Tuber or not tuber (Day 179)…


On the recent cycling trip I took through the valleys of Oregon from Portland to Eugene, we stopped along the way at various organic farms. One of the most interesting was Sunbow, owned by Harry MacCormack, located near the university town of Corvallis.

Harry, it turns out, is a bit of a celebrity in the organic farming industry. He wrote The Standards and Guidelines For Organic Agriculture, which became the basis for Tilth certification and other programs in the U.S. and abroad. Now, local farmers will often use Harry’s soil to test out different crops.

On our first night there, he spoke to us for a while about how he became involved in the organic farming business and the current trend of local, sustainable eating. Then it got a bit frightening as he moved on to discuss pesticides and DDT, the latter of which can apparently linger on in the land for decades.

After about an hour or so, Harry had me convinced that pretty much everything that isn’t certified organic will give me cancer. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating, but he definitely persuaded me never to go back to commercial dairy products. Or strawberries.

But I didn’t want to fall asleep that night feeling like I could never eat anything again without an appetizer of anxiety, so I asked him what could be done on a consumer level, and his answer was: Never, ever, EVER buy squash that isn’t organic. In fact, even if it is organic, find out which farm it’s from and whether the soil has been tested.

The reason, he says, is that if there is any DDT in the soil, squash and other members of the tuber family will suck it all up and store it in their flesh. Tomatoes and fruits may get sprayed with toxic stuff, but it seems their skins doesn’t absorb much of it, so it’s not as important health-wise to enforce the organic rule there.

Now, I’m not about to go lurking around Ontario farmland with a chemistry set taking samples of the soil or anything, but I will be making sure that all the tubers I buy from now on are organic. There’s nothing I love more in the winter than a good butternut squash soup, and I’d rather it not be garnished with carcinogens.

Photo courtesy of Mexicanwave on Flickr

10 Responses to Tuber or not tuber (Day 179)…

  1. fawn pea says:

    Whoo boy, those strawberries will get you, too. I love the supermarket wallet card from EWG: It tells you the 12 produce items highest & lowest in pesticide residues. It’s great for making the organic v. not organic decision at the grocery store: I love this thing.

  2. pat farquharson says:

    i bought local strawberrieds for supper tonight– I guess you will miss out on dessert!!

  3. […] to.  I’m really looking forward to reading this blog from start to finish (she’s up to day 179) and following her through the rest of the 365 days.  I do plan to adopt some of the things for […]

  4. nichole says:

    Wait. squash is in the cucurbitaceae family. Potatoes, however, are tubers and are in solanaceae (as are tomatoes). Tubers are underground stems whereas squash is a fruiting body. Sweet potatoes (convolvulaceae, same as morning glory) and dahlias (asteraceae, like daisies and dandelions) both have tubers too, so there’s no one specific tuber family.

    So I’ll watch where my squash comes from, that’s good advice! Let us know if you have any idea what he meant by “other members of the tuber family”!

    I’m not chastising you! I’m just confused and trying to figure out what he meant.

  5. gettinggreen says:

    Oh dear, nichole, I suppose you’re right — clearly I should have done more research. Bad journalist (*wrist slap*), bad! As I recall, if it helps, Harry specifically said to avoid squash that isn’t organic; but it was when I was talking later about it with my friend Lisa that the tuber thing came in. She recommended that one of my green changes be to not eat commercially grown tubers, so I assumed that’s what Harry was talking about. I think, in the end, he must be referring to stuff that either has deep roots and grows underground like potatoes, or stuff that fruits but then sits on the soil, like squash. Would that make sense? Thanks for pointing that out!!

  6. sandy says:

    OK. I’ll bite. Why not commercial dairy products…?

    Ease me into this. I have to have my coffee in the morning. I love dairy.

  7. Malva says:

    Non-organic dairy is not as big a concern for Canadians fortunately.

    In the US, non-organic dairy contains hormones (given to cows to increase milk production). Hormones are illegal in Canada.

  8. Hanna says:

    eeek! Evil squash! Luckily I can steal from my parent’s garden when I go to visit.

  9. nichole says:

    ohhhh…that would make sense!

  10. ClareSnow says:

    I too was confused by tubers and squash. thank you for clearing it up. Strawberries also fruit on the ground, thus their chemical laden-ness. I’ve been told to keep away from non-organic potatoes, but I guess its pretty much any vegetable. I don’t like eating squash, but this (Australian) winter I learnt how to make soup with lots of root vegies. Getting all organic ones makes it even more healthy than just eating a bowl of vegies (there are lots of ads in Australia telling everyone to eat more fruit and vegies).

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