NC U-Pick Strawberries: Organic vs. Conventional Mythbusters

(I know, I know.  I haven’t written in six months AND I renamed the blog.  There could and probably should be a long, long post about why, but it is easier to just restart. :))

Isn’t my mom cute?

If you are at all concerned with the real or organic foods movement, you probably know that strawberries are among those foods most accused of being laden with toxic and harmful pesticides.  You have also probably realized that organic strawberries are expensive, and organic U-pick strawberry farms are pretty hard to locate.

In my usual poorganic way, I would like to waylay some of your fears so that you can confidently pick and consume affordable strawberries without paying an arm and a leg.

This spring, I’m working at Hall Family Farm, which is a U-Pick strawberry farm in the Ballantyne area of Charlotte, North Carolina.  This job has given me the opportunity to ask the farmer, Lara Hall,  some great questions about the supposed “dirty dozen” item: STRAWBERRIES.

Be sure to ask these questions of your own farmer because the answers may vary depending on where you go. Her answers don’t necessarily apply to ALL conventional strawberries or U-pick locations.

Q: Do you spray the strawberries with pesticides?

A: Yes. Before they berry, we spray them with a synthetic pesticide to kill spider mite eggs. This is done weeks before the plants actually have berries.

Q: Do you spray them with pesticides after they fruit?

A: No. There are no pesticides sprayed on the berries. We only put fungicide on them to reduce the growth of mold, especially during a wet season like we’ve had.

Q: Is the fungicide you put on the berries toxic to consume?

IMG_0025A. No. Actually, it is “zero tolerance,” which means that you can eat the berries right after spraying.

Q: Why is the fungicide needed? Do the plants mold? 

A: When people step across the black plastic along the rows, the roots of the plants can become damaged, enabling the molds and fungi to grow. That’s why we encourage people not to step over the rows. PLEASE keep your children from crossing the rows.

Q: What about natural methods of pest prevention?

A. We do buy and bring in ladybugs to eat other pests.  Organic farms actually use pesticides too; they are just derived from natural sources.  Actually, nicotine and arsenic are both approved organic pesticides.

Q: What?!?!

A: Yes. It’s true. Nicotine is a common organic pesticide.

Q: Why do you say that the berries need to be washed before they can be eaten if there are no pesticides on them?

A: Because they could have pollen, dirt, or bird poop on them. We assume you don’t want to eat those things.

Q: Is it too late for strawberries this year?

A: No. We are having a later season due to a cold, wet spring, so there is still plenty of time to come pick berries. 

Q: Do you have any tips for picking the best berries?

A: While berries redden off the vine, the don’t ripen in terms of sweetness. Choose red, slightly shiny berries with no white tips.

Q: How do I prevent my berries from getting overripe after picking?

A: Never leave berries in a hot car or they will get mushy. Don’t pre-wash berries. Wash them just prior to eating.  If you want to freeze them, wash them, put them in a single layer tray and freeze singly before transferring to a zippered bag.  


DSCN1829Isn’t that exciting!? Strawberries are back on the menu at the Ryder house.  I hope you’ll come out to Hall Family Farm and pick some delicious, sweet, and affordable strawberries at only $2.19 a lb. If I’m behind the cash register, I hope you’ll introduce yourself.

If you don’t live in my area, share in the comments your favorite farm to pick strawberries.


12 thoughts on “NC U-Pick Strawberries: Organic vs. Conventional Mythbusters

  1. great q’s! thanks! I’m guilt free now about no buying organic strawberries 🙂 yummy yummy yummy!

  2. I am so happy you are back! I love this post – really love! I am passionate about agriculture and feeding people. There is so much confusion and idolatry around our foods. Huge shout out to you for asking the questions on your mind and getting involved with a grower. I wish everyone could (would) discover for themselves what is true or not true about our food fears. Wish I could stop by! Blessings~

  3. WooHOOOO!!!! Blog on, Girl!!! (And, yes, your mom is adorable! Looks more like a sister, tru.)

  4. It’s good to be reminded about not stepping on the rows. I think I’ve been guilty of that in the past. I wanted to ask her the question, Does she ever spot people stuffing their faces with strawberries as fast as they’re putting them in the bucket? 🙂

    1. I do spot people stuffing their faces. It’s usually toddlers who can’t help themselves :> They’re too cute to yell at!

      Also, strawberries will redden after you pick them. I told Katrina the wrong word. Ripen to us means sweeter. Strawberries won’t get sweeter after you pick them but they will turn red. That’s why grocery stores here can buy strawberries in California and still be “nice” looking but taste awful. They are picked barely red and by the time they get to NC they look ripe.

  5. Hi Katrina,
    I’m wondering about the herbicides and fertilizers, too – the rows look pretty weed-free, which is not what I see at organic berry farms. They have weeds as tall as me! Also synthetic fertilizers can be an issue for soil health (and our own health). Just curious if you could ask those questions, too, since I LOVE local strawberries and want to feel better about picking them whether they’re organic or not!!

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    1. Hi Katie,
      There are some weeds, but all the plants are planted in mounded rows covered in black plastic. (I’ve heard differing opinions on how good/bad this is.) The plastic definitely cuts down on the weeds around the plants, if not in the rows. The pictures on the post were from last year. I just picked on Wednesday and I would say the paths are a little weedier this year–though nothing like the picture you showed on your post. It is only a 3 acre farm, so the paths between rows are well-trafficked. I did not ask her specifically about synthetic fertilizers, but I imagine they do use them. However, I would instinctively say, after working with these farmers, that it would be naive to assume they aren’t MORE concerned about the soil health than I am. After all, this farm has been in their family for over a hundred years. With only u-pick strawberries and pumpkins, they have about three or four months a year to make an income on a small piece of land. Yes, this puts pressure on them to produce a certain standard of food for the masses, but additionally, it makes their land an asset they wouldn’t be eager to jeopardize. Moreover, they and their three children spend enormous amounts of time at this farm, so their health would also be a consideration. Both of the farmers that I work with (a husband and wife) left their jobs as engineers to become farmers, and they are very intelligent, careful stewards of their land. My hours working at the farm are done for this season, but next time I see them, I will ask them your questions. Or you could go to the Facebook page and ask them yourself: I would continue to encourage everyone to respectfully (not cynically) ask their own farmers any questions they have. Thanks for visiting! Katrina

  6. Hello there Katrina! Just a quick hello from me so you know I’ve been reading around the web and discovered your blog – I think from a comment you made on Anyways, I like this place!
    Mike Huiwitz recently posted…The Ex Boyfriend Guru
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