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Californians for Pesticide Reform: Twenty Year Anniversary Rally and Day of Action in the State Capitol

Please Listen to Tish Hinojosa’s song, “Something in the Rain”

Today, a new generation of teachers has awakened to the pesticide issue, and the embers of Farm without Harm have caught fire again. The new group, which meets once a month in Salinas and once a month in Watsonville, has named itself Safe Ag Safe Schools – SASS. And this growing group does have plenty of Sass, energy, and intelligence to move our cause forward.

A bit of history: In 1988 when I started teaching at Amesti Elementary in the Pajaro River Valley of South Santa Cruz County, California, my colleagues and I were only vaguely aware of the fact that pesticides were being used on the vast agricultural lands of the valley. The beauty of the valley and the excitement of having a good teaching job made it easy for me to repress my uneasiness about pesticides exposure.

IMG_6072But by the mid nineties, I could no longer hide from myself the fact that something was wrong at my school. Cancer, asthma, rashes, dizziness, miscarriages . . . I came to understand that two highly volatile toxic gases – methyl bromide and chloropicrin – were being injected into the soil of the strawberry fields just on the other side of the chain link fence from our school.

With growing concern, I participated in a forum on environmental health at the Louden Nelson Community Center in Santa Cruz where I met Gary Karnes, a pesticide activist from Monterey. Soon, I was attending meetings at the UFW offices in Watsonville with a group of teachers, parents, scientists, and concerned citizens. We formed a group, which  we named “Farm without Harm”,  to educate about pesticides and advocate for reform. Someone in the group reached out to Pesticide Action Network, an international organization based in San Francisco. PAN sent a full-time activist to the Monterey Bay to work with us.  It was around this time that Californians for Pesticide Reform was also created.

By 2000, the struggle over pesticide use near the schools had become so fierce and vicious that I, and many of the other teachers who were engaged in the struggle, left our jobs in the school district. In retrospect, I realize that our early work did help kick the door open for acceptance of organic agriculture in the Pajaro Valley. Today, the most successful organic vegetable grower in the valley is the uncle of one of my former third grade students from that era. Dick Peixoto of Lakeside Farms has personally acknowledged to me that it was we teachers who first got him thinking about going organic.

IMG_8735In 2010, under pressure to comply with the Montreal Protocol’s mandated phase-out of methyl bromide, the pesticide industry tried to roll out a chemical substitute that was even worse than the banned ozone-depleting chemical methyl bromide: methyl iodide.  Activists from the “early days” came out of the woodwork and helped to soundly quash the roll-out of the carcinogenic methyl iodide .

Farm without Harm no longer exists, but over the years since the founding of Farm without Harm, coalition building has been quietly moving forward. The Californians for Pesticide Reform is now a statewide coalition of more than 185 organizations.

Founded in 1996 to fundamentally shift the way pesticides are used in California, CPR’s mission is to protect public health, improve environmental quality and expand a sustainable and just agriculture system by building a diverse movement across California to change statewide and local pesticide policies and practices. CPR has built a diverse, multi-interest coalition to challenge the powerful political and economic forces opposing change. Member organizations include public health, children’s health, educational and environmental advocates, clean air and water organizations, health practitioners, environmental justice groups, labor, organizations, farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates. Members are actively engaged through a unifying four point platform: 1) eliminate use of the most dangerous pesticides 2) reduce use of and reliance on all pesticides 3) support safer, ecologically sound and more socially just forms of pest management 4) expand and protect the public’s right to know about pesticide use, exposure, and impacts.

The coalition is governed by a Steering Committee, currently comprised of:
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation
Center for Environmental Health
Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment
El Quinto Sol de America

Monterey Bay Central Labor Council
Pesticide Action Network
Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles

Going forward in 2016, I’m proud to be affiliated with our new SASS-y generation of Pajaro Valley teachers, many of whom participated in a rally this summer in our state capitol. You can find out more about SASS on their Facebook page < https://www.facebook.com/safeagsafeschools/  >and website < http://dev-safe-ag.pantheonsite.io/ >, designed by students at California State University Monterey Bay.

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On July 12, 2016, the Californians for Pesticide Reform 20th Anniversary  “Day of Action” Rally for pesticide reform took place in Sacramento. Farmworkers, teachers, citizens, doctors, legislators, scientists, seniors, and children made their way to the California  Environmental Protection Agency building in the state capitol, with boxes to present to the Department of Pesticide Regulation full of thousands of signatures on petitions and letters signed by over 200 organizations. Many people got up at 3 am and traveled hours on buses to attend the rally.

During the rally, I had the opportunity to make some meaningful and hopefully lasting connections with some very inspiring people, including a young doctor, and a group of amazing young women and future leaders who will start college in the fall.IMG_8664

The goal of the rally was to demand that the people who work for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation do the job they are paid for: to protect the people, and our children, from harmful pesticide exposure. We want the DPR to draft new regulations requiring a one mile pesticide-free buffer zone around all ag fields that are near schools. Please send them your comments!

