My office window looks out onto an orchard. On this particular morning, my neighbour the farmer is spraying his trees with something toxic. He’s garbed from head to toe in impervious yellow plastic, and wearing a gas mask over his face, as he drives his tractor up one row, down the other.
I keep my window closed. I don’t want any of it on me.
I know the spray kills certain pests. I wonder what else it kills. How does it affect the bacteria in the soil, the worms, the fungi that serve as nerve endings for tree roots?
Not all farmers use these sprays. I know other farmers who don’t spray their trees. They encourage worms. They compost their wastes. They thin blossoms by hand. But they pay a price for their commitment -- more hand labour, uncertain sales, lower profits.
I can’t blame my neighbour for trying to grow perfect fruit. He knows how fussy consumers can be. I wonder why we consumers think that only unblemished fruit is worth buying. We pick through the bins in our supermarkets, rejecting apples that have a tiny scab, peaches with a small bruise, grapes with even a trace of shrivelling.
Does it ever occur to us that a chain of consequences leads directly from our shopping preferences to a farmer swathed in a hazmat suit to protect himself from his own toxic sprays?
Probably not. Yet that’s the whole point of Earth Day, marked around the world today.