Posts Tagged 'Personal Stories'

Ron Speaks Truth about Pesticides

It started when we joined with Adam Vega for the founding of the Ventura County Coalition Advocating Pesticide Safety (VC-CAPS) in 2018. Adam introduced us to Californians for Pesticide Reform and we started sitting in on the “Alternatives Call”.  A big opportunity came up when Governor Newsom formed a new group under the Department of Pesticide Regulation called the Sustainable Pest Management Work Group with an assignment for a multi-stakeholder group to develop a framework for moving away from toxic pesticide use.  The group got more acquainted in July during its first field trip to farms in Watsonville.

CA Sustainable Pest Management Work Group visits the Driscoll's Research Farm in Watsonville on July 21, 2021.
SPM Work Group at Driscoll’s Research Farm July 21, 2021.

Ron is challenging the compromises society has made with polluting industries. He is calling for honest science to support rational pest management decisions. There is broad representation in the work group from commodity groups, pesticide manufacturers, and environmental justice leaders fighting to protect farm workers.  Ron is an ally of farm workers, a scientist and licensed professional Pest Control Adviser, whose outlook is that our life support system is failing and we have an existential imperative to change or write off our species.

While some around the table in such discussions believe it’s about ensuring that people follow the pesticide label to be safe, Ron cites the long-standing corruption at the US Environmental Protection Agency that registers products and decides how safe they are. They do that by simply asking pesticide manufacturers to supply the results of their trials to measure effectiveness and toxicity. The companies do the trials or they contract with specialized labs.

It’s becoming apparent that he who pays the piper calls the tune. A number of labs have been caught faking the data. The registration of Roundup (glyphosate) is a good example. Monsanto admitted that the toxicity study was flawed and agreed to repeat it, but never did. Monsanto made a science of how to do bad science. What is the extent of this misrepresentation? How many pesticides should have been put into higher toxicity classes—danger instead of warning or caution? Or should it have never been registered because it is just too toxic?  The evidence is mounting that no pesticide is safe when used according to label directions.  As Ron says, “The EPA needs a sticker or a rubber stamp that says ‘Incompatible with Life’ to stamp on applications based on questionable science.  Major industries that pollute and harm living things with impunity need to be shut down.”

The pesticide labels are one problem. The process of permitting at the field level is also in question. There is no way for farm workers and people on or near farms to know when there will be a spray and what the pesticide is. Farm workers have a right to know even if the label is based on fake safety studies.  VC-CAPS new leader Teresa Gomez organized a meeting with the Ventura County Agriculture Commissioner and deputies last week .  It was a positive discussion about how to protect farm workers and their families in the area around local farms. We were encouraged to propose a pilot project for text notification of sprays.

Source: Amadeo Sumano Sept 24 Oxnard 🌍🌍Essentials (🙌💯💯🍓🍓. Saludo de parte de nuestra comunidad campesinas locales 😊💯.
Source: Amadeo Sumano, Oxnard, CA Sept 24, 2021

We believe that if those who want to use chemicals that could poison people, wildlife, soil microbes, bees, beneficials, bats, butterflies–if they were required to notify workers and neighbors in advance, there would be a lot less unnecessary use of toxic pesticides.  The users of toxic pesticides would be motivated to learn agroecological systems that prevent pests and disease, i.e. cultural practices to grow healthy plants that resist pests, habitat enhancements for natural biological control and beneficial releases when nature is a little too little and a little too late.

All this talk may not get us too far, but it’s good to be at the table.

Ron Serving on California Work Group to Promote IPM

Thanks to Kimberly Rivers for a great little article about our in-house Pest Control Advisor Ron Whitehurst on an adventure with various pest management experts from around the state co-creating a common vision for a paradigm shift in pest management. Ron brings unique knowledge and experience about why IPM does not need to include any dangerous pesticides. Here is Kimberly’s article:

BUG GROWER JOINS STATE SUSTAINABLE PEST MANAGEMENT WORK GROUP I RON WHITEHURST TO HELP REDUCE CHEMICAL USE ACROSS STATE

May 12, 2021 | Kimberly RiversNewsVentura |  |     

Last month West Ventura resident Ron Whitehurst, pest control advisor and co-owner of Rincon-Vitova Insectaries Inc., was named to a new 26-member working group aimed at shifting the state’s agricultural operations away from the use of harmful chemicals, a stated goal of Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

“Transitioning away from toxic pesticides requires us to speed up the development of effective alternatives,” said Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. “By giving our farmers a suite of integrated pest management tools, we can better protect farmworkers and some of California’s most vulnerable communities. This dynamic task force will give us the roadmap to achieve this bold vision.”

Whitehurst with the other members of the new Sustainable Pest Management Work Group will work over the next 18 months to advise the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) in developing policies to use non-chemical means for management of pest issues in agriculture. 

