Kid-friendly farming in California | Pesticide Action Network
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Kid-friendly farming in California

Margaret Reeves's picture

In late September, California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) released a draft plan for protecting schoolchildren in agricultural communities from drift-prone, health-harming pesticides. The agency's proposed pesticide use rules don't do nearly enough — luckily, some farmers are already doing much more.

In brief, these are the proposed new rules:

  • Prohibit drift-prone pesticide applications within one-quarter mile of public K-12 schools and child daycare facilities Monday through Friday between 6am and 6pm.
  • Require California growers and pest control contractors to notify schools, child daycare facilities and county agricultural commissioners when certain pesticide applications are made within a quarter mile of these schools and facilities.

PAN and our coalition members have long been collecting evidence that pesticides drift — often much more than one-quarter mile. And many studies show this exposure can have harmful effects. For example, a UC Davis MIND Institute study documented significantly increased rates of autism in children of mothers who lived up to one mile from pesticide-treated fields.

DPR's small, part-time buffers are not enough to protect vulnerable school children from both the immediate and long-term effects of exposure to highly hazardous pesticides. We expect better: let DPR know you’re with us.

Farmers model kid-safe pest control

Javier Zamora, of JSM Organic Farms, is a certified organic farmer growing a variety of cut flowers, vegetables, strawberries and other fruits on several farms totaling 55 acres in the Watsonville area. Javier started just five years ago with two acres and a $5,000 loan from FarmLink. He now employs 22 workers, some of them year-round.

During our recent visit to Javier's farm, he reported very few pest problems. He attributes this to the excellent soil quality and the high level of on-farm plant diversity he achieves by using intercrops, crop rotations and cover crops.

Javier's strawberry crop (he grows 6 different varieties) does, on occasion, suffer from Lygus bug and mite pests that he manages by vacuuming and releasing Phytoseiulus persimilis mites. Crop rotations for strawberries include leeks, broccoli, cabbages, and green beans.

A growing number of California farmers make good money eschewing the use of hazardous pesticides. In fact, California is the state leading organic agricultural production with $2.2 billion in sales generated from over 2,805 certified farms. These farms account for over 687,000 acres and, according to USDA's organic survey, there's another 17,000 in transition to organic.

While production costs may be greater for organic farmers (mostly due to higher labor costs), the market premiums they earn balance out these expenses and make operations economically viable. Other farmers choose not to certify their products but use similar production methods without highly hazardous pesticides. It is practices like these — already in place across the state — that can safely be used in fields surrounding rural schools.

Protecting California's rural children

In 2014, the California Department of Public Health authored an excellent report documenting use of highly hazardous pesticides near schools in 15 agricultural counties in the state. They found that more than 140 highly hazardous pesticides — those capable of causing cancer, reproductive and developmental harm and damage to the nervous system — were used within one-quarter mile of 226 schools.

The report found that more than 18,000 students attend schools in close proximity to the heaviest use of pesticides — and Latino schoolchildren are 91 percent more likely than white students to be exposed to the highest levels of the most dangerous pesticides. The top five hazardous pesticides used near schools are drift-prone fumigants that have been linked to increased risk of cancer, reproductive and developmental harm as well as immediate poisoning.

Sadly, DPR's proposed rules to address this problem fall far short of what California kids need and deserve. Here are the key improvements PAN and our partners at Californians for Pesticide Reform are calling for:

  • One mile, no-spray buffer zones free of the most hazardous pesticides around schools, preschools and daycares.
  • No-spray buffer zones in place 24/7 for the most hazardous pesticides.
  • Full authority for counties to adopt stricter requirements based on local conditions.

Please sign (and share!) our petition, and we’ll deliver your signature to DPR’s Director, Brian Leahy, before the comment period closes on December 9.


Photo: I look on as Javier shows PAN intern Faezeh Mokhtari one of his 6 strawberry varieties.

Margaret Reeves
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David Darell Galbraith's picture
David Darell Ga... /

None of your key improvements are any better than the DPR, and PAN is still ignoring the fact that pesticide drift is in violation of common law trespass.  No one has the right to allow anything to drift from their property onto the property of anyone else’s property.
And DPR’s quarter mile, or PAN’s one mile, limitation would be a joke if they weren’t so tragically lame.  These poisons are literally covering our entire planet.  Neither DPR or PAN is addressing this problem.
Allowing drift only at certain times does not eliminate risk to children or anyone else.  Once the pesticide has drifted onto the playground of a school it is there.  And  the children that play there are going to be exposed to the poisons long after the initial drift exposure.  Because of thins, only “no” poisonous drift is acceptable.
Rain runoff that carries poisons into our rivers is also unacceptable trespass.  Again, PAN fails to address this.
Organic integrity is also being threatened by pesticide drift onto organic farms.  I see no concern on the part of PAN about the drift onto organic farms that is threatening the organic integrety of of these farms.
If PAN believes that any drift from one property to another is acceptable then it is just as much a part of the problem as the trespasser farmers that are poisoning our entire planet.
Half assed measures are ultimately useless.
No one should donate to your organization.  I find myself wondering if PAN is being financed by the likes of Monsanto.

Margaret Reeves's picture
Margaret Reeves /

Thank you David for taking the time to post your comment.

I very much agree that the ultimate solution is hardly the creation of limited distance buffer zones, or buffer zones at all. Rather, it’s widespread implementation of agroecological practices that not only avoid the use altogether of hazardous pesticides, but adds the social and political elements of ensuring access to healthy food and access to land to produce food for those who struggle without such access.

While PAN very much works to achieve those goals, we also realize that we’ve got to do whatever we can NOW, in the short-term to better protect those communities and individuals who are routinely exposed to hazardous pesticides throughout CA. Because of the 2014 Dept. of Public Health report, there is actually movement among regulators to increase protections. We feel strongly that while we work for long-lasting solutions based on ecology and based in community, we will do what we can to make improvements – whatever improvements – may be politically feasible in the short-term.

To that end we have helped bring hundreds of community members to Dept. of Pesticide Regulation hearings in Oxnard, Tulare and Salinas. By looking at the turnout by community members to the first two hearings (last one is today), we are obviously striking a nerve with the politically powerful proponents of continued use of hazardous pesticides under current regulatory regimes. Community members are speaking their mind, and being heard.

We continue to work to prevent and expose pesticide drift incidents. In fact, decades of this work has provided compelling data and empowered communities (including organic farms) to act in their interests to increase regulatory controls on pesticides used in their communities. All of these efforts support one another.

Thank you again for your comments.

Margaret Reeves's picture

Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN