Slow Food San Diego

Supports community awareness about healthy local food

Be Wise Ranch, Eye Gnat Issue

Recap of November 9 Board of Supervisor meeting about Eye Gnat control

History of the issue posted 10/28/11

The Board of Supervisors voted to form a committee that would have 90 days to prepare an outline and an action plan on how the organic farm could reduce the eye gnat population.

At least 3 of the 4 Supervisors present voted unanimously against us and in favor of the homeowners. The discussion went on and on about Be Wise Ranch in Escondido and Bornt Farms in Jacumba. According to the Supervisors we are the only 2 farms out of 344 organic farms that doing a terrible job of managing their farms. We are bad farmers that are supposedly not following the best management practices. This statement is completely untrue however their opinions were already formed before the meeting started. The Supervisors as well as the members of the Department of Environmental Health do not understand that the reason this problem is showing up only on these 2 farms is because of how many acres we actually farm and no one has monitored any of the other small organic or non organic vegetable growers for eye gnats. The smaller farms could range anywhere from 1 to 75 acres. In an article that I am providing a link to below Supervisor Diane Jacobs states “Fact of the matter is they’re breeding more eye gnats than they are organic produce,” said Jacob.

During our daily operations we rarely encounter any issues with the eye gnats, part of that could be because once they hatch they fly away. I have talked to my employees and they said the eye gnats pose very little issue to them here. That is one of the reasons why I did not realize that the eye gnats were causing such a fuss.

The group in Jacumba distributed and showed for viewing many photos of eye gnats in Jacumba , the photos were very disturbing but they are not a true representation of what is happening here in Escondido. The homeowners in Jacumba and Sonata have a put together a well orchestrated plan to bring their stories to light. They give examples of the most severe experiences and regardless of whether it occurred in Jacumba or Escondido, Be Wise Ranch is being blamed for the whole unfortunate situation. There is no distinction between the two places or the two farms or from one farmer to the other, we are just “bad neighbors and irresponsible farmers.”

Unfortunately because of no fault but my own I was late to the meeting. As I have never been involved in any type of County Board Meeting I did not understand the procedure and the time frame of turning in the speaker slip. This was my fault and accept responsibility for this. In an attempt to condense my speaking points into a format of under 3 minutes I lost track of time. I want to truly apologize to the many people who showed up to support Be Wise Ranch and speak on our behalf, I know there is no excuse for this except to say how sorry I am, I certainly would not have left you there without guidance had I known, obviously I needed guidance for myself. I do appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule for the farm.

After the meeting Sandra and I met with Jack Miller, Director of SD County Environmental Health Vector Control, Valerie Mellano, UC Cooperative Extension and Lisa Leondis the current Agricultural Commissioner, Karen Archiplay of Archies Acres and Ray Shields the Veteran that would be in charge of building the gnat catchers. During the discussion with Jack Miller it came up that he was not considering Be Wise for a seat on this new committee. When questioned about why not and how that did not make sense he stated that he felt we would be too emotional on the issue. He was not pleased with the responses from our members about the original proposed ordiance that had to be pulled from yesterdays agenda. The homeowners filing the complaints would be included on the committee but I suppose they are not emotionally involved. Sandra and I tried to inform Valerie and Lisa why it would be important to have us on the committee. It was not clear how anyone besides the Jacumba group and the Farm Bureau would be selected. Nan Sterman, one of our original members for the last 17 years was asked by Pam Slater Price if she would led herself to sit on the newly formed committee. Nan has a background in science and is an expert in low water plants and gardens, growing edibles, botany, and horticulture in general. I believe that Nan would be an excellent choice for the committee.

We think there should be 2 separate committees. One for Jacumba area and one for Escondido area. We are not sure what the guidelines of the committee are. What is the objective. Are they going to rewrite the originally proposed ordiance? Are they going to come up with the proposed growing practices for each of these farms? Are they going to define what number of eye gnats that leave our boundaries would trigger the start of an abatement action? Is the abatement triggered by how many neighbors complain about eye gnats? I will have to ask Noel Stehly, President of the Farm Bureau, he is unavailable until next week.

Since we have not yet received our recommendations from Jim Bethke, the entomologist we cannot modify any of our current or future growing practices. What we do know is that the researcher has already told us that once we implement a plan of action it could take up to two years to get control of the situation. We should start to see a gradual reduction and it may be more than one plan that we have to initiate to see results. This information was also provided to Jack Miller from the Dept. of Environmental Health. The successful action plans in other areas such as the Coachella Valley and Yuma Arizona seem to be overlooked and unimportant. The residents are calling for immediate action they want a quick fix now.

Although I was not able to speak on our behalf during the meeting, I was able to give 2 newspaper interviews and one interview with Channel 10 tv news that should air later today, Thursday at 7:00 pm. I would have been allowed on 3 minutes to address the County Board so perhaps being able to speak to the media was a good thing. There was also a story on Fox news on Monday and a KPBS radio interview on Tuesday and a short TV spot on KPBS on Tuesday also. We have included copies from the papers if you are interested. Please keep in mind that media sometimes reports things on a slant, there are two different areas that are in question here and most of the testimony given were from the Jacumba residents. I hope that this email update clears up some of the misconceptions that people may have and it helps you to see where we actually are in this frustrating process. I have every intention of implementing a plan of action to help bring some relief to the residents but I have to work with the entomologist and it takes time, this cannot be solved overnight.

Thanks for all your support. Be Wise Ranch

History of the issue posted 10/28/11


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