At Columbia Farms U-Pick, we believe transparency is important and we promise to be honest about our farming practices. Here are our sustainability practices to maintain our berry fields so that our soil, plants, and crops are healthy.
We rotate many of our fields on an annual or biannual basis so the soil can receive nutrients naturally. For example, after we harvest a strawberry field for two years, we remove it and plant clover, pumpkins, squash, wheat, or other crops - many of which add nitrogen back into the soil. This crop rotation method allows us to suppress weeds, fungus, and bug pests naturally. Crop rotation also adds more organic material to our soil each year. We test the PH of our soil regularly so we know if we need to add more natural elements (such as lime) to help maintain our soil's health.
Pests and Disease
Despite our best efforts, weather and mother nature sometime have different ideas in mind. At Columbia Farms U-Pick we follow an Integrated Pest Management Plan as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This means we use a combination of pest control methods so that we limit our impact on the environment. We deal with disease and pests on a case-by-case basis and only spray when it is absolutely necessary to save our crop. We only use chemicals that are approved by the FDA for food and produce. Therefore, all our produce is safe to eat right out of the field. Sprays are also diluted in water prior to application. For example, a pesticide is applied at a rate of 4 oz per acre. This is equivalent to 1/3 soda can of chemical per one football field. You can read more about Integrated Pest Management here: http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/factsheets/ipm.htm
Organic vs. Spray-Free
Organic farmers also use pesticides and sprays. Here is the national list of sprays approved for organic produce, many of which we use: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&SID=9874504b6f1025eb0e6b67cadf9d3b40&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:18.104.22.168.32.7&idno=7
Strawberries and the Dirty Dozen List
Strawberries are on the Dirty Dozen List (DDL). Our strawberries aren't organic but don't belong on the DDL. Here's why:
The majority of strawberries in our nation are grown in other states. These fields are harvested year after year after year. They don't use crop rotation the same way we do. Because of this, the soil is more prone to disease and needs to be frequently fumigated with a chemical called Methyl Bromide. This chemical is illegal in the state of Oregon and since we rotate our fields biannually, we do not fumigate our fields with Methyl Bromide or any other chemical. You can read more about soil fumigation processes here: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/05/17/152522900/the-secret-life-of-californias-world-class-strawberries