Who hasn’t heard the argument that organic food isn’t better than produce grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides — it’s just more expensive? Finally, scientists have come up with undeniable proof this isn’t so. After conducting side-by-side comparisons of organic and conventional strawberry farms and their fruit, the evidence is abundantly clear: organic farms produce more flavorful and nutritious berries and leave the soil far healthier and more genetically diverse.
“Our findings have global implications and advance what we know about the sustainability benefits of organic farming systems,” John Reganold, Washington State University Regents professor of soil science and lead author of the study, which was just published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, said in a media statement. “We also show you can have high quality, healthy produce without resorting to an arsenal of pesticides.”
The comprehensive study involved the analysis of 31 chemical and biological soil properties and soil DNA, as well as the taste, nutrition and quality of three strawberry varieties on 13 conventional fields and 13 organic ones. All the farms in the study are in California, where about 90 percent of U.S. strawberries are grown. California is also the center of an ongoing controversy over whether the common use of soil fumigants on strawberries is safe.
Conventional farms in the study were found to be currently using methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting chemical which is due to be replaced by highly toxic methyl iodide. More than 50 Nobel laureates, members of the National Academy of Sciences and countless natural health advocates have protested the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent approval of the use of methyl iodide on crops, so far to no avail — despite the new evidence that organically grown crops are better for humans and the planet.
The research team, along with Dr. Reganold, included Preston Andrews, a WSU associate professor of horticulture, and seven other experts in scientific disciplines including agroecology, soil science, microbial ecology, genetics, pomology (the science of fruit breeding and production), food science, sensory science, and statistics. By virtually every major indicator, these scientists found the organic fields and fruit were equal to or better than their conventional counterparts.
Specifically, the scientists discovered that organic strawberries had significantly higher antioxidant activity including much higher concentrations of ascorbic acid and phenolic compounds (phytonutrients known to help protect and fight a host of disease). The organic strawberries also had a longer shelf life. What’s more, anonymous testers found organic strawberries looked and tasted better. The researchers also documented that organic soils excelled in important chemical and biological properties — including nitrogen, microbial biomass, enzyme activities, and micronutrients. Bottom line: organic farms produced more flavorful and nutritious berries while leaving the soil healthier and more genetically diverse.