Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The true cost of tomatoes

Don't miss Mark Bittman's opinionator column about the true cost of tomatoes.

He's writing about Florida tomatoes, not the kind that are in our CSA boxes from Irvine, CA.
A third of our [nation's] tomatoes are grown in Florida, and much of that production is concentrated around Immokalee (rhymes with “broccoli”), a town that sits near the edge of the great “river of grass,” or the Everglades, the draining of which began in the late 19th century, thus setting the stage for industrial agriculture. [snip]
The tomato fields of Immokalee are vast and surreal. An unplanted field looks like a lousy beach: the “soil,” which is white sand, contains little in the way of nutrients and won’t hold any water. To grow tomatoes there requires mind-boggling amounts of fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides (on roughly the same acreage of tomatoes, Florida uses about eight times as many chemicals as California). The tomatoes are, in effect, grown hydroponically, and the sand seems useful mostly as a medium for holding stakes in place.
Organic tomatoes require much, much fewer chemicals. As I have written before, a plant-based insect repellent, neem oil, is sometimes used. Mostly, Tanaka Farms relies on inter-planting onions to repel insects.

They also factor in a 25-30% crop loss to critters in their plans. BTW, organic farmers lose an average of 30% of their crop to critters (including insects). Conventional farmers lose 25%, despite using vast amounts of pesticides and herbicides.
Tomatoes with any color other than green are too ripe to ship, and left to rot; I’ve posted a couple of pictures I took of those on my blog. The green tomatoes are gassed — “de-greened” is the chosen euphemism — to “ripen” them; the plants themselves are often killed with an herbicide to hasten their demise and get ready for the next crop.
Those of you who have visited Tanaka Farms on CSA days know that everything that can be composted is composted on site and tilled back into the soil. Crop rotation includes lots of legumes (the beans you see in your boxes) to replenish nitrogen in the soil. The ground is never sprayed with herbicides between crops. It is simply tilled. Sometimes, volunteers from the last crop spring up amid the new.

Workers on the farm have worked alongside the Tanaka family for years, often decades. They are not treated as disposable people. Workers at TF are never sprayed with pesticides or herbicides, or sent into recently sprayed fields, because the fields are not sprayed in the first place.

Enjoy your ripe and guilt-free tomatoes this summer. Sign up online for summer CSA boxes to support Adams Middle School.

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