Tag Archives: methyl bromide

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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CITIZEN RESEARCHER

Is Your Child Being Exposed to Dangerous Pesticides?

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U.S. EPA Chief Pruitt just gave the okay to Chlorpyrifos, a brain harming pesticide the agency knows to be extremely dangerous to children. Want to know what else is your child is being exposed to? HERE’S HOW TO Become a CITIZEN RESEARCHER.

“Kids today are sicker than they were a generation ago, and a growing body of scientific evidence points to pesticides as a reason why. From childhood cancers to learning disabilities and asthma, a wide range of childhood diseases and disorders are on the rise.”
A Generation in Jeopardy,
How pesticides are undermining our children’s health & intelligence[1]

What’s the Problem?

I’ve been a teacher in agricultural communities in Central California for over twenty-five years. I’ve seen first-hand the abnormally high incidence of child cancers, and the rising rate of autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, respiratory and autoimmune diseases.

In October, 2015, two schools in the Pajaro Valley School District were exposed to pesticide drift when a pesticide application was made to strawberry fields during school hours. In an exchange between the teachers and the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner, we learned that the carcinogens telone (1,3-dichloropropene) and chloropicrin – both banned in the European Union – were applied within one mile of the school while classes were in session.

Teachers, staff and children experienced watering eyes, wheezing and difficulty breathing, dizziness, blurred vision, headache, and nausea. According to the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Management Pesticide Education Program[2], the symptoms that teachers and students experienced the day of the pesticide application are typical signs of poisoning by organophosphate pesticides – a class of poisons commonly used near the school. Nevertheless, the agricultural commissioner’s response to community concern was that, “the applications were made consistent with pertinent laws, regulations and permit conditions.”

When we ask school, corporate, and government officials to tell us what dangers our children are being exposed to through the food they eat and the schools they attend, the answer is usually, “Everything is perfectly safe. Don’t worry about a thing. There is no problem here, whatsoever.” But what if your instincts tell you everything is not “perfectly safe”?

How can you find out for yourself what’s really going on? In California, you have the legal right to access pesticide use records.

After the exposure at the two schools in my district last Fall, I contacted the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and requested pesticide use reports.

Citizens at pesticide hearingWhat I Found Out

In addition to the two carcinogens that the Agricultural Commissioner admitted were used next to the schools, I found that many other EPA Category 1 restricted use acutely toxic pesticides are being regularly applied in close proximity to both schools. Following are some of the worst of those toxins:

Santa Cruz County Pesticide Use Permits 2016

Pesticide

Use

Toxicity

alumminum phosphide: gophers (may also kill hawks and other birds) EPA Acute Toxicity Class I Restricted Use Chemical; heart, lungs, central nervous system; gastrointestinal tract; liver; kidneys[3]
cabaryl (“Sevin”)

       (Bayer)

a wide-spectrum carbamate insecticide (highly toxic to honeybees, crustaceans, fish, aquatic insects) carcinogen; affects nervous and respiratory systems; reduces sex hormones; reproductive toxin; affects the lungs, kidneys and liver; behavioral and neurological damage; mutagen; suspected a viral enhancer; immune suppressant; has been detected in muddy banks and groundwater
 

chloropicrin (“tear gas”)

 

a highly toxic and reactive soil fumigant (gas) with a tendency to drift far from intended target Class 1 Acute Toxicity; carcinogen; suspected reproductive & developmental toxin; inflames airways and respiratory system
 

chlorpyrifos (“Lorsban” “Dursban”)

 

 

  (Dow Chemical)

 

In June 2000 EPA and Dow AgroSciences agreed to stop sale of many uses of chlorpyrifos due to its health risk. March 2017 US EPA Chief Pruitt gave ok for resumption of widespread agricultural use

 

 

acutely toxic to bees, birds, mammals, aquatic life

 

“A 1996 study of children exposed to chlorpyrifos in utero found that extensive and unusual patterns of birth defects, including brain, nervous system, eyes, ears, palate, teeth, heart, feet, nipples, and genitalia.” [4]

 

may affect the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and respiratory system; skin and eye irritant. Symptoms of exposure can include numbness, tingling sensation, incoordination, dizziness, vomiting, sweating, nausea, stomach cramps, headache, vision disturbances, muscle twitching, drowsiness, anxiety, slurred speech, depression, confusion. Has been linked to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).

