Posts Tagged 'Personal Stories'

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:


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.  


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.

An American Tale: Kyra Goes West

Hi, my name is Kyra. I’m from Fort Wayne, Indiana and I’ve been with Rincon-Vitova Insectaries since May 2006. I wound up at Rincon-Vitova rather serendipitously; I was in my last year (last 3 weeks to be exact) of my undergraduate degree, working at the local butcher shop, without any idea of what I was going to do after graduation.

I was taking an Invertebrate Biology course from Dr. James Haddock (awesome professor), with whom I’d already had an entomology course and lab during my freshman year. We were working in the insect chapter, and to be honest I was daydreaming in the back of the room, because what we were covering was a review from his previous course. He started talking about places called insectaries, where people “actually rear insects!” This of course got my attention and I headed straight for the computer lab to Google insectaries during the break.

I found Rincon-Vitova and saw an employment opportunity for an biological control intern. Wouldn’t it figure that the exact day I was viewing this posting was the last day that resumes were being accepted for consideration! I whipped up a cover letter and emailed my resume immediately before I went back to the second half of the lecture. I hadn’t received a reply by the time class let out, but my parents urged me to call the office. I got right through, thanks to the time difference, and ended up talking with Jan for about 45 minutes. The next week, after submitting a writing sample, and having a lengthier phone conversation with Jan and Ron, I was offered the job. That’s when the fun began.

In that span of three weeks, I somehow managed to finish my classes, take my finals, and get my affairs in order such that I’d be ready to pick up and move to California. Graduation day was a blur of excitement; I had divided and packed my things into boxes marked “take to California” and “store in attic,” my Dad crammed as much of my stuff into my car that would fit, and the next morning (well, morning was the plan, it turned out being closer to noon) I was headed west.



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