Ag companies regularly spray my neighborhood with pesticides; it’s time to make them stop

The Salsipuedes Creek levee near Kathryn Mizuno's Watsonville home.
(Via Kathryn Mizuno)

Retired Watsonville teacher Kathryn Mizuno wants agricultural giants like Driscoll’s to be more accountable for the sort of pesticides they spray. She has lived in her current home since 2015, but only recently realized the amount of pesticides sprayed nearby. In September, the fields near her home got sprayed more than 20 times. This, she writes, must stop: “We should not be accepting the use of toxic chemicals as ‘conventional’ agriculture.” The Watsonville City Council does not yet have a date to discuss the pressing community issue.

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Well done, Lookout, for your powerful editorial, “We need to stop spraying pesticides around our children and schools,” and for Mark Conley’s update, “Pressure mounts on pesticides near schools.

It is such a relief to see the truth spoken, with concrete actions laid out for local government and the community to take immediately. It’s time to take responsibility to protect everyone in our community — including our farmworkers, our elderly and most especially our children, in North and South County alike.

I appreciate the editorial’s honesty in pointing out how we all seem to think it’s an acceptable norm for comfortable middle-class families like mine to have the option of eating healthy organic produce, while the families of farmworkers are constantly exposed to the toxic chemicals used in the fields where they work. This is clearly environmental racism.

As reported in an Oct. 14 article in the Pajaronian, “Group sparks conversation about valley’s pesticide use,” it took a Latina teacher to point out to the predominantly white staff at Amesti Elementary School back in the 1990s that it was pesticides that were making them and their students sick.

When we bought our home in Adult Village Watsonville in 2015, the real estate agent was required to tell us that pesticides are used on the fields nearby. We bought the house anyway.

Watsonville resident Kathryn Mizuno received more than 20 notifications of pesticide application between Aug. 31 and Oct. 3.
(Via Takashi Mizuno)

Over the years, we have noticed the signs around the fields during the planting season saying that such-and-such pesticide has been used, but we didn’t take it very seriously at first. My family members would sometimes complain of a runny nose, headaches and a strange taste in the mouth. But we continued with life as usual.

In the past couple of years, however, I have been to events here in Watsonville to learn about the dangerous use of pesticides in this area. At one of these a few months ago, I signed up to receive notifications of pesticide use on the fields near our home.

As I explained in my letter to the editor in Lookout on Oct. 4, these notifications have only served to make us more conscious of how regularly pesticide applications are happening, but not how to mitigate their effects. From Aug. 31 to Oct. 3, we received over 20 notifications. They don’t even tell you which fields they are spraying.

As a result, we began to take walks in other neighborhoods, away from the agricultural fields immediately after pesticide application, all the while knowing that the poisons are blown by the wind throughout the area, and that their ill effects last several days.

In September, I went to the news conference described in Lookout’s Oct. 3 article on pesticides. Immediately afterward, I wrote a letter to Miles Reiter, CEO of Driscoll’s, who is responsible for the berry fields near where the news conference took place, insisting on the necessity for organic production methods. In his prompt response to me, he listed some of the things Driscoll’s and its growers are doing to move toward organic farming.

In the letter, he said, “[we] would expect to see conversion [to organic] … farms in the Pajaro Valley … A logical priority would be areas adjacent to schools.”

We need more than promises.

A logical priority for this community and its public officials is to push to have leaders in the agricultural industry such as Driscoll’s put their money where their mouth is. I have no patience with the market economy that places profit over the well-being of the people in the community.

Retired teacher Kathryn Mizuno wants ag giants to stop spraying pesticides.
(Via Kathryn Mizuno)

I went to a city council information session Oct. 11 hoping to speak out on this issue. But this was a purely informational meeting, so there was no time for public comment. They said they would be taking up the issue in the “near future,” but it has not yet appeared on the agenda for subsequent meetings. My letter to the editor about this issue appeared in the Pajaronian on Oct. 27.

However, the City Manager René Mendez has just informed me via email that “with the change in council and the holidays upon us, we thought it best to meet in early 2023.” He said he would let me know when the council has a date and that he hoped it would be a “study session” to better understand the issue.

On Nov. 10, the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) held a bilingual Zoom workshop about the statewide pesticide notification system. I attended, along with more than 200 others, including activists, farm workers and a few farm owners. In the open forum that gave everyone the opportunity to speak for two minutes, the overwhelming majority spoke up for a more meaningful notification system with multilingual options to include the indigenous languages of many farmworkers, such as Mixteco and Triqui.

I have just voted in local elections for people who I believe will follow through on this issue, and I plan to work to hold them accountable.

We should not be accepting the use of toxic chemicals as “conventional” agriculture. As Rachel Carson began telling us 60 years ago in her book “Silent Spring,” this is unsustainable.

The organic farm in New Jersey where I used to live before moving to Watsonville in 2013, used “conventional” chemicals until 1967 — some of them the same as those being used here now. Reading “Silent Spring” was instrumental in my parents’ decision to switch to organic.

We believe that the death by cancer of my father, three of his sisters and my brother were likely caused by these toxic pesticides. Today, the farm is surrounded by a wildlife preserve created by my parents, which supports more than 200 bird species and other wildlife.

How sad that our society has accepted the poisoning of people who are considered expendable.

I know of people in their 70s and 80s in the Japanese American community of which my family is a part, who have dealt with health issues throughout their lives, and continue to do so because of the irresponsible use of pesticides around their families. I am sure the same is true for many families in this area.

The Pajaro Valley should become a showcase for the world for healthy organic agriculture.

Kathryn (Kitty) Mizuno was born in Philadelphia and grew up on a family farm in New Jersey. She and her husband retired from farming in 2013 and moved to Watsonville, where their daughter is a teacher. Kitty retired from teaching at the Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s Mintie White School in Watsonville in 2019. She likes to take sunrise walks on the Salsipuedes Creek levee, when toxic spraying is not happening in the fields.

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