 

glyphosate (“Roundup”)

   (Monsanto)

 

MIT researchers released a study in Winter, 2014 linking use of glyphosate with rising rate of autism

 

 

methomyl

 

(You do the research.)
 

methyl bromide
http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/haloxyfop-methylparathion/methyl-bromide-ext.html   [5]

 

banned by the Montreal Protocal on Ozone Depleting Substances and scheduled for phase-out by the year 2000 but still widely used on strawberries; a Class 1 Ozone depleting chemical; significant greenhouse gas

 

prone to drift; a gas fumigant against insects, termites, rodents, weeds, nematodes, and soil-borne diseases; used to fumigate agricultural commodities, grain elevators, mills, ships, clothes, furniture and greenhouses

 

toxic to aquatic organisms

Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP) because of its high acute toxicity to applicators. Readily absorbed through the lungs. Effects range from skin and eye irritation to death.   Cumulative poison. Symptoms may include headache, dizziness, nausea, chest and abdominal pain, and a dry throat, slurred speech, blurred vision, temporary blindness, mental confusion, and sweating, lung swelling; irritates eyes and skin; rashes, itching and blisters; congestion; hemorrhaging of the brain, heart, and spleen; severe kidney damage; and numbness; fluid accumulation in the lungs, paralysis, and kidney, liver, and nervous system damage; vision and hearing disturbances, depression, confusion, hallucinations, euphoria, personality changes, and irritability. Depression of the central nervous system. Can affect muscle control and behavior. Other targets of the fumigant are the heart, nasal cavities, adrenal gland, and the testis. Evidence indicates that methyl bromide is a mutagen & carcinogen.
 

oxydemetonmethyl

 

(see what you can find)
 

paraquat
(agent of chemical warfare)

 

(Google it – be sure you fact check.)
 

pyrethrins

 

toxic to bees (You can research more.)
 

telone (1,3-dichloropropene)

 

carcinogen

Many of these pesticides were developed for chemical warfare. Why are we waging chemical warfare on our school children?

Exposing a child or pregnant mother to just one of these poisons is unconscionable. What about serving up a multi-poison potion for our children to breathe while they are trying to get an education? Methyl Bromide, Chloropicrin, and Telone are well-known by the agricultural industry to be synergistic when used together to kill soil-borne organisms, which is why they are usually combined to fumigate the strawberry fields. Wouldn’t exposure to the combined chemicals also magnify toxicity to humans? “No problem. Don’t worry. Everything is perfectly safe.” Really?

A new report released by researchers at UCLA, “Exposure and Interaction: Potential Health Impacts of Using Multiple Pesticides,”[6] documents the synergistic effects of pesticides used in combination. Current pesticide assessment and regulation has not addressed the potential synergistic risk of multiple pesticide exposure even though “the California Environmental Quality Act (1970) mandates that Department of Pesticide Regulation identify and evaluate significant cumulative impacts of the use of a pesticide.”[7] The long-overdue UCLA case study focuses on the toxicological responses to mixtures of three chemicals commonly used in our area: Telone (1,3-dichloropropene), chloropicrin, and metam sodium. The rigourous scientific study finds “greater than additive enhancement” of cancer risk and neurological damage and recommends further study and enactment of regulation based on new information about the impacts of multiple chemical exposures.

We have been told for decades by regulatory agencies that there is not sufficient data to support the assertion that pesticides cause significant harm to people and environment. Yet a large body of peer-reviewed studies going back to Rachel Carson’s work would argue otherwise. Will this newly-published UCLA research be glossed over and forgotten by our regulatory agencies as many other studies have been? Perhaps. It’s up to us.

Citizens for Pesticide ReformIt’s Up To Us

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation is currently drafting long-delayed new policy regarding pesticide applications near schools. The DPR will most likely ignore the new UCLA research findings . . . unless they hear from us. Ultimately, most of us would like to see a complete transition to socially just, environmentally sustainable organic and agro-ecological practices. But for now, we are asking for increased buffer zones around schools, drift monitoring, and notification prior to pesticide applications.

We need more Citizen Researchers to find out what’s really happening near our schools, behind the smoke screen that “everything is perfectly safe.” And we need to get involved in shaping new policies – “pertinent laws, regulations and permit conditions” – that reflect current scientific research and findings about pesticide exposure and other forms of chemical trespass.

Do you want to know the truth about chemical exposure in your community? Become a Citizen Researcher, share your discoveries and demand that public policy reflects current scientific findings. We have a right to know, and to raise our children in healthy communities.