Taking a whole systems perspective, Whitehurst has developed his biological pest control knowledge over a lifetime of organic farming and gardening, and through working with mentor and Rincon-Vitova founder Everett J. “Deke” Dietrick, who pioneered effective biological control methods with his “Five Features of Ecologically Based Pest Management,” over 50 years ago. 

In October of last year, Newsom signed an order (1) citing the climate crisis and advancing directives to various state agencies including the California Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Food and Agriculture to “reinvigorate populations of pollinator insects across the state, which restore biodiversity and improve agricultural production.” The directive includes implementation of “strategic efforts to protect California’s native plants and animals from invasive species and pests that threaten biodiversity and economic activities,” as well as to “enhance soil health and biodiversity through the Healthy Soils Initiative.”

Newsom’s order led to a plan to increase fees associated with pesticide use, which will be used to fund programs initiated by the new order, including the new work group. 

Historically, the fees were standardized for all chemicals, regardless of level of toxicity. A tiered system is being considered with increased fees for chemicals that the state rates as more dangerous. The fee structure also brings back the Biologically Integrated Farming System (BIFS) programs using farmer-to-farmer and farmworker pest management training in organic and regenerative systems to build healthy soils with greater organic carbon, increased water holding capacity and resilient crop yields.

Rincon-Vitova Insectaries, Inc., is located off of Ventura Avenue at 108 Orchard Drive and since 1950 has promoted ecologically-based agriculture solutions by providing beneficial organisms to enhance suppression and management of pests and diseases.  

  1. https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/10.07.2020-EO-N-82-20-.pdf
  2. https://www.rinconvitova.com

Ants, Roses and Religious Freedom

I’m usually glad when I answer the business line on the weekend even though we’re officially closed. Customers often present questions that I’m happy to help unravel. Sometimes new inquiries make my day, like last Sunday. A young woman’s voice asked, “Are you open? I need aphid controls.” It soon became clear to me that she really needed ant controls. It became clear to her that she really wanted to come over and learn about it eye to eye. A bright curiosity in her voice drew the OK out of me.

She was actually calling for her boyfriend and his 16 young citrus trees and roses. They were at the local nursery weighing a decision to buy the spined soldier bug eggs (the ones that utlimately come in the mail) to control argentine ants that they were sure occupied their greater neighborhood. They got a tip to give us a call first.

What a delight! They absorbed new insights about insect ecology so fast! It was charming how he admitted being a perfectionist about his trees. He decided on both an AntPro and AntsNoMore bait stations, Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait AND the granular bait laced with insect growth regulator. My description of the triple jeopardy for ant mounds turned over with a shovel was all he needed to feel armed for battle. He had the confidence to conquer the millions of ants in his little orchard. Still, he said he was worried and made another joke about being a perfectionist. I pointed to the blurbs about Rhizoboost and Microbe Nutrients in our Catalog. Spraying the bacteria on the rose bushes can interfere with the rust he was worried about as well as stimulate the food web in the root zone. But for now, we decided to concentrate on the ant campaign.

As I finished getting payment information, I learned that they are Persian-American Moslems. She was fasting. I said, “That’s why your face is radiant.” They were curious about the photo of ‘Abdu’l-Baha on a high shelf above my desk. His clothing is turn of the last century Persian. Four eyes fixed on ‘Abdu’l-Baha. I said, “He is the son of the prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith.” They looked left and right, “There are Baha’is around here!!?” “I’m a Baha’i,” I said. Eyes wide, was I also fasting for Ramadan? I said that God is merciful, for Baha’is the fast is only 19 days. It ends at Naw Ruz. We agreed on how we love the fast, the feeling of lightness, the quality of prayer at the end of a day, more clear than prayer during the rest of the year.

I turned my monitor towards them, “Iran just sentenced seven Baha’i leaders to 20 years solely because they are Baha’is.” She said, “My mother told me about that! It’s terrible.” I just got this announcement. Amnesty International provides a mailing address where we can plea to the Iranian government. The youth said that unfortunately nothing like that would do any good. “You can’t change them. They are just crazy.” She said it with such assurance and finality I was riveted.

Through diligent and persistent attention they will nurture their trees and roses to optimum health. What explains being so full of optimism about trees and roses achieving perfection and so cynical about one’s people respecting religious freedom? I want to urge them to also take a stand for justice in Iran. Tweet freedom songs for the Baha’is during Ramadan.

-Jan Dietrick, Manager

Neem vs. Fleas

Everyone at Rincon-Vitova loves Duchess, the official Bug Farm dog, especially the fleas. Treating fleas on a bug farm is a little bit complicated, though. The standard treatment is insect growth regulators like Advantage, but using a long lasting insect growth regulator on a dog who wanders around the farm freely, getting pet by everyone, could spell trouble for the bug breeding operations going on.

