Farmer Hot Takes: Gushing for Berries at the Co-op this Summer
By Chris Kennedy
Y’all it’s berry season and I’m so excited. I’ve already seen some amazing strawberries and blueberries at the Co-op, and let me tell you, they’re pretty fantastic.
The organic strawberries we have at the Co-op right now come from Stick and Stone Farm in Ulysses, NY just north of Ithaca. Chaw Chang along with friends Karen Wynne and Rebecca Morgan started the farm as a small market garden in Newfield, NY in 1995. In 2000, Chang and Lucy Garrison married and took over the farm, and began to organize the Full Plate Farm Collective CSA program in 2005. Every year, Stick and Stone cultivates 40 acres of certified organic vegetables and manages more than 125 acres of land, with at least 50 percent of the area sown with a cover crop or green manures to build soil fertility.
Blueberries are also in season. Our blueberries come from Little Buck Organics, a working family farm in Hammonton, NJ. The farm, founded by Louis and Elizabeth Condo,specializes in organic blueberries, which are also kosher! Since the farm’s founding, the Condos have been committed to a food-production philosophy in which the farm is a system to increase biotic diversity and soil health. They believe the “soil continuum is the only situation that produces truly nutritious food which, in turn, restores our bodies on a daily basis.” They point out on their website how modern production practices “often disconnect plants from the magic of the plant-soil interface.”
Now as much as I love a blueberry or strawberry, there are several issues related to environmental health and food justice to consider. Berries in particular absorb a high concentration of herbicides and pesticides such as glyphosate, which are applied regularly on most crops in the United States. Glyphosate was first patented in 1961 as an agent primarily used to clear out calcium deposits in pipes or residential water systems. In 1970, almost by accident, Monsanto scientist John Franz observed this chemical dripping from an air conditioning unit and saw that all the plants below were dead. It was re-patented shortly after as a herbicide (weedkiller) and brought to market with the name Roundup in 1974.
Since that time, it has become one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world with 1.8 million tons of glyphosate sprayed on fields in the US since 1974. All this despite being banned in parts of the EU, and the US EPA classifying the agent as a Class C Carcinogen in 1985.
Glyphosate has also been in the news recently with a flurry of lawsuits being waged against Monsanto (now owned by Bayer). One of the first victories was just last year in San Francisco. After a multi-year battle with the notorious company, a jury substantiated medical claims that groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson had indeed contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma because of continued exposure to the chemical while working for the company.
Berries are also, no surprise, water-intensive crops. So from a sustainability point of view, they do have a special kind of carbon footprint. In places like California it requires a quarter gallon of water to grow a single strawberry. Similar to almonds, growing berries may not be ideal in drought-stricken parts of the world like the American West.
Ok - so that’s pretty scary. But at the Co-op our berries are free from herbicides, and grown locally and sustainably.
In North America, we also have a wide variety of wild berries that can be foraged using the correct practices. When I was growing up in New Jersey, for instance, we had wild blueberry patches growing in the woods behind my house in Passaic County. Now these wild varieties are quite smaller and often more bitter than the conventional variety found in the grocery store, they can be quite a joy to find. And despite blackberries being termed an “invasive species,” we have them available all over NYC. I recommend checking out the website Falling Fruit to get a map of places likely to have berries (such as mulberry or servieberry) or other wild edibles: https://fallingfruit.org/
Now when it comes to foraging, it’s important to exercise caution and make sure you have permission to forage. Some tried and true tips: you never want to forage anything where the soil has been contaminated by things such as herbicide, motor oil, heavy metals, etc. When in doubt, leave it alone. Dog pee should be the least of your worries. The real issue is herbicide, and heavy metals such as lead and arsenic. The Urban Soils Institute is a great way to get your soil tested, and they have a special display this summer at the Swale House on Governors Island and resources at Brooklyn College, which are both open to the public. You can also check out Reverend Billy’s Glyphosate Map to see where the City has recently sprayed.