August is a productive time for our Northern California gardens. Keep harvesting ripe fruits and vegetables. Failure to harvest can hinder production.
For flower gardens: put on some Grateful Dead and deadhead your garden, which should be done on an on-going basis if you have plants blooming. As plants fade out of bloom, pinch or cut off the flower stem below the spent flower and just above the first set of full, healthy leaves. Repeat with all the dead flowers on the plant.
Water regularly during our scorching summers. Water in the early morning or after the sun sets to avoid water waste. Water the soil near the plant’s roots and avoid splashing the leaves, which can spread disease or intensify sunlight to burn the plant.
The heat and humidity of summer leaves your garden more susceptible to plant diseases. Check for diseased foliage and remove it. Do not add diseased plant matter to your compost pile as the disease can spread to the rest of your garden. Disinfect tools like pruners in between each plant to avoid spreading disease as well.
Treat affected plants with Arber Bio Fungicide, OMRI-listed for organic gardening and available at the Co-op for $11.99 plus tax. Arber controls and suppresses gray and white molds, downy mildews, black spots on roses, leaf spots, root rot, botrytis, and more.
Keep a keen eye out for insect pests including thrips, tomato fruitworms, tomato hornworms, spider mites, chinch bugs, scale, snails, and slugs. Remove them from foliage if you find them.
Make your garden more attractive to beneficial insects and/or treat with Arber Bio Insecticide. Protect your garden from aphids, fungus gnats, mites, mealybugs, leafhoppers, tent caterpillars, grubs, leaf beetles, thrips, whiteflies, stink bugs, fruit flies, and more.
Pinch back poinsettias and mums before the end of the month to allow time for buds to form for a winter bloom.
You know, in a good way!
They’re called beneficial bugs, after all, because they’re a boon to your garden and the planet. Beneficial bugs fall into one or more of three categories
- pollinators: these bugaboos are an essential component in the reproduction of about 80% of flowering plant species (150 food crops in the US, including most grains and fruits, rely on pollination!)
- predators: some insects eliminate pests by eating them
- parasitoids: these bugs lay their eggs in or on pests, which the larvae eventually eat
Predators and parasitoids keep populations of aphids, leafhoppers, mites, thrips, and more potentially damaging pests in your garden under control.
Pollinators are essential
You probably know that pollinators are responsible for the reproduction of most flowering plants (about $10 billion worth of food annually). But there are additional benefits to having these bugs around too.
- clean air: pollinators are an essential part of the reproduction of flowering plants. These plants, which breath in carbon dioxide, are a vital part of Earth’s carbon cycle, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and into our soils.
- clean water: pollinators are similarly involved in Earth’s water cycle and in preventing erosion of Earth’s soils by maintaining plant populations.
- ethnobotany: the role of pollinators in our lives is culturally important to many communities, including Indigenous communities. Pollinators play a role in food plants, medicinal plants, plant-based dyes, and in cultural symbolism.
Bees, butterflies, flies, and moths are the pollinators you want to bring to your yard.
Bring on the bugs!
There are a few steps you can take to make your yard attractive and safe for beneficial bugs.
1. Create habitat
These Beneficial Bug Houses provide insects a place to nest and rest. By placing these houses near existing insect hotspots (think hedges, nectar-rich flower beds, ponds or streams) you can give them a chance to thrive and, in return, they will maintain a healthy equilibrium in your yard. Look for these in the Green Patch and in-store.
2. Plant the right plants
There are many pollinator-friendly plants at the Co-op. Floral Specialist Jennifer has brought in three varieties of sunflowers, foxglove, and herbs including Thai basil, culinary select sage, stevia, and French thyme just last week.
Starts arriving this week (Thursday 5/5) include lavender, margarita yellow osteospermum, cosmos, asclepias red butterfly bush, marigolds, nasturtiums, zinnias, and more!
