Sunday, June 22, 2008

The No Spray Experiment

My family often gets together this time of year to go strawberry picking. Dad was out of town last weekend, and we missed the start of the season waiting for his return. However, from conversations with growers during my frequent trips to the farmers markets, I knew that berries would still be available for the picking this weekend. Since the start of the local strawberry season, I have purchased four quarts from the two farmers markets I frequent, from three separate vendors.

The one farmer who got my repeat business uses no sprays. Her berries are not organic, as she uses conventional fertilizers, but she applies no herbicides or pesticides. And since there are no organic strawberries available for pick your own in my county, I suggested to my folks this morning that we try picking at the No Spray Farm. [There is an organic farm one county over, but I knew I'd never convince my folks to drive 40 miles--they are trying to be green, too.] They agreed it was worth investigating.

Picking at the No Spray Farm was a completely different experience from the larger, more traditional farms we have gone to in past years. The photo below, showing my family hard at work, was shot in the strawberry field. There were no obvious rows, rather the berries were scattered haphazardly amongst the towering weeds. Wildflowers were blooming and butterflies were flitting. Idyllic as it sounds, it was hard work. The berries were small, and much harder to find than in a typical field with tidy rows.

Furthermore, the vast majority of the fruit was ripe, but had not developed fully, with a rock-hard cluster of seeds on the bottom that are impossible to chew, and dramatically slow down the post-picking cleaning and chopping. [The seed pockets are so hard that attempting to cut through them often crushes the entire berry.] I simply avoided picking those berries, but it took a long time to get my two quarts. My family was not so patient, picking the seedy berries and whining about the time it took to find them. Step-mom announced she wants to go back to the sprayed fields next year.

The strawberry shortcake we made back at the parental house tasted just as good as any I've had from traditionally grown berries. In fact, to my tastes, it was a little sweeter simply from the knowledge that no pesticides or herbicides were used. Unfortunately, to the rest of my family, the no spray experiment was a big failure.


lanes123 said...

But you tried to do something good (I was going to say "the right thing," but that's a little more judgmenty than I intended), and you convinced your family to try with you.

I think there is some measure of success in there, yes?

jo(e) said...

Oh! This photo makes me want to go there. It seems much more like picking wild strawberries ... which is what I did when I was a kid.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...


My Mom and I used to go out and pick WILD strawberries. There was huge fields of them across the road from her house before they built a development there. They were very TINY, but We picked enough to eat, make shortcake, make jelly and it was long and hard and slow but excruciatingly yummy. We did this for many years, back in the olden days--really! I know of no one who does that any more--but I think I'd want unsprayed berries if I could get them. Aieee--but the work.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

hey, I hadn't even noticed that jo(e) also picked wild berries.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I got a bit of a chuckle looking at the picture. (Sorry) thinking of all that work! :-D (phew!)

Adam said...

I came across your blog through someone else's who I comment on. I saw that you work at an environmental consulting firm, which is awesome. I'm looking into majoring in geography or environmental studies. Your page is very well-written and fun to read. I'll be keeping up with it.

Debbie said...

It's wonderful you tried to share the experience! I have never been strawberry picking and I pass a sign almost daily advertising their crop.

Umm...wonder if they spray? I guess I would just have to ask? The shortcake sounds delicious and that reminds me I haven't had one in too long of a time!

BlackenedBoy said...

It seems like it would be more fun this way, actually having to hunt them out.

Sorry that the consumption process was so much harder than normal.

Near where my grandfather lives in Hick State, wild berries and the most delicious wild cherries you can possibly imagine, so red as to be dark purple, grow in abundance.

I love picking and eating the berries, though I haven't done it in a long while.

fhe said...

It appears you were picking wild berries. There are farms that don't spray and grow conventional berries too. These may be easier for your folks to start with.

It is often better to ease "new converts" into doing something good for the environment. I.e. taking it one step at a time.

That said, wild berries have some fantastic taste, much better than their good-looking juicy cousins, who often forgo taste for appearance.

BerryBird said...

Welcome, Adam and FHE! Always nice to see new faces.

Lanes, I *was* happy the folks were open to the idea. Who knows, by next year, they might be ready to try again. I think we were at the tail end of the season, which made the pickings even slimmer. Maybe I can convince them to try again on opening weekend.

Jo(e) and Mary, nothing beats the taste of the wild berries. I am amazed you managed to pick enough to bring home though--with the wild berries, I always eat them all on the spot.

Adam, this is a great field to be in, I would really encourage you to pursue it! When you are ready to start looking at colleges, send me an email and I'll tell you about my alma mater.

Debbie, you should definitely try strawberry picking next year! It is a ton of fun, even if you just get a few quarts.

BB, I did have fun! I love picking wild berries, too. It's how I earned my moniker. I have never had wild cherries that weren't bitter, though.

FHE, the berries were not wild strawberries, just an overgrwon field of conventional berries. You are absolutely correct that it wasn't a good way to ease the folks into no spraying, but never having been there before, I had no way of knowing in advance. I guess I should have scoped it out first. Live and learn.

Aliki2006 said...

It looks like fun--more fun then dealing with the neat and tidy rows.

We haven't been berry-picking yet. We keep saying we'll do it, and then never manage.

SoNotFastFood said...

I've only been strawberry-picking once, which is a shame, and the farm where we did it now hires students and backpackers instead, and so doesn't have enough left to 'pick your own'.

However, when I go up to my aunt and uncle's in the far north of Scotland, there's usually something to pick or dig up, be it plums, red-currents or lettuce.

Your post brought back some fond memories though - thanks! Looks like a good blog, I'll keep checking for updates. :)

JW said...

Wow...looks like hard picking! Yeah, you have to drive a ways to get to the organic berries at Cobblestone Valley in Preble, but I think it's worth it to support an organic farm. They do have distinct rows, although there are plenty of weeds that make picking more difficult than in a conventional field. It sounds like it's much easier at Cobblestone than the place you tried. I recommend taking a trip down next year. Maybe you could organize a bunch of people to drive down together and fill the car with berries, making the trip more efficient!

Donna said...

Sorry your experience was less than awesome. I'd encourage you to try a different no-spray farm. Here in Oregon, the no-spray places have the best berries -- fat, sweet, juicy, and easy to pick since they're in rows. Maybe there's a place near you that's like that.