Strawberry Fields Forever? By Arty Mangan
In the early days of Odwalla, BC (before Coca Cola bought
it) the juice plant was a state- of-the-art remodeled brussel sprouts packing
shed that stood on the cliffs of Pacific Coast Highway One. Just up the road
was Swanton Berry Farm run by one of America’s truly great, innovative farmers.
Jim Cochran was the first commercial organic strawberry
grower in the country. He was also the first organic farmer to unionize his
work force, when he invited the UFW in to “formalize the
professional relationship we have with our employees as co-partners.”
Jim would harvest his utterly delicious organic strawberry
seconds— the fruit that was misshaped or too small for market – and deliver
them to the juice plant, with which we (I worked for Odwalla in those days)
would promptly make strawberry lemonade, a euphoric nectar, thanks to the
Swanton strawberries- genus fragaria named for their fragrance- suitable to
serve a potential lover during an artful seduction.
Initially Jim was told that it was impossible to grow
strawberries organically for commercial markets. The conventional “wisdom” was
that without sterilizing the soil with methyl bromide – a highly carcinogenic
soil fumigant that burns holes in the ozone layer- growing strawberries for
market just couldn’t be done.
But Jim through crop rotation- artichokes, cauliflower and
broccoli are part of his mix- and other organic fertility management practices,
created optimum conditions for a healthy soil food web instead of destroying
the soil biology with methyl bromide, proving conventional wisdom dead wrong to
the culinary and ecological delight of his customers and his land.
In 2002, Jim Cochran received the EPA’s Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award for being the
“pioneer…in developing the technology of farming strawberries…without
relying on the soil fumigant methyl bromide”.
strawberries are rich in vitamins C and B and contain good amounts of
potassium, iron, and dietary fiber. Conventional strawberries, however, are
notorious for consistently being among the foods with the highest pesticide
Methyl bromide under the Montreal Protocol on Substances
that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Clean Air Act was phased out in 2005, but
strawberries were given an exemption because there was no feasible alternative;
apparently they neglected to talk to Jim Cochran about that.
2007 the EPA approved methyl iodide as an as alternative to methyl bromide.
Methyl iodide does not cause ozone layer depletion, although it is, according
to the Pesticide Action Network, “so
reliably carcinogenic that it’s used to induce cancer in the lab.”
California has proposed more
stringent regulations on its use but at the same time seems to have largely ignored the
California Scientific Review Committee findings that “any anticipated
scenario for the agricultural…use of this agent would…have a significant
adverse impact on the public health.”
Unless there is a substantial
public outcry the chemical will become legal in California, which grows almost
90% of the nation’s strawberries. The comment period has been extended to June
29. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Pollan, in a 2006 Bioneers
plenary, speaking of the “technocratic vision” of agriculture said, “As industrial agriculture fails and sickens us, the
solutions promote more industrialization of agriculture.”
Dr. Miguel Altieri, agro-ecologist
from UC Berkeley, describes the flaws in the industrial agricultural
methodology and mind set saying, “Each ecological disease [in this case ozone
depletion] is usually viewed as an independent problem rather than what it
really is- a symptom of a poorly designed and poorly functioning system.”