These five plant families will pack the most punch when it comes to attracting beneficial insects to your garden:
- Aster Family (Asteraceae): ageratums, asters, chrysanthemums, cosmos, dahlias, marigolds, and zinnias
- Carrot family (Apiaceae): Angelica, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, cowbane, cumin, fennel, parsley, parsnip, Queen Anne’s lace
- Legume family (Fabaceae): green bean, lima bean, scarlet runner bean, chickpea, fenugreek, lentil, lupine, pagoda tree, smoke tree, soybean, tamarind, wisteria
- Mustard family (Brassicaceae): arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnip, horseradish, rocket, shepherd’s purse, watercress, white mustard, wild radish
- Verbena family (Verbenaceae): Verbena (also known as vervain) family, includes 31 genera and nearly 920 species including lemon verbena, blue vervain, lollipop, meteor shower, Greystone Daphne, homestead purple, and Texas rose.
3. Provide a water source
Most beneficial bugs have wings, so they’ll take off in search of water if they can’t find any in your garden. If you use sprinklers, the puddles that form from use should be enough to keep your garden friends hydrated. If you use a drip system or water by hand, you’ll need to provide additional water. Fill up a saucer with water and some rocks. Refill on dry days (maybe twice during scorching summer days). To keep these bugaboos working in your garden, be sure to maintain their water source!
4. Creepy crawlies need love too
Some beneficial bugs keep low to the ground in search of pests that live in the soil. During hot daytime hours, these insects need protection and rest. Mulching your garden beds gives them protection while keeping the soil moist (good for beneficial bugs and plants). Stepping stones, especially with flat surfaces, are a favorite of creepy crawlies too.
Questions? Ask Jennifer!
Jennifer is our new Floral Specialist and an excellent resource for home gardeners! You can find her watering plants on the Green Patch most days or ask any Co-op employee if Jennifer is in.
Davis is perfectly situated for a long and productive growing season. Even tiny apartment balcony gardens can be very productive with the right conditions. But container gardens aren’t just for folks with limited space. Here are the big beats when it comes to container gardens:
- Most things can be planted in containers, but may require additional care
- Great for small spaces like apartment patios and balconies
- Ideal for beginning gardeners
- Portable, but can be (very) heavy
- Requires more watering as pots dry out quicker
To be clear, this blog will focus on growing edible fruits and vegetables in containers.
Before we move on, consider your light
Although some plants do well in partial shade, you’ll want to “plant” your container garden in an area that receives bright sunlight for at least 6 hours a day. If you have a small space, this may mean placing your containers wherever you get good sun (on the balcony, on the side of the house, front porch, back porch, a perpetually open, sunny window, etc.). I have fruits and veggies in containers all over the place.
Step 1: Decide what you want to grow
Start by deciding what you want to eat. Then take into consideration what kind of light and space you have (see the chart at the end of the Edible Garden Guide for a complete list of edible plants to grow in our USDA Zone).
If you’re still not sure, starting small is always a good idea. A tomato plant, a few containers with strawberries, and a trellis for pole beans is a great way to start your container garden. Unless you are an avid gardener, I recommend starting with plant starts (instead of seeds). You can purchase starts at the Co-op during the warmer months.
Step 2: Choose your containers
Your containers can vary in size, shape, and fanciness (a lot of my container garden is in plastic pots I got for free from a local nursery) as long as they allow for good draining. Let the plant’s needs determine the container. For example, multiple strawberry plants can be grown together in one large container, but each cabbage plant needs its own large container.
You can even plant trees in containers. Citrus is a popular container plant. I have a grafted stone fruit tree in a pot in my backyard. It’s about to bloom for the second time!
Here are some minimum soil depths for healthy growth in containers:
4-5″: chives, lettuce, radishes, other salad greens, basil, coriander
6-7″: bush beans, garlic, kohlrabi, onions, Asian greens, peas, mint, thyme
8-9″: pole beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach, parsley, rosemary
10-12″: beets, broccoli, okra, potatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, dill, lemongrass
Here are some minimum volume requirements for containers:
Step 3: Plant
When planting, fill containers with an organic outdoor raised bed/potting mixture. Create small wells for the starts. Loosen starts from their plastic containers and gently shake dirt from the roots (be careful not to damage the young, tender roots). Transfer to the new container, placing each start into a well. Fill with dirt and compact with your hands so that the plant is firmly “tucked in”. Water.
