We buy our strawberry crowns from Norcal Nursery in Red Bluff, they are not organic. Some of you will have read the article in The Bay Area New York Times and the Bay Citizen. There was one organic Nursery at Prather Ranch north of Mount Shasta. We plant the one year old crowns in August so that they have enough time to put down roots and are strong enough to produce a big crop in the spring. The Prather organic plants were not ready until late October which is too late for us. October plants would and do work for coastal growers as they have a long season with many who do not plant until January. Many organic growers along the coast should have used the organic plants. The fear of disease like the Prather plants had in their first year is very great, once you have that in your field it is very difficult to eradicate.
We need plants that are virus free, you can achieve this in three ways.
1. Location Location. Our organic potato seed is grown at 7,500 feet elevation in Colorado where there are no aphids to transmit the viruses. The same could happen with the Strawberry crowns. They would need to harvest them as late as possible in the season and freeze them until we needed them in August. They could not produce a crown in the same season as we plant.
2. Laboratory and Greenhouse. We were given some plants by UC Davis to evaluate several years ago. They were grown in a lab where they take the very tip from the growing point of the strawberry plant where there are no viruses. This tip is grow in a jar and once roots form is planted into soil in trays in the greenhouse. The Greenhouse must be sealed and have positive pressure meaning that if someone opens a door air rushes out and does not allow the aphids to enter. The cost of such a greenhouse is great. The plants worked out great but they arrived on the farm in late October so the were not able to grow big enough to produce a decent crop in the spring on our farm with the climate that we have.
3. Pesticides. Conventional plants are grown in soil that is fumigated and sprayed often to keep the aphids away. This is unacceptable but the sad truth.
So what can we do? Well firstly lets put things in perspective, once plants arrive on a farm such as ours they are grown organically. From the harvest of the crowns to the harvest of the first berries it is about 16 months. There are other examples such as our garlic seed which are also not organically grown. The seed is grown in the high Desert of California but the company does not offer organic seed even though we have asked. The answer is that the demand is not great enough. Some of the seeds we plant on the farm are not organic, they are untreated with chemicals. More and more seeds are being produced organically but still not all that we need. The chicks that will arrive on the farm this week come from chickens that are not organic. The demand is not great enough to produce organic chicks.
What can you do? Quite simply build demand by buying organic. The more strawberry crowns we order, seed we buy, chicks we need the bigger clout we will have with our suppliers. It is simple supply and demand. The laws controlling organic farmers can be changed, that may help but what we do not want is to reinforce many farmers opinion that farming organically involves too many regulations and is much too hard. They will not convert and the pesticides will still be used on all the conventional acres that could have been converted to organic.
I have been farming since 1983 when it was almost impossible to get seed that was not treated with chemicals. Over the past almost thirty years we have worked on all the low hanging fruit. It is a journey to a more sustainable future. This path is not easy. Some problems such as with the crowns are not so simple to solve. With your support we can start working on the fruit higher in the sustainable farming tree. The answer is, I believe, not to boycott organic berries. The more you support us with your dollars the more power we have to change and continue on our journey.
Please post any comments. Nigel