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by Dawn Bickett

Shorter days, crisp autumn air, turning leaves. Fall is finally here in full force. And that means it’s picking time — our chance to head out to a local farm and spend the day gathering apples for a pie, or finding the perfect future jack-o-lantern. Let’s face it: It’s just more fun to pluck an apple right off the tree, or choose a pumpkin in the field.

But for those of us concerned about the effects pesticide have on the environment and our heath, heading out to the nearest farm might be a bit… spooky. Just how risky is picking that beautiful apple off the tree and taking a bite? Here’s the background:

Apple Picking

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While apple picking is a great way to spend a brisk fall afternoon, this fruit has a big drawback. Apples top the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to pesticides in produce. Conventional apples have more pesticide residues than 47 other popular fruits and vegetables. Even after apples are washed, they still test positive for traces of 48 different types of pesticides.

And while scientists have a lot more to learn about the health effects of pesticide exposure, existing research shows that pesticides may lower children’s IQs and potentially cause some cancers. All things considered, if you’re the type who can’t wait to eat apples straight off the tree, you may want to know how the farmer treats those apples before you take that first bite.

So how can you be sure that the beautiful pink lady you’ve spotted is safe to pull off the branch? The first step is to find out if your farm is organic. Organic apple orchards use only naturally occurring compounds for pest management. But organic orchards aren’t always easy to come by. If there isn’t an organic orchard in your area, consider orchards that practice Integrated Pest Management. That means the farmer applies pesticides only when they deem absolutely necessary.

Pumpkin Picking

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Pumpkin patches face a different set of challenges than apple orchards. While pumpkins do get doused in their fair share of fungicides and herbicides, they are much lower on the EWG’s dirty dozen list, 25th out of 48. However, it’s important to note that if you are planning on using a pumpkin for cooking or baking, pumpkins are very good at pulling nasty pollutants and pesticides from the ground. The pesticides used to treat pumpkins in conventional farms also cause environmental damage, leaching into groundwater and harming healthy soil.

Buying a pumpkin from an organic farm is your best bet for a your health and the environment’s.

Find Your Farm 

Now that you are thoroughly spooked, what’s next? Don’t fear, because finding an organic farm or IPM orchard in the DMV area only takes a quick search. I recommend the website Pick Your Own for listings of orchards in Northern Virginia or Maryland. And of course, if you already have a favorite farm, just ask what their pest management practices are.Jack-o'-Lantern_2003-10-31.jpg

 Or Don’t

Too much detail? Don’t sweat it. Just head to your neighborhood farmer’s market to buy organic apples and pick your favorite pumpkin. What this alternative lacks in rustic charm, it makes up for in convenience (and a decreased carbon footprint)!

Happy picking!