Reference the Edible Garden Guide for specific watering instructions. Depending on your containers, your plants may need more watering as pots dry out faster than raised beds or planted rows, especially in the summer.
I recommend using mulch to cover soil (cover soil only, not any part of the plant) in your containers as well. It helps prevent water loss to evaporation, mitigates splashing during watering which can spread pathogens from soil to leaves, and keeps soil surface temperatures down during hot summer months.
DIY Mulch materials include herbicide and pesticide-free grass clippings, organic burlap, straw or hay, shredded newspaper, coconut coir, or similar natural materials.
Step 4: Maintain your Garden
Check on your containers everyday. Remove weeds, pests, leaf litter, and other waste. Water, remove dead growth, and prune as necessary.
Treating your garden with compost, or fertilizer, is always a good idea, especially 2-6 weeks after planting. Make your own compost with our DIY Backyard Composting Guide.
Growing Strawberries in Containers
Strawberries grow really well in containers, which means you can grow them in your backyard, on your porch, or even on a balcony with the right light conditions!
Head to the Co-op to get your strawberry plants. We currently have Eversweet Everbearing Strawberry plants. These are ideal for Davis as they tolerate temperatures above 100 degrees F. They’ll produce fruit starting in late Spring through later Summer and early Fall. You can plant these between February and late March after the last frost (since they’re in containers, you can easily move them inside in case we get another really cold night).
I started with 18 individual plants or 3 containers of 6 plants. You can start with just 1 container of 6 plants or more than 3 if you have the containers, space, and appetite.
Procure your containers and potting soil. Strawberries like to spread, so a container that is wider and shallower suits strawberries well. There are specific pots made for strawberries, but any large pot with good drainage will do the trick. For soil, you can look for a raised bed potting blend with a lot of organic matter. You can also look for something slightly acidic (pH between 5.5 and 6.5) if you want to get fancy.
When I went to the nursery to get supplies, they had extra large plastic pots (pictured below) that they gave to me. If you don’t need your pots to look all that cute, you may want to inquire about excess pots at your favorite nursery. It’s a nice way to divert some waste and save some money.
Fill your containers with potting soil. I filled my pots about 4/5 of the way up as I want to give strawberries a chance to spread along the surface.
Wiggle your strawberry plants out of their small containers. Gently shake any excess dirt from the roots and replant in the new containers. The nursery recommended I split my 18 plants up into 2 pots. You don’t want to crowd the berries so many sure they have 4-5 inches of space on all sides.
Continue replanting all of your strawberry plants. You can top with rich compost or organic fertilizer after you pot them, but this isn’t necesary.
Water your plants and place them in partial shade in your backyard, on your porch, or on the balcony. My strawberries get full sun for a few hours, but are in shade most of the day. Water berries when the soil dries out or about once a week in between rain. If you leave them in full sun for longer, check soil moisture levels more often as you may need to give them a bit more water. Full sun for at least part of the day will encourage ripe, sweet berries.
Wait for strawberries! You’ll have fruit in 6-8 weeks and throughout the Summer through early Fall. Harvest in the morning, refrigerate immediately, and enjoy the literal fruits of your labor!
Stay tuned for more posts about propagating strawberries and preparing your strawberry container garden for winter.
How to Propagate
Pothos is by far one of the friendliest plants to propagate. Before we get started, you will need to know a few basic pieces of plant anatomy. Take a look at your pothos vine; there are leaves, a stem, and a little brownish bump before each leaf. This little bump is called a node and when put in the right conditions will produce roots. We will be cutting our pothos vines in order to make new plants and to make the top of our current plant a bit more bushy and full.
Find the end most piece that you want to keep and cut just below the last node.
After this initial cut, the remaining cuts are up to you. I prefer to cut the rest into single node pieces, this gives a smoother look once the new growth is long.
Place each piece in water, ensuring that all the nodes are under the surface. Change the water once a week. Transfer the plant to soil once the roots are 3 to 4 inches long.
These plants grow quite uniquely. They appear to grow with all leaves coming from the middle, and offspring sprouting from the soil around the plant. The plants actually grow much more similarly to Pothos. When given enough light, they will vine just like pothos. Young plants and those with less light will stay within the confines of the pot.
If you take the plant out of the pot and examine the base near the roots, you will see that it has nodes and small stem segments just like a pothos.
The new plants sprout out of a node (or on the inside of a leaf at a node), just like pothos, not from the soil. These new plants can be removed by breaking the bind it has to the mother plant and gently detangling the roots. Ta-Da! A brand new plant.
Once your plant has vines, you can also cut and propagate just like a pothos.
There are two main parts to propagate on succulents; starting roots on each leaf and using the top-most bit.
We will start with the leaves. Starting from the bottom, gentle wiggle and pull each leaf off. They should have a small dimple in the middle (see photo), if there is no dimple you probably pulled too hard and broke the end. Without this dimple, they are less likely to produce roots. Continue this process until you have the compact leaves at the top. With clean scissors, cut off that top bit about 2 inches.
Simply place that top bit in the soil. Place the leaves in rows with the dimple end slightly inserted into the soil. DO NOT WATER. Gently mist them 1-2 times a week. After a few weeks, roots will start to grow out of the dimple and they will form mini versions of the plant at the base. At this point, you can repot or keep it in this pot. Water lightly once a month until fully formed.
We all know that it is crucial we take steps to save the bees. After all, every one out of three bites of food we eat is dependent on bees for pollination. Our bee populations face many threats from things such as Colony Collapse Disorder, the overuse of pesticides, and habitat loss. We hear about how desperately we need to save the bees from our friends, the news, and countless TED talks. But it can be hard to know what one should actually do if they want to play a part in preserving our pollinators and their natural environments. So we have rounded up 5 different small things you can do that will have a big impact if enough people take the initiative. Read on to start saving the bees today!
Cultivate Native Plants
In order for bees to get pollinating, they need plenty of plants that they can choose from. But you want to make sure that you are cultivating plants that are native to the area in which you live if you want to help out your bees. This is because those bees have evolved to interact with those native plants specifically, non-native plants might not provide pollinators with the pollen or nectar that they need.
Here are some native California plants that you could put in your yard to help out your local pollinators:
- California Poppies, this annual plant produces iconic orange flowers that are sure to lure bees in. It is a perennial that grows well in both sun and partial shade, it is also drought resistant.
- Germander Sage, this bush is covered with brilliant blue blooms in early summer and fall. It needs full sun in order to thrive but it is deer resistant and attracts both bees and hummingbirds.
- Cascade Creek Goldenrod, throughout spring and fall this plant displays bright yellow flowers that attract bees and butterflies. It needs full sun to partial shade and is drought resistant.
- Catmint, this spreading perennial is hardy and herbaceous. It blooms in the spring and early summer and is beloved by many varieties of bees.
Use Safe Forms of pest control
There are many factors contributing to the decline of bee populations but one of the most significant is the use of pesticides in domestic and commercial agriculture. If you have a garden going then you want to find natural ways to keep out pests, or else we risk losing the ability to keep such gardens in the future. After all, many of the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy are pollinated by bees.
When looking for a pollinator-friendly form of pest-control it’s not enough for it to be labeled organic, some can still be toxic to pollinators even though they are plant-based. Instead, keep your eyes peeled for non-toxic ingredients such as Kaolin clay, garlic, and corn gluten. There are many other forms of natural pest control from bacterias and oils.
