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?

 

2 thoughts on “Behind that berry: acres of plastic

  1. You don’t have to publish this comment…but I found this stuff in the ground at my new volunteer job this weekend. Green mesh, everywhere. Thankfully they’re now using cardboard instead.

  2. Hi Andrea. Yes, I see “plastic mulch” around the neighborhood. It always seems to come up through the soil in tatters and look really unattractive after a few years. It surprises me that people use it.

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