Leahy has an interesting history. In 1980, he operated a
900-acre organic rice farm in California. In the 1990’s, he
managed an 800-acre organic corn, soybean, alfalfa and cattle
farm in Nebraska. In 2002, he became executive director of the
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Then in 2012,
Leahy became the director of the California Department of
that seem a bit strange?
will always be part of modern life," says Leahy in a
recent interview with the Alliance for Food and Farming.
"I want to show people that you can effectively manage
pests by using pesticides as a last resort and choosing ones
that are less toxic to people."
knows what he’s talking about. California produces half the
vegetables, fruits and nuts (no pun intended) in the U.S. The
Golden State also has the nation’s most comprehensive
program to regulate pesticide use.
modern food supply, public health and resource management all
rely on pesticides," says Leahy.
heard that right. As scary as the term "pesticide"
may sound, it refers to any substance that controls pests such
as insects and microbes that can destroy food crops or make us
organic farmers use pesticides, says Leahy. Most are derived
from microorganisms or other natural sources. Some are
synthetically produced — synthesized from a mixture of
compounds. And all are approved by the USDA National Organic
— those used on organic as well as conventional crops —
undergo the same rigorous scientific evaluation by the
Environmental Protection Agency," says Leahy, "to
ensure they will not harm people when used according to label
really. Isn’t organic … better?
Marthedal, who grows conventional as well as certified organic
blueberries in Fresno, Calif., says, "To some extent the
operations are very similar. We use fungicides, fertilizers
and insecticides in both operations. The big difference is the
source of the chemical…when it is certified as organic it
has to be a naturally occurring organic compound. And it’s
interesting because a lot of the chemicals that we use in our
conventional operation are really just synthetic versions of
the organic compounds that we use in our organic
Calif., farmer Rod Braga grows vegetables both organically and
conventionally. "I think what people need to understand
is that we do use pesticides on organic vegetables," he
says. "And the rate at which we use them on the organic
crops are actually at a much higher volume and often times
more applications than we do on the conventional side. We just
wouldn’t be able to produce enough crops to feed everybody
if we were organically growing and not using any
begs the question: Is organic healthier than
conventionally-grown produce? Remember, say experts with the
Alliance for Food and Farming, the term "organic"
defines how a food is produced. It does not address quality,
safety or nutritional value.
tuned for more on this topic.