Create An Oasis For Bees In Your Yard/Patio
No matter the size of your yard or patio there are ways that you can create a safe haven for bees, even if you only have a front porch step to work with. Here are some things that you can do to keep your local bees happy:
- Leave a dish of water outside for bees to rehydrate themselves. Make sure that you provide “landing zones” for them in the form of stones, twigs, or corks, as bees are clumsy and can easily drown. Also, don’t add sugar to the water. This is a myth and does not benefit them.
- Place a bee hotel outside your home. We carry beneficial bug houses such as this at the Co-op! They allow bees to find a resting place on their long journeys from flower to flower.
Even if you don’t have room for a full garden having a single native plant on your patio is better than nothing!
Support Local Farmers and beekeepers
We can’t stress this point enough as the use of pesticides is one of the greatest threats to bee populations. Choosing to support farms that don’t spray pesticides will help the bees even more than if you personally stop spraying pesticides. Check out our local page to see some of the great local farms with outstanding practices that we carry at the co-op. You can also find many of these farms at the farmer’s market if you want to support them directly.
Supporting local beekeepers is an even more direct way to help the cultivation of local bee populations. Purchasing bee products such as beeswax, honey, and honeycomb not only garner a sense of connection to the bees, but they help to support the people who’ve made supporting bees a life priority. A great local producer is Pure Honey from Winters, California.
Use YOUR VOICE, SPEAK FOR THE BEES
One of the most powerful ways that we can help the bees is through speaking out. By sharing what you’ve learned with others you may be able to inspire change in those close to you, and if we all do this it can lead to big results. You can also choose to support local organizations that are doing important work to help save the bees, such as:
- Circle of Bees, which is built around sub/urban pollinators, especially honey-bees.
- The Davis Bee Collective is a group of small-scale beekeepers dedicated to the cooperative practice and promotion of ecological apiculture.
- The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center is working to help UC Davis become the world’s leading authority on honey bee health, pollination, and honey.
- The Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis is a unique outdoor museum that provides resources for local bee pollinators and educates visitors to create pollinator habitat gardens. It also provides a site for the observation and study of bees and the plants that support them.
Written by: Rachel Heleva, Marketing Specialist
The practice of growing hedgerows stems from all the way back to the Medieval times of England and Ireland.
Hedgerows can increase the beauty, productivity, and biodiversity of a property and are especially beneficial for farms.
Modern day hedgerows are used as a field border to enhance the habitat value and productivity of farmland.
To date, the creation of hedgerows and other restored habitat areas on California farms remains low.
This is in part because of a lack of information and outreach that addresses the benefits of field edge habitat, and growers’ concerns about its effect on crop production and wildlife intrusion.
Native hedgerows on farm edges benefit wildlife, pest control, carbon storage and runoff, but hedgerow planting by farmers in California is limited, often due to establishment and maintenance costs.
Field studies in the Sacramento Valley highlighted that hedgerows can enhance pest control and pollination in crops, resulting in a return on investment within 7 to 16 years, without negatively impacting food safety.
What if hedgerows could provide a source of farm income, to offset costs AND benefit the local environment?
Currently the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) is collaborating with Cloverleaf Farm in Solano County and several other growers in the Central Valley and coastal counties to assess and develop the potential for elderberries to become a commercial specialty crop, with a focus on hedgerow-grown elderberry production and marketing for small- and mid-scale California farms.
UC Agriculture and Environment Academic Coordinator, Sonja Brodt believes that elderberries may be the intersection of sustainable farming, super nutrition, and economic viability.
At the 2019 Elderberry Field Day Sonja explained, “Elderberries may have the potential to combine crop production with environmental conservation functions in a way not typically seen on California farms. This model would enable small- and medium-scale farmers to receive a direct income from a farm practice that benefits the ecosystem as well.”
Farms like Cloverleaf use elder trees as hedgerows on their fields to increase habitat value and crop pollination while also making a profit on the side by selling elderberry products, such as jams, syrups, and flower cordials.
