You may or may not have noticed that I don’t spend much time in this newsletter discussing pesticides. I find it to be a tricky subject to discuss. On the one hand, there is a widespread perception that organic farmers don’t use pesticides, which is not true. Organic farmers use naturally occurring materials that include minerals, plant extracts, and cultured bacterias and fungi that kill insects.
On the other hand, there is also a perception that non-organic pesticides are always sprayed onto fruits and vegetables, and thus that the residue can be washed off. The reality is that many synthetic pesticides are now applied to the soil and the roots of the plant via irrigation and other methods. They are taken up into the entire plant, much the way the flea medicine many people use to treat their pets works. Fewer pesticides are released into the environment, but quite possibly more are consumed by people who eat the produce.
When the average person talks about pesticides, they are usually thinking about insecticides. But far and away the largest percentage of pesticides applied in the world are herbicides — weedkillers. Weeds are a much bigger “pest” than any bug or mite, fly or beetle. If they are not controlled in a crop field, they will out compete it and reduce yields drastically. More than any other invention of modern agriculture, herbicides are probably responsible for keeping the inflation rate for food so much lower than overall inflation for so many years. (There are no organic herbicides, which is the single biggest reason why organic food costs more than conventional.)
And herbicides aren’t only applied to farm fields. They are used on turf in shopping centers, parks and ball fields; highway median strips; and on lawns and gardens. Almost anywhere you see bare dirt, an herbicide has been applied.
By far the most popular herbicide on the market right now is RoundUp, Monsanto’s flagship product. One reason why is that RoundUp is relatively safe compared to other weedkillers — whether used by a farmer or a backyard gardener, there is no need to wear a white suit or a respirator while spraying it.
Still, as any chemist will tell you, there are plenty of “safe” products that can still do lots of damage if overused. A sprinkle of table salt won’t hurt a potted plant, but pour a whole cup in the pot and the plant will likely die in a few weeks. No one knows what the effect of using millions of gallons of Roundup, year after year, on tens of millions of acres of land will be. But a few studies are beginning to hint at a problem.
For years Monsanto claimed that RoundUp did not accumulate in groundwater in areas where it was being used, giving their product another advantage over other weedkillers. Now, evidence is mounting that it does. Moreover, a recent study in Germany found fairly high concentrations of the chemical in a large majority of people’s urine. Over the years we have seen several examples of widespread use of supposedly “safe” chemicals that ended up getting banned because of long-term effects on human health and the environment. RoundUp may be the next one.
In Your Boxes
As promised a few weeks back, we are sending you more Specialty Citrus this week: Melogold and Oroblanco. These are both crosses between yellow grapefruit and pomelos. The result is milder than a regular grapefruit and juicer than a regular pomelo. Melogold have a darker yellow peel and flesh, and are slightly meatier. Oroblanco are paler in color and are a bit juicier.
If you’re not normally a grapefruit fan, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised, but you will still want to avoid eating the pith or the membranes. Cutting the fruit in half and eating with a grapefruit spoon is one tried-and-true method to do this; the other is to remove both the peel and membrane before eating.
During the winter, we often dig into our stash of nuts — harvested back in the fall — when the weather is bad and put them in your boxes instead of an item that would need to be picked out in the rain. Based on today’s forecast from last week for heavy rain, we put Walnuts on the list. We didn’t get much rain, but you still get a bag of walnuts. Remember that organic nuts (walnuts and pistachios) should be kept in the fridge or freezer until eaten to prevent spoiling. Enjoy.
We got several appreciative emails the last time we put Cabbage in the boxes. But for those whose response may be “Meh, cabbage”, I will once again point out all of its strong points. It keeps well, makes a great salad, cooks quickly, tastes great and is full of nutrition. There are more different ways to use cabbage than any other leafy green, which makes it the opposite of boring. And if you missed the part where I said it tastes great…all cabbage is not equal. There are dozens of varieties, but we grow ones specifically bred for flavor and growing them in the winter here improves it even more.
Butternut squash in your boxes today is the last of the season. That said, it is not the prettiest we’ve sent you, but we’ve checked it carefully to make sure no rotten or soft squash make it in your box. Still, it is not likely to store all that well — the best bet is to put it in your fridge and use it in 4-5 days.
It’s been a while since we sent you the last of our 2011 garlic crop, although some folks may still have a bulb or two sitting on their kitchen counter. Fear not, garlic lovers, the wait is almost over. The warm weather of the last month has hastened the growth of our first Green Garlic, and it’s time to start harvesting. Look for a small bunch in your boxes.