Following are some scenes and video clips from the rally and the  luncheon at St. John Lutheran Church.IMG_8646

 

 

 

 

 

Video: Rally in Sacramento, CA – Californians for Pesticide Reform July 12, 1916 Introductory remarks by Dr. Ann Lopez

Video: State Assemblyman Dean Florez speaks of dedication, leadership, and “ganas” during luncheon award ceremony at St. John’s Lutheran Church

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Another 9-11

June 2 2015 DPR public workshop Salinas, CA

June 2, 2015 California Department of Pesticide Regulation public workshop Cesar Chavez Library Salinas, CA

Our Safe Strawberry Working Group met last night at the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council Offices in Salinas with the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner, Eric Lauritzen and seven other county, state, and federal pesticide regulatory officials. This meeting was a follow-up to the June 2 public meeting that overflowed the Cesar Chavez library in Salinas, one of  a series of workshops around the state conducted by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to solicit public input from the communities most affected by pesticide use near public schools.  IMG_6317

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Ag Commissioner Lauritzen began last night’s meeting with a request that the gathering be framed in a collaborative rather than an adversarial spirit. He gave assurances that county, state, and federal regulators are doing all they can to study the situation. Melissa, a teacher from Pajaro Valley’s Ohlone Elementary made it clear that, while the people in the room want to be respectful and collaborative, they have patiently waited for years for “further studies”. She told us about her colleague and friend who is battling cancer after teaching for years next to the fields, and she demanded immediate action to reduce pesticide exposure around schools, including implementation of mandatory one-mile buffer zones.IMG_6312

Buffer Zones Around Schools:
Currently, the state of  California has no standardized regulations regarding pesticide-free buffer zones between schools and chemical-intensive agricultural fields. Practice from one county to another varies widely. The state DPR representatives indicated that the matter is still “under study”, and that it will be a long time before their office sets any new rules for buffer zones. Safe Strawberry Working Group has countered with a proposal that, if the state cannot act to standardize adequate buffer zones in a timely manner, then the County ag commissioner should immediately set a buffer zone requirement of one mile for our local community.

State, County, and Federal Pesticide Regulators

Eric Lauritzen, Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner; Bob Roach Assistant Ag Commissioner; Karen Stahlman, Chief Deputy Ag Commissioner; Marylou Verder-Carlos, Assistant Director, California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR); George Farnsworth, Assistant Director, CDPR; Randy Segawa, Special Assistant, CDPR; Kathy Taylor, USEPA Region IX; Dr. Ed Moreno, Monterey County Public Health Officer

County Ag Commissioner Lauritzen stated that it is not within his power to set regulations on buffer zones.  One of the other officials said she thought that the city council and the planning commission are the agencies with that authority. However, according to Mark Weller, Director of the Safe Strawberry Working Group, it IS the legal authority of the county agricultural commissioner to make rules regarding buffer zones, granted in state code (Section 11503.5 of the Food and Agricultural Code), and city councils and planning commissions have no authority in pesticide matters. A representative of Sustainable Monterey challenged Lauritzen, stating that if the people asking him for better protection from pesticides were affluent white residents of Carmel rather than teachers and farmworkers from Salinas, he would act swiftly.

 A representative of the federal Environmental Protection Agency explained that all regulatory decisions have to be based on a careful cost-benefit analysis. She reminded the group that California agriculture provides a large percentage of California’s revenue. A person in the group asked where all that revenue is going,  and why can’t some of that money be used to provide better notification of pesticide applications to communities.IMG_6324

Call to Action:
According to Lauritzen, the Salinas school board recently purchased a tract of land adjacent to chemical-intensive agricultural fields on Boranda Road and plans to build a new school there. Lauritzen showed a map of the proposed school site. The group expressed incredulity and outrage.

IMG_6330There will be hearings in the near future about the proposed new school. All are urged to get involved by attending the hearings, as well as contacting the school board, the city council, and the planning commission. In addition, no matter where you live or how old you are, if you’re concerned about pesticide exposure near schools, please sign the Californians for Pesticide Reform petition calling for the Santa Cruz and Monterey County Agriculture Commissioners to require one mile buffer zones around schools.

Another 9-11:
A recent 9-11 call from school personnel who were afraid that a neighboring farmer was spraying toxic pesticides brought an immediate response of police and rescue personnel. The call was, according to the ag commissioner, an expensive false alarm: the spray the farmer was using while disking his field was water.  Everyone in the room agreed that more effective communication between growers and the community is needed.IMG_6316Observing the interaction between regulators and activists, I felt I perceived glimmers of the professional masks beginning to melt and crack open in the extreme heatwave we’ve been experiencing this week. There is still a wide gap between points of view, a lack of understanding between the two sides of the room, but I thought I saw glimpses last night of the real human faces under the masks – vulnerable, afraid. Worried about the future of their children, their families. Concerned about the future of agriculture, and the future of the world. I sensed in the room last night that everyone – pesticide regulators and citizens – has now at least started to hear on some level the 9-11 call that is going out all over the planet.

