Yuma Ag and You: Food Safety and You!

Roberta Stevenson-McDermott   1/17/2016 publication

I saw you! The car with the Washington state license, parked in the mud alongside the harvested produce field. What part of stay out of the farm fields do you not understand?

Food safety is presently the most important concern for growers of winter vegetables and fruits. Agricultural producers spend millions of dollars each year to keep their crops clean and uncontaminated. But, you say, the field was already picked and there weren’t many plants left! That doesn’t matter, taking the lettuce is stealing. Were you taught that it was alright to take something that doesn’t belong to you because you thought the owner wouldn’t care?

Where had you been walking? What kind of bacteria or contaminants were on your shoes? Do you have a pet? Was your car leaking oil as it sat by the field? It does not take much to create problems for the farmer. As I watched you, it was obvious that you were not starving or destitute, no excuse, but a consideration. There are two farm stands along Highway 95 within two miles of where you were stealing lettuce, to purchase fresh produce. Did you even use the lettuce after looking at it when you got home? The reason it was left in the field was perhaps that it was not the quality the harvest crew wanted.

What you should be doing is helping the growers and harvesters in Yuma County to protect our primary industry. Pick up you litter; do not throw anything into farm fields or canals. If walking animals along fields or canals, pick up their droppings and take them with you. Definitely do not let them enter the fields because if animal or human litter is found in the field, a designated area around the ‘evidence’ cannot be harvested due to potential contamination. Mandatory buffer areas are drawn in a circle five feet from the print or object. Think about the money you are costing the grower, harvest crew and public with your carelessness.

If you are a visitor here, you may not know; if a property owner you should be more responsible in your actions. By demonstrating trespassing and stealing, it encourages others to do the same. I realize my comments are harsh, but it is hard to understand the actions of many people in Yuma County.

Every grower and harvester/shipper has a food safety supervisor to make sure the product that we is as safe as humanly possible. Until the end of March, there will be a continual rotation of vegetable crops in the fields from San Luis to Texas Hill. Growers must test their irrigation water weekly, test soils, fertilizer and other inputs for purity. Even the water used to apply agricultural chemicals needs to be tested. Literally everything that is used in the farm field is kept as sanitary as possible.

Harvesters/shippers need to make sure all the harvest aids are sanitized daily; tractors are cleaned to prevent moving soil from one field to another. Machinery is checked for oil and transmission leaks, again, contaminants. Product boxes are kept free of soil and pallets are sanitized before reuse. Unpaved county roads, farm and canal roads are watered on a daily basis to prevent dust. Harvester crews wear hairnets, gloves, aprons, boots, sleeves and other protective garments to prevent contamination of the crop being harvested.

Can’t we, the citizens and visitors to Yuma County do our part to protect this industry that employs 1 in 5 people and produces 48 percent of the revenues for the county.

Yuma County agriculture is the standard that other growing areas aspire to be.

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott is a soil and water conservationist. She can be reached at rjsm09@msn.com.