If you’re devoted to eating only organic, know that it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it’s pesticide-free. Some pesticides are deemed organic because they are produced by living organisms. For example, as reported on NPR yesterday, Spinosad, which is manufactured by the bacterium Saccharopolyspora spinosa, is fatal to both insects and mollusks. The USDA maintains a national list of allowed and prohibited substances. Synthetic substances are allowed as well. For example, the antibiotics streptomycin and tetracycline are included in the list of synthetic substances allowed for organic crop rotation to treat blight.
Again, here is a strong case for supporting your local farmers. They are more likely committed to following the most environmentally sound practices and they are more apt to be transparent with their farming methods. It’s just a matter of visiting them at the farm or the local farmer’s market and asking.
It’s always good to understand the pests that the farms deal with too. Last year, I spoke with an apple farmer at the Somersville, MA farmer’s market and I asked him about the pests that his farm treats. He said the majority of them come from greenhouses in Canada. Spores that develop while the greenhouses are closed up escape when they’re opened and travel with the wind to Massachusetts. I found this fascinating, since I would have never guessed that a method of food production would be the source of disease for a farm hundreds of miles away.
Two farms that I’ve talked to practice something called integrated pest management, or IPM. This involves using organic pest management practices and when necessary, using the services of a scientist from the Natural Resources Conservation Service that visits the farm regularly to provide instruction on the most up-to-date techniques for safe and sustainable food production.
The more you know about where your food is coming from, the better choices you can make…