Behind that berry: acres of plastic

Tonight’s dinner, sourced completely from the front yard (except for the almond slivers). The height of strawberry harvest made me recall something Jules Boykoff first alerted me to: plasticulture. It turns out that many of the strawberries produced in this country are grown using plastic “mulch” — rolls of plastic sheeting laid over the soil to control weeds and moderate soil temperatures.

This is a practice that seems hardly to have registered in the public consciousness, although I did find this one article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel that raises issues of sustainability around using hundreds of pounds of plastic sheeting every year to grow strawberries. (According to this there is no market to recycle the plastic in the U.S., so growers send it to a local recycler who ships it to China.) The article mentions one Dr. Marvin Pritts of Cornell University, who is leading research on more sustainable methods to grow those big fat perfect red berries we’ve all come to expect.

But there’s something else this article mentions that made my skin prickle: The farmer profiled injects methyl bromide 18 inches deep into the soil before covering it with plastic. Methyl bromide is a powerful fumigant that supposedly blocks “black root rot” in strawberries. It’s an ozone destroyer, so the U.S. phased it out under the Montreal Protocol in 2005, except for “critical use” agricultural applications. It’s apparently extremely toxic to humans, and who knows what havoc it wreaks on soil life 18 inches below the surface. Fortunately, I see that Dr. Pritts is also researching alternatives to this fumigant.

It’s one more reason to buy organic strawberries if possible. The main reason is they are one of the “Dirty Dozen” — Environmental Working Group’s list of fruits of vegetables that retain the most pesticide residues in their skin.

Doesn’t the routine poisoning of ourselves and the planet to produce food seem just a little bit insane?


6-15-12 flavor: cool blue™

Gorgeous day today in the dog park (you can play the “where’s Quincy?” game with this photo), but my eyes have turned downward again. Maybe it was that little bit of encouragement from Chris Sullivan . . .

Bic lighter, green

Body Guard SAFETY GEAR wrapper


peach bendy straw

So jagged is the rhinoceros

Finished reading Gary Sullivan’s lovely translations of the poems of Ernst Herbeck, just out from the ever-fair Ugly Duckling Presse. Although apparently much loved in his native Austria, Herbeck seems to have been hardly translated into English, except by Gary, perhaps because of the stigma of having spent his life in a mental institution. His poems are small and startling oddities. I read the first poem “Morning” and right away was smitten. I’ll just quote it here since it’s small.


In fall the wind-of-fairies align

as in the snow the

manes beat.

Blackbirds whistle afield

in the wind and eat.

The poems give me the strange feeling of watching a scene come in and out of focus — things seem blurred and jumbled, then suddenly a precise image snaps into view, settling the rest around it. They mesmerize. Those who know Gary’s own work know he has an exquisite ear for language. He’s done a great service in bringing these to us.

More praise for berries

Just as I hit “publish” on the last post, Jen came in from the garden with three berries she had tasted for me to make sure they were at the peak of ripe sweetness. That’s love. Doesn’t it seem amazing that something so beautiful is real and sitting in front of me? (Well, not anymore, I ate them.) The little ones are Hoods.


In praise of berries

John Latta’s lovely ode to the quince made me stop this morning and think about my breakfast: yogurt and homemade rhubarb strawberry crisp with Hood strawberries, meltingly sweet and only available in June. Oregonians wait in anticipation for them and then celebrate when they arrive. Signs at farmers markets and grocery stores all over Portland announce: the Hoods are here! I bought mine. The ones I planted this spring in my garden haven’t quite ripened yet, or the slugs and birds got them first (also, they are notoriously hard to grow).

And, because I can’t avoid exploring a word origin, I learn from Douglas Harper’s incredible online etymology dictionary that “berry” and “apple” are the only native English fruit names. “Strawberry” is of unknown origin, but its Old English cognate was eorðberge, “earth berry,” which makes sense, growing as they do so close to the soil.

So, as the Solstice approaches, and in homage to Dominique Browning’s philosophy of Slow Love, here’s a moment of love for the gifts of June.