What, if anything, can you tell me about these strawberries?
May 11, 2012 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Can you tell whether these strawberries are organic? Also, are they stolen?

I bought these strawberries from a guy on the corner, who is there fairly regularly. I tried to ask him if they had been sprayed with pesticides but he didn't (appear to) understand, so I asked if they were organic and he said, "Yes, organic, from Salinas." But aren't these too big to be organic? Or is size even relevant? I was under the impression, based on overheard snippets of conversation at the farmer's market, that organic strawberries are smaller... But I'm clueless about such things so I could easily be wrong. They were $12 if that tells you anything.

Also, when I got home my SO told me that the people selling fruit on street corners like that usually stole it from someone else's farm. Can anyone corroborate this?
posted by désoeuvrée to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They are very big and the box doesn't promote that they are organic.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:33 PM on May 11, 2012

The organic strawberries I buy aren't small. But I'd go with what the box says.
posted by salvia at 3:37 PM on May 11, 2012

I've been buying organic strawberries so big that my mom mistook them for tomatoes this morning. Fist sized.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:39 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A CCOF certification is expensive enough that I'd be surprised if a certified organic farm would sell its goods unlabeled. However, it's entirely possible to have an unsprayed strawberry crop on a farm that hasn't bothered to get the certification. Next time just ask if they're sprayed.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:41 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's no way of knowing any of these things, which is why I don't buy produce from guys with strawberry-lined trenchcoats.
posted by cmoj at 3:41 PM on May 11, 2012 [13 favorites]

Well I think that unless you have evidence (not just a yes to a question you asked) then you should assume not organic. Organic is not the farming norm and it' more expensive so it tends to be clearly labelled as a means of promotion and justification for a higher price. Also- big and perfect looking? If they were also organic that would be the strawberry jackpot, not an afterthought, in their promotion/sale.
posted by jojobobo at 3:43 PM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

The folks around my neighborhood don't steal them- they (the people + strawberries) get dropped off and picked up by someone selling whole truckfuls in a day.

I would be shocked if they're organic. I have never ever found an organic piece of fruit sold by those folks on the corners.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:48 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I doubt they're stolen from someone's farm. They're probably purchased from a big produce wholesaler.
posted by threeants at 4:00 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This article: 'New organic farmers face big challenges'. About young organic farmers in Salinas. And strawberries. It mentions young immigrants so it would fit your description ('he didn't (appear to) understand').
posted by travelwithcats at 4:04 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I sincerely doubt they're stolen! These guys buy from wholesalers, often fruit that's not quite at peak and sell cheap.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:28 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi! I grew up on a strawberry farm! (well actually, in a house and stuff, but you know, we had a strawberry farm). The biggest determinate in strawberry size is simply the breed selected. More "modern" breeds tend to produce larger strawberries, "heirloom" or "old english" breeds tend to produce those smaller, rounder types.

There's a lot of cant about the sweetness/tartness of modern vs old breeds. And whilst it's certainly true that many years ago there were definitely strawberries breed for size not flavour, and the old English varieties were both smaller, sweeter, and less tart, it would be difficult to make the case nowadays with the more modern and sophisticated strains.

Unless you're farming in truly shitty shitty soil, the addition of fertilisers will have little impact on the size produced. Our farm was in crappy, nutrient poor "red soil", and all they ever got was some dung at planting and then a few trace elements through the season. We once grew a conjoined strawberry the size of an apple.

Additionally, I cannot really comment on US strawberry farming, but pesticide-free may be more or less challenging depending on several different factors: Time of the season (strawberries can have a season getting on for six months, obviously colder weather = fewer bugs), greenhouse or hydroponic settings, nearby crops being farmed etc etc etc. Most strawberries here in Australia (at least when we farmed) will probably get hit with some pesticides a couple of times during the course of the season.
posted by smoke at 5:12 PM on May 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I wondered about street corner strawberry vendors (not the product itself, but the guys selling it) a few years back and found this story in my local paper. There have been others similar written since then. Given how they operate, it seems highly unlikely you'd be buying anything organic.
posted by marylynn at 5:29 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here in northern California, every strawberry I've seen in the farmer's market this year has been uncommonly big. I think that's just what happened with the weather.

I have no idea where those random fruit seller guys get their fruit.
posted by chairface at 5:57 PM on May 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the very informative responses! I had a feeling they weren't organic (and that SO was talking his usual nonsense)... The article marylynn linked to was so sad, it made me want to cry. I'm not from CA originally and I bought them under the naive and idiotic belief that I was helping out a small farmer, but it looks like that couldn't be further from the truth. :(
posted by désoeuvrée at 6:41 PM on May 11, 2012

Response by poster: Oh and if I can ask a follow-up question, do you think they're safe to eat, if I wash them in Trader Joe's Fruit & Vegetable Wash? I know strawberries are on the list of fruit that you should always buy organic... But can I assume this one time won't have major consequences?
posted by désoeuvrée at 6:57 PM on May 11, 2012

Berries sold as organic at CA farmers markets are indistinguishable from non-organic berries. Also, organic standard are not so hard to meet these days. So they might be or might not be. And they'll be fine to eat. If you eat a few pounds a week that use pesticide, that would be bad.
posted by GuyZero at 7:11 PM on May 11, 2012

I would eat them. Buying organic when you can is all well and good, but I don't turn down strawberries or other "always organic" produce when, for example, I'm at a restaurant. I sincerely doubt that eating one box of non-organic berries is going to have anything that could remotely be termed major consequences. If you're truly uncomfortable with the idea, offer them to friends or neighbors who are less concerned.
posted by asciident at 9:00 PM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: No they are not organic, yes eat them. One box of strawberries is no worse than the crap you're breathing in our polluted California air.
posted by latkes at 9:30 PM on May 11, 2012

I'm sure they're safe to eat even if you wash them with tap water.
posted by Rash at 10:30 PM on May 11, 2012

Anything that can be sold as organic will advertise that it is organic. If it does not say it is organic it is not organic. If it does say it is organic it might be, and that might not really mean much, organic certification in California is sort of a joke.

Also that man probably did not steal those strawberries, that is a strange assumption.

It is true however that you should not buy large strawberries. There are lots of new larger varieties on the market, and pretty much all of them seem to by bread strictly for looks. It does not matter if they are organic or not, you will pretty much always have the best luck buying ripe, but ugly strawberries.
posted by St. Sorryass at 1:55 AM on May 12, 2012

Yes, eat them. No, they probably weren't grown without pesticides, but good grief, yes, still eat them.
posted by desuetude at 12:20 AM on May 13, 2012

Sorry to bum you out!

One thing that wasn't really clear to me - and still isn't - is what is the right course of action? I mean, they're nice strawberries and those guys will still have to make their money back so in one way I would be helping them by buying the strawberries from them. On the other hand, I don't generally try to participate in economic activities that so clearly exploit other people so by buying them I'd be encouraging the exploitation to continue in general. I don't know what the answer is, but you've bought the strawberries, they're perfectly safe to eat after a wash and it would be a waste not to eat them now.
posted by marylynn at 12:24 PM on May 13, 2012

Response by poster: Marylynn, I don't know what to do, either. I prefer to buy organic fruit, so I probably won't buy from these vendors in the future, but it certainly is a conundrum when you don't know whether you'd be helping these poor guys or just perpetuating an exploitative system. I would tend toward the latter, though.
posted by désoeuvrée at 12:45 PM on June 13, 2012

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