No one in the room last night mentioned Climate Change, but after the meeting I had a private conversation in the parking lot with one of the CAL DPR scientists. She told me that when the US does ban a toxic chemical, it’s usually re-marketed overseas –  that she’s from the Philippines and has experienced this in her own country. She acknowledged that the problems we now face with agriculture are not just local, but global. Chemical intensive ag, heavily dependent on fossil fuels from production to shipping and distribution, cannot be sustained. As our global climate changes, the geography of arable land is shifting. It’s urgent that we redesign our agricultural system now to adapt to the changes coming. We must learn how to frame this challenge collaboratively. We must learn how to grow food without further harming our land and ourselves. We must learn to see one another – all beings  – not as adversaries but as interconnected and interdependent relations, each an essential thread in the web of life.  This  is a 9-11 call for our planet. It is not a false alarm. We need to act now to save all that we love.

Pesticides And Schools Video (short)

Full Video from the meeting @ https://youtu.be/1cd2ubxHWNk

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Competition Finalist at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference

Mid July, I traveled to Seattle to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference, as a finalist in their annual writing competition. I spent four days in the Hilton, attending workshops, meeting people, and pitching my novel to agents and editors. The last evening of the conference, Joe flew up to join me at the awards banquet. After dinner, a couple of my favorite agents invited us to a private party in one of the rooms. Fun!

Mary Flodin Pacific Northwest Writers Association Finalist

Seattle Hilton Summit Ballroom Awards Dinner

Made some friends in the pitch practice sessions, where we coached one another. Some of the writers I most enjoyed interacting with were Raegyn Perry, Chantal Quincy, Lee Ann Ward, and Lisa Montali.

Pacific Northwest Writers Association friends

Chantal Quincy, left, discusses her intriguing life and her memoir with a captivating French accent. Raegyn Perry, right, will pull you into her compelling debut novel about love and time travel.

Pacific Northwest Writer Lee Ann Perry HiltonBreakfast

Alabama beauty Lee Ann Perry, published author and former editor, enjoys the Hilton’s opulent breakfast while telling us about her newest Young Adult mystery, set in New Orleans.

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Rain

“What is the Northwest? Anywhere the salmon can get to.” Timothy Egan. A Year Without Rain

This year, there is so little water in the streams and rivers that the Coho Salmon had to be rescued by volunteers from the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project.  San Lorenzo river cojo capture

In an area like California where water is in short supply, fracking is a terrible idea.

In an area like California where water is in short supply, fracking – an extremely water intensive fossil fuel extraction process – is a terrible idea.                                                                           Anti-Fracking demonstration in front of the Steinbeck Museum, Salinas, CA January, 2014.

Ground Hog Day. Today we had the first real rain all winter. Some say this may be our worst drought in the 155 years that records have been kept.  When people were raving about the beautiful, sunny weather in December and January, I wanted to participate in the joy and gratitude, but the weather has felt ominous to me. No rain during the rainy season, in a rainforest. I imagined I could hear the redwoods worrying. The land and plants have been looking so thirsty.

California needs water.

California needs water.

 

I remember our last drought in Central California – in the ’70’s. Everyone was aware of it, knew what it meant for our drinking water and our forests, and talked about conservation all the time. “Did you hear about our new local wine – P-no-poo-do?” No one flushed for number 1. People had buckets in their showers to catch the extra water. That awareness is strangely absent this time. But finally, the city of Santa Cruz, which is 100 percent dependent on local rainfall for its water supply, has created a drought-specific web page to build drought awareness and help city residents and businesses reduce water consumption during the ongoing drought. http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/index.aspx?page=2029

 

drought causes remarkable sunsets

Twin Lakes Beach, January, 2013.    This winter, the sunsets have been astonishingly beautiful, because of all the pollution that has accumulated in the air without winter rains to wash it away

Droughts, we’ve been told, are a cyclical occurrence in our area. But climate change is on people’s minds. Could this drought be evidence of climate change? Global weird-ing. What some scientists are now calling Climate Chaos, Climate Holocaust, Climate Armageddon. My novel, Fruit of the Devil, describes the great flood of 1999 on the Pajaro River.  It is predicted that climate change will bring unusually severe storms with increasing frequency, alternating with periods of drought. Are we ready for another “hundred year” flood?

