Tag Archives: strawberries

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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Rough Cut: Prudenciana Elementary School

Rough Cut: {The True Story of “Prudenciana” Elementary School}

California history: Amesti history mural

A California History snapshot: Designed and painted by artist Guillermo Aranda, Mary Flodin, and Amesti GATE students in the late 1990’s, the mural above depicts the cultural and natural history of the land where the school was built, from the time of the native Ohlones through the Rancho period, to the present.

Prudenciana Elementary, where Aurora teaches, is a real school. It’s in the Pajaro River Valley, Watsonville, California, on the agricultural South end of Santa Cruz County. In the 90’s, it was surrounded by strawberry fields. Prudenciana is not the actual name of the school, of course. Can you guess what the school’s name really is?

The school is one of the oldest in the county. It was founded by Señora Prudenciana Amesti, wife of Señor Jose Amesti. Don Amesti owned of one of the magnificent grants of California land bestowed by the Mexican government in the 19th century. Amesti’s wife, Prudenciana, was a devout Catholic and a great supporter of education. After her husband’s death, she gifted some of her vast land holdings to the Church for the establishment of Our Lady of Help Church (“The Valley Church” – first Catholic church in the region) and for an orphanage overseen by the Catholic priests. She also gave land to the county for an elementary school named for her late husband.

The history of this school, site of one of the great Spanish Ranchos that define California history, is rich. So much backstory I want to share about the school, the church, and the orphanage has already been cut from my novel. Yet I feel that someone may be as interested in this history as I am. Am I the only one?

My editor says historical backstory slows down the movement of the novel. I believe her. She’s a pro. She knows today’s commercial fiction market. She wants me to rush readers to the end. They want page turners after all, right?

But isn’t that kind of like rushing through your life, skimming over the deep water, in a hurry to reach your death? Don’t we need to slow down and savor the details, the beauty, the mystery,  along the way? What do you think? Cut this?

Maybe I’ll post more of the fascinating history of Our Lady of Help Church, the orphanage and Prudenciana’s school here, in this blog. Would that be of interest to you?

students and teacher prepare to paint the mural

students and teacher prepare to paint the mural

Amesti History Mural

Mary Flodin and Amesti GATE students prepare to paint the Amesti History Mural, designed by Guillermo “Yermo” Aranda – Arts Council Santa Cruz County, Mary Flodin and their students.

Chapter 15. Monday, August 15, 1998.
Prudenciana Elementary

At Freedom Boulevard, Aurora exited Highway 1 and drove north toward Prudenciana Public Elementary School. She drank in the landscape of the Pajaro River Valley as if savoring the terroir of a good wine.

The little school nestled at the base of coastal foothills that had been thrust and twisted up from the sea geologic eons ago. An upraised scar on the face of the land, the foothills bore evidence of the epic clash of monumental tectonic plates. The Continental shelf forced the Pacific plate down, and the Pacific shoved back, pushed up from underneath, and caused the Continent’s skin to buckle and fold.

Through a deep gash in the scar, winter rains washed off the hills, down Corralitos Creek to Rio Pajaro. For centuries, Rainbow trout had been migrating downstream on spring rains, over the natural willow-lined bedrock of Corralitos to the Pajaro, pushing out through the rivermouth into Monterey Bay. And for centuries, adult Coho and Steelhead had been navigating back home by moon, stars, and scent from the vast Pacific Ocean, bringing the rich gift of nutrients from the sea to the people up stream.

Aurora parked and slid out of her Miata with only a little stiffness and pain. She stood for a moment in the parking lot, stretched, and rubbed the red, raised scar on her leg. The stitches had finally mostly dissolved.

Shreds of summer morning fog clung to the coastal hills. The bell tower of the original one room schoolhouse peaked  over the roofline of the new elementary school.

That first school had been built near the creek about 1880 on land donated by Señora Prudenciana and her daughters – but a small gift from Señora Prudenciana, whose rancho was one of the most extensive and beautiful of the Californio ranchos granted to favored elite by the new Mexican government after the closing of the missions.

The old schoolhouse had served the children of Italian and Portuguese fishermen and farmers. And the children of Mexicans, many of them displaced from their almost royal status as patrons of vast rancheros to become landless peasants. Children of the nearly invisible indigenous people, and of the industrious and prosperous Japanese, so adept at farming and fishing, attended the one room schoolhouse. The Filipinos came to fish, and the Croatians turned apple blossoms into gold. The Chinese came, hoping for gold. But forbidden by law to mine the yellow metal, instead, they built the railroad that connected East to West across the continent, and they settled in camps around the Monterey Bay called China Beach, and China Town, to fish and sell, and raise children more American than Chinese. The English, the Dutch, and the Irish brought their food, their customs, their gods and myths, and their children. And the one-room school served the children of every immigrant group, from every continent, of every creed, color, and culture who washed onto the shore in wave upon wave, hoping for a better life.

Around the schoolhouse, these pioneers fished the rivers, the streams and the bay, and planted apple orchards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and artichokes, flowers, berries and salad greens in the fertile alluvial soil, the black gold, gifted by the river gods of the abundant and generous Pajaro, River of the Birds.

In 1947, the parcel of land where the historic one-room schoolhouse stood had been sold to a family who’d restored and preserved the building. On an adjoining parcel, also part of Prudenciana’s original gift, a modern elementary school was built. Heritage apple orchards surrounding the school were torn out to make way for lucrative strawberry fields. Otherwise, not much had changed in the hundred years since the schoolhouse first opened its doors to the children of the Valley.

Aurora loved teaching California history to fourth graders in this historic location. Thinking about the school and the land, she smiled to herself, hefted her book bag over her shoulder, and set her course across the parking lot for the school library, and the first faculty meeting of the year.

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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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Organic and Sustainable Agriculture – Re-Designing the Food System

I’ve taken the last 6 months away from my novel to go back to classroom teaching in the Pajaro River Valley. My middle school classroom – a well-equipped computer lab in a state-of-the-art Google Classroom paperless school – is surrounded by agricultural fields. Many of my 7th and 8th grade students are children of freseros – strawberry workers.

I received a call to come back to Pajaro Valley School District for this one semester position because a dear colleague and old friend of mine was unable to finish the year and needed a replacement. She was stricken with a bone cancer linked to pesticides used around the school where she taught for over thirty years.

[Addendum: I wrote this post in May, 2015. I’m very sorry to say my friend and colleague Betty Geesman, died of Multiple Myeloma in June. ]

I feel as though my novel has come alive and I’ve stepped into its pages. The school where I’m teaching is at the epicenter of Fruit of the Devil. The bell of Our Lady of Help Church tolls hourly, just across the highway. And the St. Francis, the Catholic high school built upon the site of an Ohlone burial ground, which provides backstory for one of my main characters, is on the other side of the cyclone fence from my computer lab.

I’ve been shocked to find that so many of my students appear to be in a state of extreme mental and emotional chaos – more so than the average middle school adolescent. Attention deficit, hyperactivity, and Autism spectrum disorders are rampant. There are obviously many factors contributing to this, including poor nutrition and the proliferation of the cell phones, mp3 players, and the Chrome Book laptops to which every student is now constantly connected. But according to recent research findings, it is likely that much of the neurological anomalies we are seeing in the Central California schools are caused by long-term exposure to pesticide neurotoxins.

According to a soon-to-be-released California Health Report article < http://www.healthycal.org/ > Dangerous Drift by Lily Dayton:

In 1999, researchers from UC Berkeley began studying how pesticides affect the health of people living in the Salinas Valley. Researchers have studied hundreds of Latino families
who work in agriculture. Mothers in the study had higher levels of metabolites from
organophosphate pesticides in their urine than women in the general population. Related to chemicals developed during World War II for nerve gas, organophosphates are neurotoxins.
Children of mothers with the highest levels of organophosphates were more likely to have developmental problems, including abnormal reflexes, autism-related conditions, low IQ
and indicators of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the study found.

Mixtec Immigrant Picking Strawberries

I thought that when I returned to the Pajaro Valley to teach, I’d be able to interest other teachers in the struggle to reform pesticide exposure around the schools. It’s been discouraging to find that everyone is overwhelmed by the stressful demands of the job, and few teachers want to discuss the subject of pesticide exposure or even think about it.

Nevertheless, it was a source of tremendous hope to reconnect recently with Dick Pexiote, the uncle of one of my students 20 years ago when teachers, parents and community members founded Farm without Harm to promote organic agriculture. Dick is the owner of Lakeside Organics, the largest family-owned and operated solely organic vegetable grower/shipper in the US. When I dropped by his Watsonville office one afternoon after school about a month ago, he welcomed me and told me he remembered very well the teachers’ fight to end pesticide drift. He said it was partly our efforts that first got him thinking seriously about going organic. Dick’s courageous transition, when fellow growers told him he’d “lost his marbles”, has not only been an inspiration to many others, but has also turned out to be a very profitable business decision.