Additionally, with growing consumer interest in health foods, elderberry product sales nationwide have jumped 10-50% in recent years but almost no commercial supply originates in California.
The berries and flowers of elderberry are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that may boost your immune system.
According to recent research, elderberries can help tame inflammation, lessen stress, and even help protect your heart!
There are about 30 types of elder plants and trees found around the world.
The European version (also known as Sambucus nigra) is the one most often used in health supplements, however, recent attention has been drawn to the California elderberry (Sambucus caerulea).
Cloverleaf Farm has been an active partner with SAREP by monitoring the success level of elderberries planted and comparing results between the California elderberry and the European elderberry.
So far their findings show that California elderberries have a greater success rate when grown in Mediterranean climates compared to the European elderberry and attract more native pollinators, which benefits the crop yields.
In addition the UC Davis Food Science and Technology department is currently working on a elderberry project, led by Katie Uhl, focusing on the bioactive components unique to California elderberries that can be beneficial for human health.
While a diversity of plant species makes for the most effective hedgerows, the California elderberry is proving itself to be a perfect foundation species as it provides excellent environmental habitat and great potential for profits by selling the berries as health food products!
You can find Cloverleaf Farm elderberry syrups here at the Davis Food Co-op, along with many other elderberry products in our Wellness department!
Written by Rheanna Smith, Education Specialist
According to Jane Goodall’s book, “Harvest for Hope”, when chimps were given a choice between organic bananas and conventional bananas 9 out of 10 times they would choose organic!
Interestingly when only given conventional bananas the chimps would peel the fruit before eating it, whereas with organic bananas they would simply eat the whole thing, peel and all!
Top Reasons to Buy Organic:
Organic is Better for The People
Overall the standard of living for workers on organic farms is much greater than conventional farmworkers. Conventional farmworkers have much more exposure to toxic chemicals and also tend to have a worse standard of life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified pesticide poisoning as a leading cause of public morbidity and mortality.
Sadly, it is quite common for conventional farmworkers to commit suicide due to the stressful environment, and this is often done using the toxic synthetic pesticides themselves.
Globally, death from deliberate ingestion of pesticides claims more than 168,000 lives every year, which accounted for 20% of all suicides, and the majority of these incidents were reported from developing countries.
In addition, many organic farms are small family-owned farms, so when you buy local organic you can help support farmers in your community!
This is not always true of course as there are corporations switching to organic due to the demand from the public, and these farms, while still being better for your health and for the environment, may not necessarily be small and local.
However, if you do your shopping at the local farmers market or local co-op, the organic produce you buy is supporting local farmers!
Organic is Better for Your Health
Organically grown produce has little to no pesticide residue, so by simply buying organic produce you can drastically reduce your exposure to chemical toxins.
Organic foods may still have small amounts of chemical residue, mainly due to contamination from nearby conventional farms, as well as having trace amounts of organic pesticides.
Most organic pesticides are not synthetic and are derived from natural sources, such as minerals, plants, and bacteria.
Although organic agriculture still uses pesticides they tend to be much less harmful to humans and the environment because they are readily broken down.
In contrast many synthetic pesticides are known to persist in the environment as well as in people and animals too!
To better understand the difference between synthetic and organic pesticides it helps to think of a paper bag vs. a plastic bag. They are both bags, but the paper one is made of natural materials and the plastic one is made of synthetic, man-made materials.
If you were to take both bags, pour some water on them and leave them outside for a few weeks you will notice that the paper bag has been completely decomposed where the plastic bag hasn’t broken down at all and practically looks the same as it did weeks ago!
Organic is Better for The Animals
One of the biggest concerns with industrial agriculture is the horrific treatment of farm animals.
Chickens are crammed inside egg houses by the thousands without ever getting the chance to peck around in a field. Cows are denied open pastures and are instead confined to filthy areas where they have to live in their own feces. And pigs are kept in cages so small that they cannot even lay down.
Along with this cruel and unusual treatment, all of the animals are fed unnatural diets and are constantly pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics.