Well, putting aside thoughts of doom, the rain this morning was beautiful. We celebrated the cozy feeling of being snug and warm in our little cottage, with the sound of rain on the skylights, by taking the time to prepare a real meal. It took us about 5 hours to go to market, prepare the food, eat, and wash up after the meal. Does real cooking take everyone that long? I guess that’s what the Slow Food movement is all about – reclaiming the personal time to nourish oneself and one’s family with real food – which requires a significant amount of time to prepare and to eat. The Straus Family Farm has a blog about the “True Time of Food Production” on their website.

We recently joined the Farm Fresh to You CSA.  (Community Supported Agriculture)  Our meal today grew out of the box of vibrant organic fruits and vegetables left at our doorstep a couple of mornings ago, plus our hens’ beautiful eggs. We had a frittata:

Organic Veggie Frittata: Preheat oven to 400. Saute in olive oil until soft and browned: onion, fresh garlic, thinly sliced baby butter creme potatoes, broccoli, leek, dinosaur kale, 1/4 fresh jalapeño, dash of sea salt, fresh spinach. Blend 8 fresh organic eggs, with 1/2 tsp sifted flour and a dollop of Straus sour creme or milk. Pour egg mixture over saute in pan. Lift from sides and slide liquid egg over until all egg is solid. Grate sharp Coastal Cheddar on top. Place pan in oven until egg has a golden brown crust, but is not dry. Serve with love, warmed salsa and jalapeños, Straus sour creme, avocado, and bacon or sausage. Take the time to fully savor the meal.

hand-made gnocchi

Foodie friends Jim and his daughter Mary take the time to prepare gnocchi by hand.

 

 

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Title Change and Revision

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Secret Wuksachi Swimmin' Hole

Secret Wuksachi Swimmin’ Hole

August already… the “golden rollin’ hills of California”

De Valle Regional Park, California

De Valle Regional Park, California

People have told me that my working title, Death of the Gecko, is confusing because it sounds like a story about the Southwest, which it is not. So, after brainstorming with a friend, I’ve adopted a new title – Fruit of the Devil. La Fruita del Diablo is what fresceros call the strawberries they harvest. What do you think? Does the new title work for a murder mystery about strawberries and pesticides?

I’ve been participating in an online group, Agent Query Connect, to refine my query letter. The newest critiques of my draft letter are beginning to suggest revisions that sound like the first draft, making me feel like the snake biting its tail. Maybe that means I’m getting close. I’ve begun compiling a list of possible agents, and trying to figure out what genre describes my story. Today, I think the genre “Upmarket Contemporary Women’s Fiction” fits best.

My biggest challenge at present, in revision, is cutting the length. It seems that no one wants to publish, buy or read fiction longer than 300 pages. I actually enjoy reading long books. How about you?

It’s already half way through August. As usual, summer in Santa Cruz has been foggy. We have gone long stretches where we haven’t seen the sun at all. The heat in the Central Valley interacts with the cold water evaporating over the ocean, creating a pump that pulls the fog on top of us.  By the end of July, the lack of summer sun was feeling so oppressive we had to get away.

Endangered Pacific Toad, Kings Canyon, California

Endangered Pacific Toad, Kings Canyon, California

We went to Del Valle Reservoir, in the East Bay near Livermore, with friends one day for glorious swimming and sun basking, and we went to our friend Jim’s cabin in Sequoia National Park a weekend in late July. Spent a day swimming in Hume Lake, and another day hopping from one exquisite High Sierra swimming hole to the next.

Friend Jim in Medicine Rock Hole, High Sierras

Friend Jim in Medicine Rock Hole, High Sierras

One of the best, a secret spot near Wuksachi Lodge. Closer to home, we made it to a couple of sunny swimming holes on the San Lorenzo River recently – one spot in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and another well known “secret” hole called the Garden of Eden. Check out this UTube video link. I bet you’ll like it. Ah, summer. swing

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A priest is murdered.

That’s the way the story starts. Death is on my mind tonight. My beloved Godmother, Grace, died on May 3rd. And I just learned today about the deaths of two of my friends.

Cecile, I knew was sick, but it never occurred to me she might die. She did, fairly suddenly, this week.

Barbara, I have gone along holding in my heart, the way we do those people we care about, but don’t often see . Having imagined conversations. Thinking, I should really call her one of these days. “Is Barbara going to be coming to the 1,000 Hummingbirds gathering this weekend?” I asked Jaime today. “Barbara? Oh, my goodness, she died three years ago. You didn’t know?” What a strange feeling, to discover that the connection I’ve felt to Barbara all this time was actually cut off years ago. Like the light from stars – it takes so long to reach us from out in the universe, we might be looking at a star that actually died eons ago.

My friend Cecile and I were talking with each other about the stories we were going to write, last time I saw her. Her story would have been wonderful. But she died without telling it. I feel such urgency to finish writing mine! How much time have any of us got, individually, and as a species? “The hour is getting late,” and we are all stardust.

 

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