Long Beach growers respond to quarantine buzz

Community produce-sharing groups look for solutions to presence of Mexican fruit fly

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Some farm-related activities in the Long Beach area are slowing this season, and it’s not due to lack of crops.
Community “growers” have canceled or postponed local crop swaps, and some farm stands and other efforts to redistribute surplus residential produce throughout the city will continue to wind down in the wake of the detection of three Mexican fruit flies in the city earlier this month.

The California Department of Food Agriculture (CDFA) declared a portion of Los Angeles County, including the majority of Long Beach, in a state of quarantine Nov. 6 after three Mexican fruit flies were discovered, according to a press release by CDFA.

Courtesy CDFA
The map indicates the portion of Long Beach that is impacted by the produce quarantine to prevent the spread of the Mexican fruit fly.

“The quarantine affects any growers, wholesalers and retailers of susceptible fruit in the area, as well as nurseries that grow and sell Mexican fruit-fly host plants,” Steve Lyle, media representative for the CDFA, told the Signal Tribune. “Those businesses are all required to take steps to protect against the spread of the pest. At the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports, exports, as well as imports, may be impacted depending on specific circumstances. The quarantine will also affect local residents growing host commodities on their property. Movement of those commodities is not permitted. Residents are urged to consume homegrown produce on site. These actions protect against the spread of the infestation to nearby regions where it could affect California’s food supply, as well as backyard gardens and landscapes.”

The CDFA reported that the initial discovery of the flies in Long Beach included two mated female flies, which indicates a breeding population and increases the risk of further infestation.

Members of the local farming and agricultural community, such as Long Beach Fresh Co-Director Tony Damico, continue to spread the word, educate others about the quarantine and collaborate to think of creative ways around this roadblock to their work.

“Long Beach is definitely a city of fruit,” Damico told the Signal Tribune. “A lot of communities rely on sharing these fruits for nutrition, […] and we’ve done a lot at Long Beach Fresh to try to support people sharing their produce through crop-swap events and activities that occur monthly. And our activities go beyond fruit, but the quarantine is primarily affecting citrus and a lot of other fruits that grow in Long Beach.”

Damico said the quarantine essentially directs people with their own backyard produce not to take their unprocessed fruits off of their property and will likely pose a challenge for people who have excess fruit and don’t know what to do with it.

The CDFA is encouraging people to consume homegrown produce on-site or to process produce before taking it off of their properties. Processing may include juicing, freezing or cooking. Damico mentioned that another recommendation for people with too much produce growing at home for them to consume is to place the fruits inside two trash bags before disposing of them.

“This, actually, I think, highlights the huge inefficiency of waste management in Long Beach, whereas we don’t have large-scale composting in the city, even though we are mandated to have it within the next several of years by state mandate,” Damico said. “The city is way behind on actually being able to collect organic waste from residents and even from businesses.”

Neighborhood “crop swaps,” where participants bring their excess homegrown produce and trade with other people’s fruits and vegetables have become popular in Long Beach as a means for people to acquire a better variety of food and to ensure that less produce goes to waste.

Crop Swap 90813, a group that works to support central Long Beach and its surrounding communities by sharing backyard-grown produce, canceled the November swap event via social media in an effort to comply with the quarantine.

In another social-media post within the public group called North Long Beach Crop Swappers, it was mentioned that, if the treatments are successful and no new flies are found within the next six months, the quarantine could be lifted in July 2019.

“If we don’t find any additional Mexican fruit flies, the duration will be less than a year,” Lyle said, adding that there have been no recent detections since the initial discovery.

According to the CDFA press release– Lyle did not comment further on this– the eradication process will include several efforts:

Sterile male Mexican fruit flies will be released in the area at an approximate rate of 325,000 sterile males per square mile every week in an area up to 50 square miles around the infestation.

Sterile male flies will mate with fertile female flies in the natural environment but produce no offspring. The Mexican fruit-fly population is expected to, then, decrease as the wild flies reach the end of their natural life span with no offspring to replace them, ultimately resulting in the eradication of the pest.

Properties within 200 meters of detection sites are being treated with an organic formulation of Spinosad, which originates from naturally-occurring bacteria, in order to remove any mated female fruit flies and reduce the density of the population.

Fruit removal will occur within 100 meters of properties with larval detections and/or mated female detections.

“The Mexican fruit fly can infest more than 50 types of fruits and vegetables with larvae,” Lyle said. “The success of any quarantine depends on cooperation from those within quarantine area. We greatly appreciate their cooperation.”

There is more information about the specific crops impacted, options for processing and information for growers available at cdfa.ca.gov. The website indicates that the adult Mexican fruit fly is larger than a housefly, about 1.0 cm (0.38 inch) long, and is a pale orange-yellow color. The female is distinguished by a long and slender ovipositor, which is used to deposit eggs beneath the skin of the host fruit. The larvae are legless, range in color from white to yellowish-white and grow to a length of 1.0 cm within the host fruit.

“Currently, what we’re looking at is a lot of fruit that’s just going to be rotting, essentially, unless we find ways to fill the gaps,” Damico said. “One thing that folks are starting to talk about is how to support one another in learning how to process the fruits that folks are growing, whether it’s making jams or juices, because then once processed, those items could be shared more broadly with the community.”