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Duchess when she noses her head between your knees, begging for some help scratching, so when I saw neem mentioned as a flea remedy I decided it was time for a product test.

Neem oil comes from the seed of Azadirachta indica, an Indian tree that has been used for pest control and medicine for around 3000 years. One chemical constituent of neem is azadiractin, a natural insect growth regulator. Unlike synthetic insect growth regulators, azadirachtin is completely biodegradable and breaks down in water after about a day. This meant that we could bathe Duchess with neem oil and not worry about someone petting her and contaminating one of our fly parasite or Lindorus production rooms.

I got instructions on making a neem shampoo from Discover Neem. I mixed up some neem oil with shampoo, then Jan and I took Duchess to the employee shower along with Bryce, our multitalented photographer extrordinaire. Duchess didn’t quite like the bath, but she was patient as we tried to saturate her fur with neem shampoo, then rinsed and rubbed her down with some straight neem oil for good measure. We had read that neem oil is also supposed to help flea irritated skin. Finally, we toweled her off and set her free. When she was dry, Duchess’ coat felt much softer and she was scratching a lot less.

One important detail to remember is that neem’s main action is insect growth regulation, which means it can stop immature fleas from maturing and mature fleas from reproducing. It can potentially suffocate insects, however, it doesn’t always kill adult fleas. In warm weather, the flea life cycle from egg to adult can be as short as a week. The best way to stop fleas from bugging your pet is to attack the fleas once every week or two, breaking the flea life cycle. A flea bath once a month is generally not enough to eradicate a flea infestation. In the weeks after Duchess’ bath we got side tracked by other projects and didn’t get to bathe her enough times to completely de-flea her, but the bath she got did cut down her flea population and gave her a break from itching.

I brought some neem oil home and tried it out on my indoor cat, Samus. Since she likes to hang out on my lap and give me her fleas, I had extra incentive to bathe her more regularly. She got 3 neem shampoo treatments, one every two weeks, and her fleas were under control – at least, until she escaped one day and got reinfested. Vaccumming throughly once a week and powdering my carpet with boric acid helped a lot, too.

In any honest discussion of neem I have to mention the smell. Neem oil is powerfully pungent, smelling vaguely but not quite like really strong Thai food. Besides inhibiting insect growth, neem is also repellent to many insects, and it’s not hard to see why. Duchess didn’t seem to mind the smell, but Samus is so offended by it that she ignores me for days when I neem her.

-Alia Tsang, Bug Farm intern

Day to Day: Wildfires!

From left, Jan, Ron and Duke position themselves to take in the fire.

With all the wildfires in California, we thought we’d post our own little slice of life.

A small hillside fire broke out approximately two miles west of the Rincon-Vitova Insectaries (RVI) around 4:45pm on Tuesday, October 22, 2008. While the late day skeleton crew clicked away at computer monitors, Kyra and Gabe had left early and called in from the road. “You could see the fire from the [RVI] driveway,” Kyra explains. “It looked really close, but driving towards it we realized just how far it was.”

“It was the perspective. At first we thought we might have to evacuate,” said Gabe thinking back on the fire. “We joked about picking which DVDs to leave behind.”

The fire’s distance from the insectaries didn’t ease everyone’s mind. Duke lives nearby and was initially worried his house would be threatened, but it didn’t take long to notice the winds were blowing the opposite direction. “I did make a call to check, though” he said.

About five years ago, Duke’s neighborhood was evacuated during a hillside fire emergency. “…the authorities were pounding on the door and my girlfriend was trying to grab the cat and go. The cat, though, was not compliant.” So she grabbed a pillowcase, threw the cat in, and jumped into the car. “It’s kind of a funny story now,” Duke concludes.

When asked if he was worried about the fire’s proximity, Ron shook his head no. “I used to live at the base of that hill 6 years ago. Conditions in the area are ripe. It’s a reminder to be prepared. Fire is part of the ecology and learning to live with it and having contingency plans is essential.” Ron went on to describe priority boxes or even fire wells to store information below ground.

“It’s about what’s important. We’d shut down the server and grab the basic computer units. If we had more time we’d take the [insect] cages with all the mother cultures. We could take a few trays of [fly] pupae, but if we didn’t get back in three days we’d have a fly problem,” Ron laughs.

In the end, the fire burned approximately 5 acres, accrued no property damage and the unnamed hill stands with a black eye to the north. If there was any common thread felt here at the insectary, it was the realization of choice and priority. Insects may be small, but not everything can fit in a pillowcase.

For more info, check out the Ventura County Star article.

*Second Image: Kyra snapped this with her cell phone on the way home.


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