green opportunities behind the berry – both environmental and economic – long before the fruit lands on your shortcake. And farmers say this deserves some attention.
As I told the LA Times, here's my basic response: "It’s the farmers, farmworkers and residents of rural communities who are really most at risk" from pesticides, not consumers. While these folks are exposed to pesticides from food like the rest of us, they also must contend with pesticide fumes drifting out of fields, exposure from working directly with pesticides, and pesticide-coated dust and dirt tracked into their homes from the fields. Tom Philpott, newly migrated to MotherJones, nails this topic.
It seems like a no-brainer: If you happen to live or work or go to school across the street from a field or orchard where pesticides are sprayed, you might think, "Maybe I'm breathing some of these pesticides." Especially when the wind blows from the field towards you. Especially when you can smell the pesticides. And you might also think, "Maybe this isn't good for me." Especially when the guys applying the pesticides are wearing Tyvek spacesuits. Especially if you start feeling ill.
And you'd be right to think these thoughts, even though most growers and pesticide applicators will tell you that you're crazy and have nothing to worry about. For years PAN's been working with concerned communities to show that these exposures are real and need to be taken seriously. And now a new study by scientists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and various states' Departments of Health, corroborates what we've been saying all along.
Last week offered hope for science and strawberries, both. Three newsworthy events marked progress toward the slow crumbling of chemical industry influence on government. Each crack, however small, offers an opportunity toward food democracy, and the use of science in powerful service of the public good.
Scientists have found that hot molasses could be key to controlling soil pests, allowing farmers to grow peppers and tomatoes in Florida without using the dangerous fumigant pesticide, methyl bromide. Ending reliance on methyl bromide has been particularly tricky in the sunshine state, where mild winters offer safe harbor for pests and sandy soils can make organic options a challenge. Nonetheless, innovative scientists and farmers are creating ways to grow food without pesticides. The March 2011 edition of Agricultural Research, published by USDA, has the story.
It's often unnerving to face multinational corporate capture of chemical policy and science. I certainly felt like I'd been kicked in the gut last December, when, after a diligent, multi-year review that actually kept science and the health of Californians as core commitments, chemical company influence won out as California legalized "one of the most toxic chemicals on earth" — despite the analysis and recommendations of their own scientists and overwhelming public opposition.