(Beyond Pesticides, September 7, 2010) A new study, entitled Fruit and Soil Quality of Organic and Conventional Strawberry Agroecosystems, shows organic strawberry farming results in higher quality fruit and healthier soils. A growing number of consumers are choosing organic foods, believing them to be healthier for themselves and the environment. While most environmentalists agree that organic agriculture is generally more sustainable than conventional, nutritionists who believe organic foods to be more nutritious are currently in the minority. A detailed comparison of organic and conventional strawberry farms is the first study to examine both the soil health and the nutrient content of the fruit produced. Researchers found organically produced strawberries, while slightly smaller than conventional have higher antioxidant activity, longer shelf life, and fared better in taste tests. Soils on the organic farms are also found to be healthier with higher organic matter concentration, and greater microbial biodiversity.
California strawberries make up 25% of total production worldwide and 87% of U.S. production. Conventional strawberry production is notoriously dangerous for farm worker health and the environment. After phasing out the ozone depleting fumigant methyl bromide, the California government is currently considering approval of methyl iodide a chemical so carcinogenic it is actually used in the lab to induce cancer. According to the Environmental Working Group’s ranking of pesticide residue contamination on common types of fresh produce, strawberries are the third most contaminated food.
To compare conventional and organic strawberry production researchers selected 13 pairs of conventional and organic strawberry fields in Watsonville, CA, the state’s dominant strawberry growing region. Organically managed soils have significantly higher organic matter content. High organic matter content enhances soil structure and fertility, and increases water infiltration and storage. Organically managed soils also have more microbial life.
Researchers found organic strawberries not only have greater nutritional value in some aspects, but also taste better than conventional strawberries. While concentrations of potassium and phosphorus are higher in the conventionally produced strawberries, organically produced strawberries have higher levels of antioxidants, Vitamin C, and phenolics. Organic strawberries also have a longer shelf life and greater resistance to post harvest fungal rot. Consumer sensory panels show a preference for the taste of organic strawberries. Three varieties of organic and conventional strawberries are compared for the study. While conventional strawberries are larger, organic berries are found to have preferable flavor and appearance.
As organic agriculture continues to grow and evolve, researchers are continuing to find new evidence of the benefits of choosing organic foods. The benefits of organic agriculture are by no means limited to consumers. On conventional farms, dangerous pesticide use is a danger to farmworkers, wildlife including endangered animals, as well as the water supply, and people especially children living in the area. For more information about why organic is the right choice see our Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience guide.