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.