Organic strawberries may not be

Freshly picked strawberries are seen at a farm.

KAI RYSSDAL: I went to the farmers market this past weekend. Shelled out $8 for a three-pack of organic strawberries. It's not entirely clear that I got what I thought I was getting.

Marketplace's Adriene Hill has the story.


ADRIENE HILL: To grow a strawberry, you need a strawberry plant. So you might think that to grow an organic strawberry, you'd need an organic strawberry plant.

You'd be wrong. If a farmer can make a case that they can't get the type, or quality or quantity of organic plants they need -- they can buy conventional and then grow them organically.

JAMES RICKERTS: The organic farmers take the conventional plants, put them in the ground, and the first berry that pops out, that's called organic.

California nurseryman James Rickerts used to grow organic strawberry plants, but he says many California farmers would use the loophole to buy non-organic starters. So, he stopped growing.

RICKERTS: Sustainable agriculture isn't sustainable when you're not making any money at it.

Now organic farmer Jim Cochran -- who used to buy from Rickerts -- doesn't have a choice. This year he had to plant conventional strawberry starters.

JIM COCHRAN: That's the heart of the problem. Because right now there are no growers of organic transplants.

The farmers have asked the USDA to change its guidance on organic seeds and seedlings to help encourage a market for them.

It's a move Paul Towers from the Pesticide Action Network thinks could bring the industry in line with what organics consumers think they're buying.

PAUL TOWERS: When we call something organic, it should be organic from seed to fruit.

USDA spokesperson Soo Kim says the agency is reviewing the criteria that farmers use to get waivers from using organic plants.

But points out there's a lot that goes into that organic label -- including everything that happens and doesn't happen to a plant once it's in the ground.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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