Use of chemicals confirmed at strawberry stand

The community has believed for years that the wonderful strawberries from Lao’s on Hwy. 12 between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa did not use pesticides. A recent article by Sonoma West Times & News has found out otherwise. Lao has been an immigrant success story and has held great community support. Maybe something was lost in translation but it appears some highly toxic chemicals are being used after all. Community Alliance with family Farmers (CAFF) offered some years back to help Lao to become organically certified. CAFF has experienced and knowledgeable staff to help him. He may be left with only tourists buying his strawberries. He needs to contact CAFF now. Sorry Lao, we will not be buying your strawberries. Sonoma County already has cancer clusters from all the chemicals used ( over 2.2 million pounds a year here). We are tied for #3 in the state and Napa is number one for children cancer.

Sonoma West Times & News

By Amie Windsor, Staff Writer, Jun 1, 2017

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.