Six years ago when I arrived in New Zealand as a backpacker, for a while I worked near Kaikoura on a farm planting, taking care of and harvesting vegetables.
Two very important moments stand out for me from that time.
One was when I was weeding salad for what must've been a third or a fourth day in a row. I was well familiar with the repetitive motion of scraping ground and pulling out weeds for I grew up with grandparents who had a lush garden where I, as a child, was also expected to pitch in.
But something felt very weird as I was doing it in Kaikoura. I didn't know what it was, but it felt... off somehow.
Until one day it hit me: I hadn't seen a worm or a bug for days. That farm had miles and miles of vegetable beds and yet I hadn't seen a single worm wiggling through that soil.
And that's when I really understood what all those talks about pesticides were about.
For years I had heard stories about modern farming which relies heavily on herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers, but it wasn't until my own hands were in that ground that I thought, do we really want to grow our food in a ground where a groundworm is incapable of living in?
The other moment was when we were planting salad seedlings on a tractor that was putting herbicide in the ground ahead of the seedlings.
The herbicide machine broke one day and instead of pushing pellets of poison in the ground, it was sprinkling it on top of ground. Fine dust of it was swirling around the tractor.
Within minutes, I felt sick. I thought I would vomit, but I held myself together long enough to be offered a position of an "afterwalker" who walked behind the tractor pushing in seedlings that hadn't properly set in.
I stood back until I was about a hundred metres away from the tractor and away from that poisonous dust, and stayed that way for the rest of that day. The next day the machine was fixed.
I later asked our farmer, how is it that we put such poison in the ground alongside plants people will eat within three months' time?, and he said that the poison is designed to break down within 7-8 weeks.
But still... It was then that I started to look at the fruit and vegetable isle in the supermarket much, much differently.