strawberriesIt’s that time of year again, when the first of the season’s fresh strawberries start showing up in local shops and farmers markets, and in the garden too. So YUM!

So what’s the good news about strawberries?

The really good news about strawberries is that they are one of the top antioxidant fruits you can possibly eat. Higher than just about anything else out there, in the fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices categories. That’s pretty impressive, for a start.

But there’s more good news: Recent studies show that strawberries help regulate blood sugar levels and will even help stabilize blood sugar if eaten when table sugar is consumed. Now, this is no recommendation for table sugar, but it is a recommendation to add strawberries to that sweet sugary waffle or other sugary dessert to reduce the flare-up of sugar in your bloodstream.

And, just to make sure you really do enjoy your strawberries this season, new research has shown that in order to derive the antioxidant benefits strawberries offer, you should eat them several times a week. What a shame! You have to eat more strawberries!

Now for the bad news. Well, wouldn’t it be great if there were none, but alas, ’tis not to be.

The first bad news about strawberries is that they are on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list. That means conventionally grown strawberries are likely to have high levels of pesticide residue on them, not good for anybody.

So, when you do buy strawberries, buy organically grown strawberries whenever possible. Happily, organic strawberries are becoming more and more commonplace and there are more and more farmers switching to organic growing of strawberries.

In March of 2012 there was a small victory in the world of fumigant strawberry growing when methyld iodide was officially removed from the U.S. market by its manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience.

The battle over methyl iodide and methyl bromide continues, however. Even after the removal of methyl iodide the latest news from California’s strawberry growing regions makes it clear that fumigants in strawberry fields isn’t going away any time soon.

Here is an excerpt from a recent article on the Bakersfield Now news site:

“Methyl bromide, the best known pesticide of this type, was phased out by international treaty because it depletes the Earth’s protective ozone layer. But it is still used in very limited quantities in California, which produces 88 percent of the nation’s strawberries.

The report released by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation suggests growers should try to stop using methyl bromide and its numerous replacements, but acknowledges the industry will need to keep using fumigants for years to avoid a dip in revenue.

“Even with full commitment to implement this action plan, the strawberry industry will need to continue its use of fumigants for years to remain viable,” the report said.”
These fumigant pesticides are not only damaging to the ozone layer above our planet, they are also dangerous for farm workers and residents near the farms. And, they are not healthy for people who eat strawberries.

But in California, where the annual strawberry crop is estimated to be a 2.3 Billion dollar industry producing some 88% of all strawberries consumed in the country, it is clear that massive production and profits stand squarely in the way of changing the practice.

The size of the industry and the high price tag on the real estate on the coast where many of the berries are grown continue to put pressure on production levels.

There is another disadvantage to these cloned super-producing plants which no one has really explored deeply enough yet. The fruit’s color does not necessarily determine ripeness.

Ripeness in non-cloned plants is displayed by the deep red outer color and pink interior. But in cloned plants where flavor and color are gradually altered through selective breeding and cloning, color is no longer a true test for ripeness. And it’s the ripeness that determines the best antioxidant properties of the fruit.

Under or over-ripe fruits are not nearly as power packed as perfectly ripe fruit. The other great loser in the great cloned strawberry production program is flavor.

The berries tend to become watery and less flavorful as they become bigger and more prolific producers.

Now, the question no one seems to have asked or answered, is whethter that loss of flavor correlates to a loss in nutritional values. Based on the latest research into the powerful nutrition offered by fruits and vegetables, it is arguable that what gives the fruit its powerful nutrition is what gives it that amazing taste.

So, if we lose one, have we also lost the other? No one seems to be asking.

On the other hand, many organic farmers grow strawberries, and without the use of fumigants or other toxins.

While organic farmers say growing organic strawberries is not only possible but very possible, and apparently profitable, as their numbers are expanding; the State of California has funded a 500,000 study to find alternatives to the toxic fumigants while still allowing their use.

In part this challenge is due to the enormous production levels of fumigant fields – where specially cloned plants are highly susceptible to disease as a part of the cost of their super productivity. The productivity is a result of selective breeding and cloning over decades which results in bigger, faster growing strawberries.

The problem with bigger faster growing cloned plants is that they are all essentially one plant. On top of this, the selecting for production and berry size may be at the expense of disease resistant characteristics in the plant.

Now the conventional strawberry inddustry can be threatened by a disease like Fuserium Wilt that could wipe out all the cloned berry plants, leaving the need for fumigants right where it has been for decades: strongly in place. But is it worth the price?

California produces 88 percent of the nations strawberries; but the organic strawberry is in higher and higher demand due to the spread of education about the fumigant practices of conventional strawberry growing.

So, for a sustainable yum, buy organic strawberries, buy them locally whenever possible, or plant a strawberry patch in your own garden. There are several delicious and local varieties in regions around the country that do well in different climate ranges.

Find the best strawberries to grow in your region by going to your local farmers market and talking to the farmers selling organic strawberries. It’s easy, they love to talk about their farms, and they will sell you delicious strawberries and even plants in many cases.

That’s what we did, and we have just harvested the first of our own strawberries this season. Our strawberries are not the super giant California clones. They are disease resistant and climate adapted to the Northwest. They are smaller, but they are also the sweetest and most distinctly flavorful strawberries I’ve ever tasted. Sustainable, super sweet, super fast spreading plants and super YUM!

Sources:

Report: Califonria strawberry growers need to use pesticides to compete

World’s Healthiest Foods – Strawberries

Safe Strawberries – Pesticide Action Network