Strawberries: Organic vs. Local

There are 11 varieties of strawberries grown in Quebec from the beginning of June to mid-October. This is when I used to have my eye out for locally grown, organic strawberries. However, I have recently learned that strawberries have many natural pests and are susceptible to mildew, making it very difficult to grow them organically.

My husband did the grocery shopping this week and came home with three baskets of locally grown strawberries. He told me that the organic variety was three times the price of the locally grown and unsurprisingly came from California. It came down to the old organic vs. local dilemma.

First and foremost, I want to point out we are not perfect and do not suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. We're just trying to choose the best food available. But like every other working couple with two kids, we have very (berry?) busy lives and cannot spend our days grocery shopping for local, organic produce. It often comes down to choosing between local and organic.

This executive decision is made during the hour we spend grocery shopping. As strawberries are number 6 on the Environmental Working Group's dirty dozen, the fruit and veg with the highest pesticide levels, I opt for organic. To see the EWG's dirty dozen click here.

My husband is a greater proponent of buying local than I am, as it supports local farmers, reduces green house gas emissions and ensures fresher, tastier (he says) produce. As I have mentioned in a previous post, produce shipped from California is picked and shipped before it ever reaches peak ripeness or contains all its nutrients. It further loses these nutrients on the haul north. In addition, in last year's Green Guide, David Suzuki advocated buying local over organic.

However, because I have read about pesticides, which are carcinogenic and wreak havoc on children's developing neurological and reproductive systems, I tend to buy organic over local. Opting for local produce over organic is fine if you are an adult, but children are at greater risk because they cannot metabolize or inactivate toxins the way adults can. I opt for local if the fruit or veg is on the EWG's clean 15, a list of conventionally grown produce with the lowest pesticide levels.

But as in all couples, compromises have to be made, and in our organic vs. local debate, life eventually takes over. When you walk into a grocery store, you have to come out with something, or else chaos awaits you in the days ahead. I shop weekly for vegetables at a small organic shop, and between the two of us, we eat quite a mix of local and organic produce.

I must admit that this week I was won over by the locally grown strawberries. They were delicious! In addition, their baskets were made from number 1 plastic, which is both safe and recycled in our borough. This was as close as we could get to the perfect strawberry.

Food for thought: a geneticist's perfect strawberry

If you buy conventionally grown fresh strawberries from California throughout the winter, you may want to freeze your own locally grown berries after viewing this short video.Although it is being phased out, methyl bromide is the fumigant used to treat the soil on strawberry factory farms in California. It is a suspected carcinogen and has been responsible for numerous deaths.

NB: I have checked, and this fumigant is used much less in Canada.

After seeing the video, I have a much greater appreciation for the organic farmer.

Related Posts:

Meet the Clean 15 (Produce with lowest pesticide levels)
Evironmental Working Group Updates its Dirty Dozen (12 fruit and veg with the highest pesticide levels)
Buying Local: Vegetables Year Round

3 Simple Q&As about Children and Pesticides


Timothy Fitzgerald Young | August 31, 2009 at 4:25 PM

Let's face it, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are toxic whether local or imported from California. I take organic every time I can. Of course local organic is ideal and easier to come by. And data shows that your husbands assumption that local produces less greenhouse gases is not always the case. You have to consider the chemical inputs that are often used in local conventional as well as less efficient distribution channels. One study has shows that lamb imported from New Zealand to the United Kingdom has a smaller greenhouse gas footprint due to the natural environment in NZ being more conducive to lamb grazing and require far fewer inputs. And local conventional pollutes water, air and our bodies the same of non-local so there's not much difference for me. Supporting the local economy is a worth goal, but not in my view if it's supporting unsustainable practices.
As an organic farmer/food processor of 14 years, I've seen too much and I'm not going back.

Heather | August 31, 2009 at 7:08 PM

Thank you so much for this very informative comment. I am happy to know that I was on the right track in opting for organic. I wish it was easier to find out more about how the produce we purchase is farmed. Thanks again.

Post a Comment