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Harvesters weed the lettuce beds at an organic farm. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Harvesters weed the lettuce beds at an organic farm. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Collected Wisdom

Why you pay more for that organic turnip Add to ...

Welcome to Collected Wisdom, the column that is totally organic and 100-per-cent pesticide-free. Which means we really should charge you more to read it.

THE QUESTION

Why is organic produce more expensive than non-organic, when its growers don't have to pay for the purchase and application of costly pesticides? Tokey Ryan of Harrow, Ont., wants to know.

THE ANSWER

Pesticides aren't really so costly, and controlling pests such as insects and weeds allows farmers to achieve much higher yields on their crops, writes Brian J. Lowry, chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. And higher yields mean lower prices.

“Genetically modified crops,” he adds, “take this one step further and achieve higher yields by modifying the genes of the crop plants themselves.”

In buying organic, he writes, people show that they are willing to pay more to avoid any possible side effects of these scientific advances. And, “since retailers know that people who buy organic are willing to pay more, prices are set at what the market will bear.”

Paula Johanson of Victoria, who operated an organic market garden north of Edmonton for 15 years, adds that a significant cost the organic farmer faces is weeding. While non-organic farmers add pesticides to cut down on the number of weeds, organic farmers spend a lot more of their time hoeing and weeding. “The increased labour costs lead to a higher price for organic produce,” she says.



THE QUESTION

Jackie Phillips of Toronto wonders when and where wallpaper was first used.

THE ANSWER

Collected Wisdom looked into this and discovered the answer in the book Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things.

Wallpaper, it says, originated in France in the 15th century as a relatively inexpensive alternative to the costly tapestries that adorned the walls of the well-to-do. It came into its own after the rise of paper mills in Europe.

“Because the Chinese had developed papermaking centuries earlier,” the book says, “it was long assumed that wallpaper was an Oriental invention, but its actual birthplace was France.”

FURTHER NOTICE

Last week, we looked at why we clink wine glasses at the dinner table and concluded that the custom began after we stopped drinking from a communal bowl. As we no longer shared a bowl, clinking glasses became a way of preserving contact with our fellow diners.

Harris D. Gulko of Winnipeg, however, offers a different theory: “While I was sitting with Allan Bronfman in his office in the Seagram Building in Montreal many years ago (drinking VO, his personal favourite), he told me why one clinks glasses. Without the clinking, we could enjoy our drink with only four of our senses – taste, smell, touch and sight. Clinking glasses adds the fifth – sound.”

HELP WANTED

  • Does the “shuffle” function on an iPod truly shuffle the songs at random every time the device is turned on? Rob Murray of Calgary always has his iPod on “shuffle” and in the past six months he has heard some songs repeatedly, half a dozen times whereas others have never been played.
  • Is there any difference between being named John H. Smith Jr. and John H. Smith II? Dale Leitch of Victoria wonders.
  • What is the oldest private dwelling in Ontario? asks Jenny Wittrup of Toronto.


Let's hear from you: If you have the answer to one of these questions (or a question of your own) send an e-mail to wisdom@globeandmail.com. Please include your location and a daytime phone number.

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