I’ve been trying to piece together the history of pesticide use in Canada for my book, Locavore. It’s just a small detail in the project, but I’m nevertheless intrigued to find out when exactly Canadian farmers started to use pesticides in large quantities. According to Harvey Levenstein, professor and author of books like Revolution at the Table whom I interviewed last week, DDT was the first chemical agricultural pesticide to be put into widespread use after it was invented in World War Two. Ever since the fifties, farmers have been dousing their crops with chemicals.
However, when I’ve spoken with farmers across the country who are in their fifties, they always say that their parents never used the chemicals. The anecdotal evidence points to the baby boomers as the first generation to fully embrace chemical pesticides. I spoke with one organic potato farmer on Tuesday who calls himself a convert. He used to grow potatoes with plenty of help: “I could have killed a whole town with the chemicals I used,” he said. Now he’s organic because he was getting sick from his exposure and won’t touch the stuff.
Neither will I. Potatoes are one of the many foods I try to buy organic–I was turned off conventional spuds when reading Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire. A potato farmer he interviews who grows acres of conventional potatoes won’t eat his own crops because of the chemicals. If the guy who is growing them won’t eat them, why on earth would I?