Footnotes

[1] Schafer K, Marquez E, et al. 2013. A Generation in Jeopardy: How Pesticides are Undermining our Children’s Health & Intelligence. Pesticide Action Network North America. http://scruzclimact.pbworks.com/

 

[2] http://psep.cce.cornell.edu/Tutorials/core-tutorial/module09/index.aspx

 

[3] http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/24d-captan/aluminum-phosphide-ext.html
[4]https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pesticides/factsheets/Chlorpyrifos.pdf

 

[5] http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/haloxyfop-methylparathion/methyl-bromide-ext.html

 

[6] Zaunbrecher V, Hattis D, Melnick R, Malloy T, et al. 2015. Exposure and Interaction: The Potential Health impacts of Using Multiple Pesticides. University of California Los Angeles School of Law and the Fielding School of Public Health Sustainable Technology & Policy Program.

 

 

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When Will Your Novel Be Published? When Can I Read It?

Thanks for your continued interest in my novel!

I had to take an online teaching job this year to make some money, so I didn’t get to work on revisions  as much as I wanted to – but, maybe it’s a good thing to let it “cool off” awhile.

I’m currently on REVISION 10. I’ve cut away a lot – whole scenes and even a character, but still need to trim more.

I worked with an excellent Mystery/Thriller writer editor this year who told me “you have a very credible, tight little mystery here, but just get rid of the rest of that stuff. No one but you mother will want to read it.”  I also worked with a SCI FI Fantasy writer/editor (who coached the author of Twilight and also the author of the great fantasy series Wheel of Time, among other notables).  He  helped me integrate the future-time disconnect/other world elements more smoothly into the story.

Since first starting to write four years ago, I’ve been to several helpful writer’s conferences, where I’ve pitched to agents. Mostly, the agents  are interested, and say they want to see it when it’s ready, but they’re concerned about the length and also don’t understand what genre to call it.

I’ve signed a contract to send the ms this month to a private editor who I originally I met at the San Francisco Writers Conference, then connected with again at the Women Writing in the Redwoods Retreat. She worked for years for one of the big New York publishers as a hot shot in-house editor. But she’s a local Monterey Bay girl, an ocean swimmer, whose husband’s relative worked in the strawberry fields! (In other words, I think she “gets” it.) She’s come home to the Monterey Bay with a new baby and is now working as an independent editor. She thinks my novel has “potential for commercial success”.  She’s HELLA expensive – I’m about to blow much of my life savings to have her edit the thing. (It has crossed my mind to try an indie-go-go or kickstarter fundraiser to pay for all this. Any suggestions?)

But come what may, I’m  OBSESSED with getting this novel completed, and out there. I’ve been worried that the story is too old, no longer of interest. But at last night’s Safe Strawberry meeting, I was astounded to discover that NONE of the issues we dealt with in the 90’s have been resolved, and the new activists are repeating our mistakes. I believe our history needs to be known so we can build on it!

Once I get back my editor’s comments and finish this round of revisions, I’m going to start looking for an agent. I’m giving myself a year to sell it. If no go, then I’m committed to self-publishing.

Your comments, likes and shares would be ENORMOUSLY helpful!

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New State Report on Pesticide Use Near Schools

I just drove home, on this beautiful full moon California night in June, from a meeting at the AFL-CIO Labor Hall in Salinas with the Safe Strawberry Working Group. When I got home, I said hello to my dogs, poured three fingers of Chivas Regal in my glass, and read over the news and information about the new state pesticide report.

According to the new state study, Agricultural Pesticide Use Near Public Schools in California, authored by the California Department of Public Health, released in April, 2014, “over the past 20 years, incidence of many serious childhood diseases has risen dramatically. Health professionals tell us that we have a ‘silent pandemic’ of learning disabilities and disorders including autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Certain childhood cancers – such as brain cancer and leukemia – are increasing, as are rates of childhood obesity and diabetes. On the Central Coast, researchers have demonstrated a link between exposure to pesticides and a reduction in children’s IQ. Science now points to pesticide exposure as a contributing factor – and in some cases, a key driver – of these trends. Over 500,000 students attend school within 1/4 mile of highly hazardous pesticide use; 118,000 students go to schools within 1/4 mile of the heaviest use of these pesticides. There are 137 county schools, with 73,876 students, within a quarter-mile of the highest concentration (319 to 28,979 pounds) of pesticides used.1 in 4 Monterey schoolchildren (the highest percentage in all of California) go to school within ¼ mile of heavy use of highly hazardous pesticides. Latino children are 91% more likely to be in heavy use areas than white children.” ( see Californian article: http://bit.ly/1johQE0    and Herald article http://bit.ly/1lnKTfm )

In response to the report, Monterey County Farm Bureau Executive Director Norm Groot wrote in a Monday column in The Californian, “The report makes no claim that children are being adversely affected by farming activities, but only implies that, by proximity, the use of agricultural chemicals near schools is automatically a bad thing. The perception this report infers is that use equals risk, which is falsely implied by not providing proper context of the regulatory process that exists to protect against exposure incidents.”

