Organic food is a really interesting topic. Let me say right now that I don’t seek out organic produce. Especially when the organic produce comes from California and I live in Michigan and I can buy locally produced goods or veggies. I seek out sustainably grown and raised food as much as possible and as much as the checking account allows. I am all for using less pesticides and taking less trips across the farm field (less fuel), but I work with agriculture daily and understand the reality of feeding the masses too. For that, I support IPM, integrated pest managment. This means that you would only use pesticides if a certain pest reaches a known threshold and over that threshold crop damage will be done. Then you spray. Our society as a whole demands perfect looking food.
For example, in the cherry industry, there is a zero tolerance for a pest called the cherry fruit fly. Zero means zero. You can take a semi load of cherries in (and yes, that is a lot of cherries, about one long afternoon’s harvest) and they test every load before processing them into cherry pie filling. If there is one, yes one, cherry fruit fly larvae in the load, the load is rejected. How is that for an incentive to use more pesticides? You lose a crop because no one wants to bite into a cherry and have a worm in there. I say, eat the cherries whole and you will never know – just kidding.
Every state has what is called a “spray calendar” printed by their cooperative extension office (from where ever your state agricultural university is, ours is Michigan State University). This is a calendar of when to spray what pest. Typically it is known that during the first week of say June, in certain areas of the state “pressure” builds up of a certain kind of pest, meaning it reaches that spraying threshold. This could be a bacteria or a bug, and it is typically weather driven, a certain amount of warm days, a certain amount of damp, or rainy days. So this calendar tells people when to spray. If you use this calendar, you would be spraying by the book so to speak and spraying regardless of knowing whether the problem is really out there, it might be a preventative spray, or it could be unnecessary. Pesticides are not cheap. An 80 acre fruit farm will spend probably $20,000 over a summer in pesticides. So, if you don’t need to spray, most farmers do not want to spray. Add to that, that it must be pretty still out so nothing drifts off site and guess when it is really still out in summer? At night, in the middle of the night. Whenever I am at the farm up North on a summer night, you can always hear the hum of a sprayer in the distance all night long. I actually like the sound as it is the sound of food in the making, of a tractor and of a lively hood.
I am perfectly happy eating a slightly damaged apple or a scarred cucumber, but lots of folks aren’t. I don’t think they understand what this means in the end, that more pesticides will be used to give them pest free veggies. It will take a lot of education to get there nationwide. Yes, those of you reading this blog are mostly foodies and understand these things already. Most of you already shop at farmer’s markets or grow things in your garden, but you know you are not the norm.
What started this discussion today? This org chart. I like the idea of organic food, but did you know that most every organic item you find in the store is now owned by big nationalized corporations? To me, shipping deletes any positive effects of less pesticides. It all affects the environment in one way or another. Organic production can still uses some types of pesticides, but they are not the same ones as typically used for mainsteam production, they use natural ones.
So what am I trying to say? Know where your food comes from if you can and support local and sustainable agriculture if you can. My garden is organic and I try to buy products that I know are produced in Michigan whenever possible. I am certainly not an extremist of any sort, but just like to help with awareness. Consider supporting farms that use IPM, especially local ones, just as you would organic ones. All farmers have it in their own interest to treat the land they use wisely, because if they don’t, the land won’t be there for them.