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Berry Toxic: Decoding the Organic Strawberry Debacle

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's California News page, All About Organics page, and our Save Organic Standards page.


In a recent article, the SF-based New York Times affiliate The Bay Citizen reported on a significant gap in California's organic strawberry industry: Most certified-organic strawberries do not start out that way.

While there are a number of farms using organic practices to raise the berries (most keep them in the ground from one to two years), they must rely on commercial-scale plant nurseries for young plants. By the time those plants, or "starts" as they're called, make it to the farm, they have usually gone through an entire year's growing cycle in the nursery.

If it's a conventional nursery, that means the soil they're grown in has been fumigated with a whole array of chemicals, including methyl bromide, a soil sterilizer and pesticide known to be depleting the ozone layer.

(As an aside, what The Bay Citizen didn't mention is that methyl bromide is thankfully being phased out -- but the EPA and the state of California are allowing the use of an even more toxic chemical, methyl iodide, instead. We're saving the climate at the expense of farmworkers' and their families' health.)

The Bay Citizen article introduces readers to James Rickert, the owner of a nursery that provided organic strawberry starts until he closed up shop in early 2010:

 He thought he could easily sell the plants for $100 per thousand, or $8 more than the price of conventional plants. But the market never materialized.


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