Norm’s statement is PURE BULLSHIT. Orwellian doublespeak. Meaningless obfuscation in a belittling tone, intended to confuse and make the listener/reader feel stupid and uninformed. The sentence is nonsense. The report infers a perception?  Non sequitur!   (a report can’t infer anything – utter b.s.)  “…falsely implied by not providing proper context of the regulatory process….”  Go back to English composition class, Norm.

I’m not usually so hard on my English students, but this guy is trying to pull a trick that’s so old it’s irritating; “Talk down to them, use pseudo-scientific/technical language and double talk to make them think they’re dumb and they don’t understand.” Nope. Not buying it. Let me give it to you in plain language, Norm. Here’s the deal: Pesticides are poison. It is insane to poison our kids. The pesticide poisoning needs to stop. Stop pretending you don’t understand, that the context is “improper”, or that you need “more research”. Cut the bull.

This report is nothing new. The issue of pesticide exposure around schools and in residential neighborhoods has been studied over and over again, for decades. See my blog entry on the DPR Permit Challenge Hearing we had in the Pajaro Valley on this issue in the 90’s.

Way back in 1989, Cesar Chavez said, “In the old days, miners would carry birds with them to warn against poison gas. Hopefully, the birds would die before the miners. Farm workers are society’s canaries.  Farm workers – and their children – demonstrate the effects of pesticide poisoning before anyone else.” Whenever people get interested in the issue again, a new study is proposed, then released with hoopla. There is some discussion about the “findings”, and then the issue blows over until next time, when a new study is called for with great fanfare. Then it’s critiqued; then dismissed or forgotten. We’ve had enough studies. We have peer reviewed scientific papers documenting the health effects of pesticide exposure: cancer, brain damage, nerve damage, respiratory failure, miscarriages, birth defects, and death. We need real change. Now. We need to transition completely away from chemical-intensive mono-crop industrial-style agriculture, and move to a sustainable ecological food system as soon as possible.

Eric Lauritzen, Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner, quibbles over details. Timing, he says. Timing schmiming – an hour before or after school? WTF! Never, Norm. Never on school days. Read my lips. Never apply pesticides near schools on school days.  And the ag comish claims that the report “… inflames rather than informs.” Apparently, the report is not inflammatory enough, Mr. Lauritzen, or you would act. You see, People, our agricultural commissioner has the power to mandate much safer practices, immediately – such as buffer zones at least 1/4 mile wide, no pesticide applications on school days,  72 hour pre-notification to all residents, schools, hospitals, and work places within drift range of all pesticide applications, large and clear fog-and-waterproof signs in Spanish and English posted on fumigated and sprayed fields.

Oh, but the ag comish and the Farm Bureau Director were up in Sacramento just as this report was being released, to derail SB1411 – a bill that would have required notification of schools and residents prior to fumigant, aerial and air-blast pesticide applications, and would have required that pesticide “do not enter” signs include the name of the pesticide, the phone number of the local agricultural commissioner and the expiration date of the sign. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would have provided greater protection to farmworkers and would have assisted first responders in an emergency. The bill was defeated. Shsssss. Don’t tell. Don’t tell people when you’re going to poison them. We don’t want them to know. Does that remind you of anything? Like, the abuser, pedophile, or wife beater, for example, who always says, “shhusssss. Don’t tell anyone.” That’s sick. Yep. It’s about time we scream ’til we’re heard and we get some help. Time to start screaming about this, everyone. This time, don’t stop screaming ’til we get a real, complete 911 rescue from the poison.

Come on. Just do it, Mr. Lauritzen. Mandate 1/4 mile or wider buffer zones, no school day applications, and proper notification. You can do it. You have the power. It would be the right thing to do. You know it. You’re just scared to rock the boat. Right? Sorry, but the boat is going to be rockin’ way more than you may expect, maybe sooner than you think. Did you know that methyl bromide, the fumigant used on strawberry fields, is an ozone depleting chemical, banned by international treaty?  Yet it’s still in use more than a decade after it was banned because strawberries are such a lucrative crop in California that congress grants the growers “critical exemptions” to apply the banned substance. By the way, methyl bromide is also a dangerous greenhouse gas – a serious contributor to global warming.

