Owner says he ‘spot treats’ crops

Sometimes, what the community loves and what the community values end up on opposing sides of the spectrum.

Take, for example, Lao’s Strawberries. The ever-loved strawberry stand, located on Highway 12, just east of the Sebastopol Grange, is a popular stopover for locals and tourists alike. Lao Saetern’s stand is known for its impossibly juicy, ever-red, super sweet strawberries, available from mid April through October.

However, the strawberries, as indicated by a report obtained from the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner, undergo pesticide and insecticide treatment, a practice in contrast to west county ideals and values of organic, chemical-free food.

The report is also in contrast to what the strawberry stand told Sonoma West Times and News back in April, when we reported on the season opening of the stand.

According to the report, Saetern used Roundup Powermax and Roundup Weathermax herbicides, along with Acramite 50WS — a pesticide — on his 12 acres of strawberries 17 times between February 2015 and November 2016.

“We spot treat,” Saetern said. “We don’t spray the whole field.”

Saetern said he uses the pesticides and herbicides to fight off bugs and weeds that bring disease to the crops, such as spider mites and leaf blight.

“We have to attack so there’s no disease,” Saetern said. “If there’s disease we don’t use it. If there’s disease, there’s no food to eat or sell.”

While some might feel slighted about the revelation of Saetern’s chemical use, since the family farm maintained they used organic practices despite lacking an organic certification, it is important to understand that all strawberries — organic or conventional — are started in chemically-laced soil.

Across California, organic and conventional strawberry producers alike buy their plants from nurseries that begin the season fumigating fields with methyl bromide, according to a 2015 report by NPR. While not sprayed on the plants, the soil fumigant kills just about everything it touches. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, methyl bromide is an ozone-depleting agent and known carcinogen that was supposed to be phased out entirely by 2005. However, the EPA approves the chemical for a “critical use exemption” each year.

As for Saetern’s strawberries, the use of pesticides and herbicides once planted is done in the same vein as the use of methyl bromide: to help prevent crops from being completely destroyed. Saetern must get approval of all chemical use from the county’s Agricultural Commissioner.

“They say, ‘yes I can use this,’ or ‘No, that’s not OK,’” Saetern said.

Read the original article about Lao’s Strawberry Stand here:

(6) comments


Went to Lao strawberries yesterday (8/19/17) and asked if Roundup still being used. Reply was "no more, no longer using" so perhaps there will be a follow-up story to check and let all know? Thank you.


This is an example of why ORGANIC CERTIFICATION is important. Though not a perfect system, it requires annual third party audits that verify the farm is managed in accordance with the National Organic Food Act regulated by USDA. Farming organically means more work dealing with weeds. BUT the real cost of organic vs conventional needs to consider increased public health risks and environmental impact. Neither appear on the farms financial statement and is why despite higher costs, certified organic food is a good deal. The article is correct to point out that organic strawberry growers are permitted to use strawberry starts that are not produced organically. This is likely to change as new innovations provide organic and conventional farmers viable tools to manage soil borne diseases. Two examples are Anaerobic Soil Disinfection (ASD) and specialized mustard meals. One Watsonville based company, Farm Fuel Inc is already providing these products as a replacement to Methyl Bromide to strawberry growers throughout the state. There are plenty of successful certified organic strawberry growers in the Bay area. To control weeds they use plastic mulches which prevents weeds from growing on the planting bed, manually removing weeds that grow up next to the strawberry plant and tractor cultivation to control weeds between rows. Organic growers use three to five year crop rotations to control soil diseases and use a variety of tools to manage insects including biological controls (promoting beneficial insects), insecticidal soaps, microbial products and plant extract products. Yes, organic growers use pesticides but these materials are prohibited to be synthetically manufactured, are plant or microbial based and vetted by the National Organic Standards Board before approved for organic practices. The above strawberry farm misrepresented its growing practices and strawberries when they said they farm organically. They don't. The USDA Organic Seal, though not a perfect system, is a third party certified system to assure the public that food labeled organic is grown without synthetic chemicals in accordance with USDA's National Organic Food Act.
Larry Jacobs
Jacobs Farm / Del Cabo


So jsr has not been washing fruits and veggies for the babies?
Okay jsr and all others who fantasize about utopia- chemical presence is not just from man-made cancer causing ingredients, there is also natural chemical presence called urine and feces that should cause anyone with a brain to wash their fruits and veggies for the babies and everyone else.


[angry]. I feel the exact same way as Jim
What pisses me off is I didn't countless numbers of those strawberries without washing them for the baby if not they said they were pesticide free, and I've also started into my young daughter for years. This is really unconscionable

Robert Wager

One of the most pervasive myths about organic agriculture is that it does not use pesticides. This is a lie. Organic agriculture uses many different naturally derived pesticides and a few synthetic pesticides where there is no natural alternative. Please go to the NOP and look up the allowed substances list. It is quite extensive. Then go to the California Dept of Agriculture to see over 50% of all pesticide applications on food in the state are on organic crops.


Bad enough that these conventional chemicals be used, but that I have been lied to multiple times about this over the years is infuriating. From the start this seemed too good to be true, and clearly it was. I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to a local grower who practiced organic agriculture without the expense and politics of certification, but that was misguided. Thanks for the great work on this story. I hope Lao's Strawberries is soon out of business for misrepresenting their practices so brazenly and taking advantage of a trusting clientele.

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