|Why we choose bugs over chemical insecticides
The use of pesticides to rid a pest isn't without consequences. At the farm, one of our concerns about using toxic chemicals in the field is the negative impact it will have on our pollinators. We rely on native bumblebees to fertilize the flowers. Without our pollinators, we'd have no fruit.
We do lose some fruit to the insects that feed on them, but thankfully nature has a way of dealing with these insects. Instead of chemical pesticides, we let nature take its course in the field. There are natural predators to insect pests. These predators, which are mostly wasps and hornets, set up nests in the field each year and are efficient at removing pests before, during, and after the season. We tend to think of these predators as pests themselves, but wasps play an important role in preventing the insects from destroying all of the crop (wasps also help prevent the spread of disease among the bushes by removing the berry-feeding insects, which often carry infectious plant diseases).
Of course a chemical cocktail could be applied to the fruit well after the bumblebees have fertilized the flowers. This would be a more effective way of killing all insects that feed on the fruit and we would have less fruit loss. However, we know that if we started using pesticides, we quickly become trapped into having to use more and more each year. It is well known that the intended targets develop resistance. And the only way to continue is to switch to a different pesticide, use a cocktail of pesticides, or use more. So would a chemically-coated bug-free berry be worth it?
Herblock, from Straight Herblock (1964)
A USDS pesticide data program in 2008 found residues of 52 different types of pesticides on conventionally grown fresh blueberries (i.e. non-organic grocery store blueberries). The Environmental Working Groups' list of "the dirty dozen" of 2012 named the top 12 fruits and vegetable that consumers should purchase organic. Domestic blueberries made their list.
We value the health of the environment, but pesticides are nondiscriminatory and kill more than the targeted pest. Not only will pesticides kill beneficial insects (e.g. bumblebees and lady beetles). But research has shown non-targeted animals including frogs and salmon can be harmed when exposed to insecticide runoff. And if the health of the environment and its organisms are harmed by pesticides, whose to say those same chemicals don't affect us? Scientific research has shown that children exposed to pesticides during certain periods of development are more likely to suffer from cancer, asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders, and other health problems. Read more here (and the special report: A Generation in Jeopardy). As adults, research suggests that some pesticides interfere with our reproductive system or increase our chances of cancer. In the chemical-laden world we live in, the additive or synergistic effects of all of these chemicals on our health is somewhat less clear. But to us it seems how we treat the environment will directly affect our own health. We are after all a part of the environment.
If you are interested in learning more about how pesticides affect us and our environment, I encourage you to read Rachel Carlson's Silent Spring, which was written in the 1960's, but is still applicable today. The Pesticide Action Network also offers a wealth of information.
In the words of the late Dr. Barry Commoner, biologist and professor:
Everything is connected to everything else.
Everything must go somewhere.
Nature knows best.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.
So at the Linbo Blueberry Farm, we've decided not to feed into the escalating cycle of chemical pesticide versus pest. Instead we value what nature has to offer, even if that does mean a few bugs on the berries and a few wasps nests in the field.