Here’s something else you need to stop pretending you don’t believe: If we have any chance at all as a species to preserve our global food security and mitigate inevitable mass human die-offs from climate-change induced world-wide famines, we need to immediately redesign and shift our food production as well as our energy systems. Commercial, chemical-intensive strawberry production poisons people and destroys the soil. It relies on dangerous petrochemicals that drive global warming. It’s far too water intensive.  It fosters unjust political-economic conditions. The planet cannot continue to support these unsustainable practices. Big beautiful strawberries will be one of the first things thrown overboard as our boat sinks and over 50% of our biodiversity becomes extinct. “Get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand. The times, they are a’changing.”

Meanwhile, BUY ORGANIC! Go down to the Redman House Farm stand on the way to Palm Beach – or to your nearest Farmers’ Market – and buy some organic strawberries. They are big, they are beautiful, they are delicious, they are NOT poison, and the their workers and the kids nearby weren’t poisoned either.

 

 

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Meeting Agents

I’m at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. Today was Agent’s Day. I met with five agents, who each read my first five pages and heard my pitch. All of the agents were shocked and amazed by the fact that methyl bromide and chloropicrin are still being used to grow strawberries. All felt strongly that the story needs to be told.

I’m sending my manuscript to a professional thriller editor this month, for the final revision and polishing. Then it goes out to the agents.

If you’re interested in receiving a free advance copy, let me know.

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Coming Out: Exultation and Sorrow

Yesterday I Came Out. Five of my very knowledgeable and astute friends accepted copies of the First Draft of The Death of the Gecko to read and critique. After writing “in the closet” for two and a half years, it was a very exhilarating and scary feeling to expose my work to other people.

Being a retired writing teacher, I provided my dear readers with a Rubric. Several readers were willing to work with a PDF version of the manuscript, and two of my readers requested hard copies. Emailing proved to be iffy for such a large file size, so I ended up putting the entire first draft of my novel up on the web as a downloadable PDF. Talk about feeling exposed! But now that it’s up there, I’m starting to think about just being open to letting anyone read the manuscript who wants to. For now, I’m not really advertising that it’s there. But it is out there! If you feel like taking a look, I’d love it! If you do download and read the manuscript, I would very much appreciate your comments!

What I am still really hoping for is that someone might visit my BLOG and make a comment. So far, no visitors… Hello? Anyone there?

Why Sorrow? A very shocking and tragic event occurred yesterday, the day of my “coming out”. One of the people who had agreed to review/critique my manuscript is my dear friend and writing mentor, Don Rothman.

Don was a Bay Area Writing Project teacher and mentor. He taught many teachers, including myself, how to teach writing. And Don is actually one of the spiritual Fathers of my novel. Here’s why: Right after I retired from teaching, I was harvesting grapes in the Santa Barbara hills at Condor’s Hope Ranch with Don, Sarah Rabkin, and other friends. While we picked grapes, we talked about Sarah’s outstanding online oral history project for UCSC on the organic farming movement. I mentioned that Farm Without Harm hadn’t been included in the stories. So, Don and Sarah encouraged me to write the story myself – the story of Farm without Harm and the parents and teachers in Watsonville who challenged conventional strawberry growers’ permits to fumigate near schools with methyl bromide. That conversation among the grape vines catalyzed the creation of my novel, The Death of the Gecko.

Don stayed in touch, with periodic encouragement, while I wrote. Yesterday, he was planning to come to my house to pick up a hard copy of the manuscript. He seemed genuinely excited about reading the novel. I was thrilled that he was willing to do a whole manuscript critique. The evening before last, he emailed me to make final arrangements for coming over the next day. Then, about an hour before he was due to arrive, I got a phone call from a tearful Robbie Gliessman of Condor’s Hope. She was calling from Don’s house, at the request of his wife, to tell me that Don had passed away in his sleep that night.

Shock. Sorrow. Don was in his 60’s. That seems too young. It’s always so hard to loose the good people. Don was an outstanding human being. So interested in Life, and in others, generous with his time and his wisdom. Brimming over with knowledge, insight, and good humor. Thank you, Don, for your friendship and mentorship. You are missed.

Such a loss takes the breath away. So hard to adjust to the fact that one so vital and present has suddenly vanished. Life is so precious and ephemeral. Every breath is sweet. What a gift to be a human being on Planet Earth, to be, as Kurt Vonnegut says, “standing up mud”, able to look around, see the sparkling water, smell the redwoods, hear the rain, touch someone you love … if only for a brief time. Such a gift. Thank you.

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