Right now, strawberries are a win-win fruit. They're in season, they're bursting with sweetness, and they're low-cal. One way to jump-start eating healthier and more pleasurably, while burning fewer fossil fuels: Pick your own. Buying from a local farm eliminates the carbon costs totted up in "food miles," the distance food is trucked or flown from farm to plate. Locally grown produce travels an average 56 miles from farm to institutional markets, while conventional produce travels an average 1,454 miles, or almost 27 times as far, according to a study by the Iowa State University Leopold Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. When you go to the farm, you're getting the fruit at its freshest; while it's true that you've travelled, and not the food, well...you've still supported a local farmer, which strengthens the local food system.
Another reason: Strawberries are among the most pesticided crops, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG); in their 2003 produce study, 90 percent of strawberries tested had residues of 36 different pesticides, including nervous-system-damaging organophosphates. EWG advises that, particularly if you have young children, you choose organic rather than conventional strawberries.
The same would go for picking, of course; you wouldn't want your kids exposed to pesticides in the strawberry rows. If you can't find a certified organic local grower, ask the farmer if they avoid or reduce pesticides. Some may be in transitional organic mode, others may practice integrated pest management (IPM), which uses pesticides only as a last resort. To find farms nearest you, go to PickYourOwn.org, and look for the word ORGANIC next to the names.
If you've got children, whether they're toddlers or teenagers, picking strawberries is a great activity for family bonding and burning off steam. Pick bushels, make shortcake and pies, and start putting up preserves.
This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2008. The story was moved to MNN.com.