WATSONVILLE — In recognition of their research to improve organic strawberry farming systems, Organic Advocacy and Farm Fuel Inc. have been awarded a grant to study organic strawberry transplant (start) performance in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

Funded by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), whose mission is to foster organic farming system improvements, the study will provide data essential to facilitating the organic strawberry industry’s transition to using organic starts. Although organic starts have not been available to organic strawberry growers for a decade, Organic Nursery, LLC, based in Macdoel, has stepped in to fill this gap and supply starts for the upcoming field trials.

Organically certified strawberry farmers do not use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, but they do buy starts from conventional nurseries that fumigate soils with chemicals like methyl bromide and chloropicrin, because they have no other choice. USDA’s National Organic Program has permitted this practice, under the organic regulation’s “commercial availability” clause, with the expectation that organic strawberry nurseries would emerge.

Dissatisfied with organic farmers being forced to grow conventional starts, the Organic Strawberry Fields Forever Project (OSFF) formed in partnership with organic farmers to serve as a catalyst for change within the organic strawberry industry. Three years later, 200,000 organic starts of four public varieties have been planted and their fruit will be harvested this spring. 

“This change in the organic strawberry industry is a long-time coming,” said Dr. Lisa J. Bunin, director of Organic Advocacy and founder of OSFF. “The success of our project will be achieved when the entire organic strawberry industry is organic–from start to finish.” 

Farm Fuel will conduct research trials on several organic farms including Swanton Berry Farm, High Ground Organics and Live Earth Farm. Two slots remain open for organic strawberry growers to participate in field trials and those interested should contact OSFF for further details.

“To be competitive, small, medium and family farms need to get out ahead of the curve and support the growth of organic strawberry transplant production and a truly organic system of production across the supply chain,” said Steve Pedersen, High Ground Organics farmer and OSFF participant.

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