Buying Organic Is More Important For Some Products Than Others.

There is nothing like the spring and summer months when supermarkets are filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Local farmers markets are just beginning to open up, offering an abundance of fresh produce. When we shop for produce we have many choices; one of the most difficult being whether to invest our hard earned dollars on fruits and veggies that have been organically produced. While buying organic is always the better option, it is impossible to buy everything organic.

I went shopping with my daughter yesterday, you know, a Costco run that we do once in a while. In their fruit section they had a selection of two types of strawberries, regular and organic. The organic package was close to two times the price of the regular ones. And this was the start of our conversation about why to buy organic, which gave me the idea for this post.

We are blessed living in a time and place of abundance. I am also fortunate to be with someone who is passionate about growing her own veggies — us much as she can fit into our small yard. I understand that not everybody has the same choices when it comes to organic produce. As I said, I am lucky!

There are a few items that I would stress for everyone to only buy organic. And strawberries are on the top of the list, as are apples, or they are a close second. The biggest motivation to buy organic is to eliminate foods sprayed with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. There are at least two reasons to consider buying organic produce. First, minimize our exposure to these chemicals, and second, minimize support of farms that expose their employees to the high amount of chemicals used by spraying while also contaminating the soil in their communities.

I read somewhere, that some organic growers joke that conventionally grown strawberries are so full of chemicals, you could grind them up and use them as a pesticide. But pesticides are no laughing matter. Sixty-five different pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are registered for use on strawberries in the US.

Sixty-five different pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are registered for use on strawberries in the US.

Strawberries are the most chemically intensive crop in California. Most commercial strawberry growers use methyl bromide, a toxic, ozone-depleting chemical, to eradicate all fungus, nematodes, microorganisms and weeds, effectively killing every living thing in the soil where strawberry plants are grown. For the remaining growth cycle, the berry plants are drip-fed chemical fertilizers. Because methyl bromide can cause poisoning, neurological damage and reproductive harm, the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) classifies it as a Toxicity Category I compound, which is a category reserved for the most deadly matters it regulates.

Nonorganic strawberries are highly likely to contain pesticide residue after harvest. When the PDP (the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program) releases its annual list of produce samples with residues that exceed tolerance levels, strawberries appear more often than any other fruit or vegetable.

Why are some types of produce more prone to sucking up pesticides than others? Richard Wiles, senior vice president of policy for the Environmental Working Group says, “If you eat something like a pineapple or sweet corn, they have a protection defense because of the outer layer of skin. Not the same for strawberries and berries.”

The President’s Cancer Panel recommends washing conventionally grown produce to remove residues. Wiles adds, “You should do what you can do, but the idea you are going to wash pesticides off is a fantasy. But you should still wash it because you will reduce pesticide exposure.”

Strawberries are difficult to grow for regular farmers because of the amount of fungus that smothers the crop.  In order to control the fungus, farmers must use pesticides. It is very difficult to wash away these pesticides.  If you can’t afford them organic, try buying strawberries frozen as there are generally less total pesticides.  Blueberries fall in this same category (frozen bags have less).  Both carry over 50 pesticides.

Research points to organic strawberries

Researchers at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group produced the Shoppers Guide to Pesticides to help us determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and are the most important to buy organic. We can lower our pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables (The Dirty Dozen) and eating the least contaminated produce (Clean 15). 

On this list, strawberries are number 3 of most contaminated fruits. In a study led by Washington State University, the results found: organic strawberries are healthier, tastier, and better for the soil than conventional strawberries. Conventional strawberries are contaminated by all sorts of pesticides and toxic chemicals and have consistently been high on the most contaminated list.