In this episode, we tell an age-old tale: An innocent young berry heads west in search of fame and fortune—but sells its soul in the process. For our hero, the strawberry, to defeat its nemesis, a fungus called wilt, the aromatic red fruit makes a deal with the devil—and duly becomes America’s favorite berry. But its success relies on fumigants, toxic gases injected into the soil that kill everything in their path. So what are fumigants? What’s their effect on farm workers, local communities, and the environment? And can the strawberry break free from their poisonous grip? Listen to this episode to find out.
Unlike many of our favorite fruits and vegetables, we know exactly where and when the cultivated strawberry that we buy in our grocery stores and farmers’ markets was born: 300 years ago in a greenhouse in Versailles, France. The scientist Patrick Edger, whom Gastropod listeners will remember from our “Cutting the Mustard” episode, and whose recent work includes a collaborative project to assemble the strawberry genome, told us the tiny North American strawberry Fragaria virginiana accidentally crossbred with strawberries collected from Chile, Fragaria chiloensis, in the French greenhouse—“and then, all of a sudden, they saw this massive strawberry emerge,” said Edger. “And that really transformed the strawberry industry.”