California farmer proves you can grow organic strawberries without using chemicals

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 by: Reuben Claxton
Tags: organic strawberries, pesticides, health news

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(NaturalNews) When is the last time you ate a truly delicious sweet strawberry that had been grown using only natural methods of agriculture? California's first organic strawberry grower has been producing such crimson delights for 25 years, and his success shows that in spite of claims to the contrary, it is possible to make a living with organic farming.

Jim Cochran, 63, farms just north of Santa Cruz at the Swanton Berry Farm. His early days of farming followed the common techniques of using fumigants and pesticides, until he found himself poisoned by his own farming methods. In 1981 he was in a field that had been crop-dusted the day before, and as the sun came up, the chemicals rose in a cloud.

Although consumers think about their own health consequences from non-organic farming, it can be an even bigger problem for farm workers ( The year after that incident Cochran was affected by methyl bromide, making him feel sick and weak.

"This was when it was becoming obvious that pesticides were way more harmful than people had been led to believe," Cochran says. Because he wanted to protect his own health, he decided to start farming organically. "From the start, everyone said it was impossible to grow a commercial crop of strawberries without chemicals," he says, but his obvious success should be sending a clear message (

Cochran does say that the transition required some learning. At first his yield went down, but he and a partner had begun cautiously, planting half organically and half in the old way. It took time for Cochran to learn how to grow strawberries, a very touchy crop, in the new way. Eventually he began to figure out things like planting the berries in single rows for better air circulation.

As he began to get established, Cochran also started working with researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz to publish studies showing that organic strawberries could be an economically viable option for farmers. Convincing farmers that they could survive growing organically has not been easy (, but studies of Cochran's farm have helped.

Cochran's success and visibility have also added a political dimension to his farming, as he has received environmental awards and testified before a committee of the California State Assembly. Growing strawberries requires chemicals that can deplete the ozone layer (to sterilize fields), or a chemical with severe toxicity to humans.

Nevertheless, Cochran is optimistic about the future with younger farmers, adding, "It's surprisingly easier to grow strawberries without chemicals than the industry would lead you to believe."

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