The intensive use of pesticides and their subsequent distribution to the environment and non-target organisms is of increasing concern. So far, little is known about the occurrence of pesticides in soils of untreated areas─such as ecological refuges─as well as the processes contributing to this unwanted pesticide contamination. In this study, we analyzed the presence and abundance of 46 different pesticides in soils from extensively managed grassland sites, as well as organically and conventionally managed vegetable fields (60 fields in total). Pesticides were found in all soils, including the extensive grassland sites, demonstrating a widespread background contamination of soils with pesticides. The results suggest that after conversion from conventional to organic farming, the organic fields reach pesticide levels as low as those of grassland sites not until 20 years later. Furthermore, the different pesticide composition patterns in grassland sites and organically managed fields facilitated differentiation between long-term persistence of residues and diffuse contamination processes, that is, short-scale redistribution (spray drift) and long-scale dispersion (atmospheric deposition), to offsite contamination.