One option to prevent your money from supporting the companies that treat their animals like this is to go vegetarian or vegan, but for those who still want to have meat every now and then, there are more humane options.
One of which is to only buy organic animal products!
According to USDA Organic Standards, if an animal product is organic it is required that the animal is fed a natural diet that is 100% organic, not treated with antibiotics or hormones, and is allowed access to the outdoors year-round!
That means that when you buy organic you are ensured that the animal was provided with a more natural living situation, where chickens can peck and cows can graze.
Organic is Better for The Environment
Industrial agriculture is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation and climate change.
About 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to conventional farming practices.
The ecological imbalance caused by monocultures and excessive use of chemicals has resulted in water pollution, decreased soil fertility, and enormous increases in pests and crop diseases, which farmers counter by spraying ever-larger doses of pesticides in a vicious cycle of depletion and destruction.
Organic farming is much more sustainable than conventional farming.
Many organic farms engage in a variety of sustainable practices such as no-till farming, crop rotation, biological pest control, polyculture, and the incorporation of hedgerows. These practices reduce erosion and soil depletion and help to encourage biodiversity.
Most of these practices are actually very old, traditional ways of farming that are now being embraced by organic farmers in order to move away from industrial agriculture.
Every dollar that you spend on organic produce is a dollar that is supporting the well being of our planet for all future generations to come.
More on Pesticides:
A pesticide is any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered to be pests.
The World Health organization describes them as such, “by their nature, pesticides are potentially toxic to other organisms, including humans, and need to be used safely and disposed of properly.”
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, evidence suggests that children are particularly susceptible to adverse effects from exposure to pesticides, including neurodevelopmental effects.
Because of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals in food production, people are exposed to low levels of pesticide residues through their diets but may also be exposed to pesticides used in a variety of settings including homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for the Pesticide Data Program (PDP), a national pesticide residue testing effort achieved through cooperative programs with State agriculture departments and other Federal agencies. The PDP tests both fresh and processed fruit and vegetables, grains, dairy, meat, poultry, and other specialty food items such as honey, corn syrup, infant formula, fish, and nuts for pesticide residues.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for analyzing chemicals detected by the PDP and determining a “tolerance level”. These tolerance levels are established based on the LD50 (Lethal Dose 50) for each individual compound. The LD50 is a substance toxicity test in which a subject group (typically mice or rabbits) are exposed to a toxic chemical and then observed until the amount of that chemical administered causes 50% of the population to die. The EPA uses the LD50 as a tolerance reference in order to determine the maximum amount of certain chemicals that may legally remain on food.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is then responsible for the enforcement of these tolerances set by the EPA. This is done through the annual Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program in which a broad range of domestic and imported foods are sampled and tested for pesticide residue.
According to the 2018 PDP annual summary foods tested that violated the tolerance level set by the EPA included mangoes, asparagus, cilantro, cabbage, canned cranberries, raisins, and canned olives.
Low levels of environmental contaminants, pesticides that have been canceled in the U.S. but their residues persist in the environment, such as DDT were also found on foods such as cilantro, kale, frozen spinach, and snap peas.
But where do these chemicals go when eating them?
Studies have shown that pesticides tend to accumulate in the fatty tissues and reproductive organs of mammals where they can stay for a very, very long time.
The long term health effects of pesticides are still largely unknown, however, an ongoing study known as the Agricultural Health Study has linked pesticides to many health problems including childhood development, immune health, and the development of cancers and other diseases.
While it may be efficient to exploit certain crops for mass production, conventional agriculture is a major contributor to land degradation, biodiversity loss, and air and water pollution due to the immense amount of synthetic pesticides and herbicides that are used to maintain massive crop monocultures.
Conventional agriculture is not farming. It is an unsustainable food production industry in which the best interests of consumers and the Earth as a whole are overlooked in the pursuit of profit.
That being said, buying organic is by no means a perfect answer to health, climate, and social justice issues.
However, it is definitely a conscious step in the right direction!