In the 1990’s conventional growers were calling Organic Agriculture a “Communist Plot” and telling those of us with the dream of a model sustainable agricultural valley to, “Go back to Cuba”. Today, 30% of Santa Cruz County’s agriculture is organic. When Farm without Harm was founded in the mid 90’s, we teachers  proposed writing grants to help family farmers make the costly transition to organic. Now, there are millions of dollars in state grants available to farmers who want to transition to sustainable food production practices. Societal change can take a long time. But I  hear the voice of my favorite teacher, the late Dr. Kenneth Norris, saying, “Never give up.”

Farm without Harm no longer exists, but Pesticide Action Network, the organization that helped us file pesticide use permit challenges back in the 90’s, is now part of a broad coalition of environmental groups under the umbrella Californians for Pesticide Reform.

The CPR coalition has asked California Department of Pesticide Regulation to focus on development of a statewide policy to protect school children, staff and families from agricultural pesticide use near schools, parks and homes.

This spring and early summer the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) will conduct a series of workshops around the state to solicit public input from the communities most affected by pesticide use near public schools. 

Everyone who is concerned about childhood and community pesticide exposure should take this opportunity to attend a workshop where you can meet face to face with the state regulators. Together we can make real change! Please come out and make your voice heard. We need to fill the halls!

Workshops are scheduled for:

May 28th: Cal EPA Building, Sierra Room  
                  1001 I Street
                  SACRAMENTO, CA 95814
3:00 pm: Grower & pesticide applicator issues
5:30 pm: Community, parent, & teacher issues (with simultaneous Spanish translation)
June 2nd: Cesar Chavez Library
                  615 Williams Rd.
                  SALINAS, CA 93905
3:00 pm: Grower & pesticide applicator issues
5:30 pm: Community, parent, & teacher issues (with simultaneous Spanish translation)
 
June 3rd: Ventura County Govt. Center
                  Board of Supervisors Room
                  800 South Victoria Ave.
                  VENTURA, CA 93009
3:00 pm: Grower & pesticide applicator issues

June 3rd: Rio Mesa High School Library
                 545 Central Ave.
                 OXNARD, CA 93036
7:00 pm: Community, parent, & teacher issues (with simultaneous Spanish and Mixteco (Baja) translation)
June 4th: Kern County Library – Lamont Branch
                 8394 Segrue Rd.
                 LAMONT, CA 93241
3:00 pm: Grower & pesticide applicator issues
5:30 pm: Community, parent, & teacher issues (with simultaneous Spanish translation)

June 9th: City of Coachella Corporate Yard
                 53-462 Enterprise Way
                 COACHELLA, CA 92236
3:00 pm: Grower & pesticide applicator issues
5:30 pm: Community, parent, & teacher issues (with simultaneous Spanish translation)

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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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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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Summer Fruit

I’m thinking of adding a tag line to the title of my novel: The Death of the Gecko, “Fruit of the Devil”, “La Fruta del Diablo”. That’s what the freseros, the people who pick in the strawberry fields, call strawberries.

organic raspberries from our urban farmStrawberries are a beautiful fruit, and very nutritious, when grown organically. Fruit is one of the great gifts of summertime.

Our blueberries and raspberries are bountiful this year.Blueberry harvest!

 Can’t keep up with harvesting them!  And our new Santa Rosa plum tree, planted last year by orchard guru Mathew Sutton of Orchard Keepers, has suddenly exploded with sweet ripe plums.  The pears grow bigger every day.

Our pear tree. Fruit coming in.

An essential principal of Permaculture ethics is to redistribute surplus. So, it was such a delight today to have Rachel come over for eggs.

Rachel with eggs from our hens

I sent her home not only with a dozen beautiful organic eggs from our happy hens, but also with a bag of fresh picked salad greens, purslane, kale, plums, and blueberries.

She reminded me how healing and wonderful it is to connect with food from the source, when that opportunity isn’t usually available. Later, another egg friend came over with apricots fresh picked from her tree, and I sent her home with a bag of plums. Simple connections, but so satisfying. Happy Summertime.

Henny Penny and Rachel

 

 

 

 

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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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