We are frequently asked about the use of pesticides on our farm.  We have never sprayed our raspberries with anything.  We have however, lost significant crop due to pruning out large sections to eradicate disease.  If we were a raspberry farmer as our primary source of income, that would be unsustainable.  We have never sprayed our cherries with anything – we’ve never needed to do anything beyond pruning.  However, given the blood, sweat, and 10 years of time and money  that it has taken to get those cherry trees into production, if we did get a disease that threatened to wipe them out,  we would spray as minimally as possible to save the orchard.  We have sprayed our saskatoons.  Saskatoons are native to this area, and thus have many natural diseases/enemies here.  Once the plants were established we decided to try not spraying and see how it would go.  We nearly lost the entire orchard in one year due to fungus.  However, given that we desire to keep things as pesticide-free as possible, we spray as little as we can and still keep the plants healthy.  We have never used an insecticide as we have never needed to.  Our ongoing problem is with fungus.  It is highly recommended that we spray fungicide 3 times per season to keep the fungus under control.  Last year we sprayed once.  We watch the plants and the weather and do as little as we can.  We do this spray early in the season, well before a time when any pesticide would remain at harvest.  We are very meticulous about this.

I agree with growing organic and as pesticide free as possible.  However, I also believe that we need to be able to grow enough food to feed our planet.  If I lose my potato crop in my own garden, it does not matter.  If entire crops of are wiped out in a region, it is a problem.  In my experience, many people who judge farmers have never tried to grow anything themselves.  Many people also seem to think that organic means spray-free.  That is not the case.  Organic just means that the sprays were derived from a natural source.  Not everything in nature is safe, and sometimes synthetic sprays really are safer than organic approved ones.  I think sometimes organic is similar to how people are more comfortable buying food that is flavoured with “natural flavours” rather than “artificial flavours,” never understanding that at the heart of it they are the same thing.

Keep asking farmers if they are organic.  It is your right as a consumer to know.  It is also your responsibility to understand what organic really is.  And to not complain when the organic produce isn’t as large, shiny and appealing as the non-organic at the next table over.   At the same time that you’re asking about organic, ask about other things that really matter.  How do they protect fresh water usage on their farm?  What kind of labour do they use, and are they paid a liveable wage?  How many off-farm jobs do they as a family work to be able to have the privilege of spending their off-work hours growing food?  Food matters.  So do people.