Strawberries garnered special attention this year as Arysta LifeScience, a global pesticide corporation, aggressively promoted the chemical methyl iodide for use in California’s strawberry industry. It was dubbed “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth” by Dr. Join Froines, chair of the state's Scientific Review Committee for the pesticide. Pesticide Action Network, partners and tens of thousands of Californians rallied to keep methyl iodide out of agriculture. The Department of Pesticide Regulation is expected to issue a final decision on registering the new fumigant in the coming months. Public opinion aligns firmly against use of the chemical.
New science on the superiority of strawberries grown organically – without methyl iodide – bolsters the case. Researchers at Washington State University compared organic and industrial berries over five years, and published their results last month in the prestigious journal PLoS ONE, in an article titled, “Fruit and Soil Quality of Organic and Conventional Strawberry Agroecosystems.”
The scientists found that compared to industrial berries, organic strawberries have:
And one thing organic strawberries don’t have: pesticide residues.
The secret is in the soil, scientists found. Organically farmed soils pack a nutritious punch, with higher levels of carbon, nitrogen and important micronutrients. Organic farming enhances food quality by building soil quality – a key point highlighted in the September 3rd National Public Radio show Science Friday. Organically farmed soils also supported thriving microbial communities – the living part of the soil – that were larger, more diverse, and more active.
The really sweet part of the story: farmers in California and around the country are already growing organic strawberries, with Swanton Berry Farms and Driscoll’s as just two examples of businesses thriving in this growing sector.