Not long ago, I had a weird conversation with a farmer. He told me in a begrudging statement how it bothered him that at farmers' markets, customers would come up to his stand and ask him if his vegetables were certified organic, just to walk away and scoff when they heard a "no." Curious, I asked him why this bothered him. "What's wrong with organic farming?"
The farmer told me that organic farms, just like most farms, actually spray their crops with pesticides and herbicides. So why do organic farms get to keep the label, you may ask. These organic farms use "naturally" derived organic pesticides to spray their crops, making the whole operation organic. So although a farmer's market patron may be looking around for beets or a celery stalk that never touched a natural or synthetic chemical, they might have to look past the organic label to find food that doesn't get sprayed.
The farmer later told me that Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is another method of farming that sprays as much if not less than the organic method. The IPM method follows four simple steps:
Set a threshold for pest damage.
When necessary, control with sprays.
If IPM had a mantra, it would be "only spray if necessary."
In the end, to know what you're in for, it's best if you know your source (aka buy local). When you know your farmer, you can ask them about their farm practices. At the same time, understand that using pesticides doesn't preclude that farming is terrible for you or the environment. In the end, farming practices like IPM and organic fall on a continuum. Some farms might use any collection of farming strategies that help sustain the soil and keep your food healthy and safe.