You can’t call the “oriental fruit fly” a picky eater. It feasts on more than 200 fruits, vegetables and plants. That’s a big part of why it poses a serious risk to agriculture, according to Sacramento County Agricultural commissioner Juli Jensen.
“It’s part of a group of fruit flies, that include the Mediterranean and Mexican fruit fly, that are particularly harmful,” she said. “They have an extremely wide host range.”
Jensen says the county first detected this particular fruit fly in late July through routine trap monitoring. The pest’s presence has now triggered a quarantine by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. It extends over an area of 123 square miles, covering a swathe of the city of Sacramento and a sliver of Yolo County.
CDFA staff are going street-by-street this week, telling residents with backyard produce not to move it off their property.
That may be a nuisance for some, but it’s a serious problem for farmer Sarah McCamman at Root 64 Farm. She makes her living growing tomatoes, okra and more on a one-acre lot south of the Tahoe Park neighborhood. She and partner Randy Stannard sell what they grow at the Oak Park Farmers Market and to a few local restaurants.
"It’s not like we can just say, ‘Oh, we can't sell it at market, but let's sell it to chefs.’ We cannot move it at all, period. Which is pretty depressing to think about," McCamman said.
For starters, she and Stannard must now treat their farm every week for the next 30 days. They’ll apply a pesticide approved for organic production. The quarantine could last into the spring, according to the CDFA.
The fruit fly infestation may have a negative ripple effect beyond Sacramento and Yolo. Growers from other counties who sell their produce to farmers markets within the quarantine will have to cover fruits and vegetables they transport in and out of the area.
Dan Best, who’s coordinated certified farmers markets in Sacramento for over 20 years, says CDFA protocols may seem like a hassle. But he argues that “small-acreage farmers” don’t have many other options for selling their produce.
“Economically, they are one dime from being out of business. So, they can't afford not to sell,” Best said. “Some of their best markets are in Sacramento. This is like the hub."
Back at Root 64 Farm, McCamman and Stannard are mulling their options after meeting with Vince Arellano, an environmental scientist with CDFA.
The farmers say one option is eating as many ripe tomatoes, squash and cucumbers as humanly possible, with help from friends. They could also preserve their produce. And Arellano says it’s OK to compost produce scraps as long as that material stays on site.
CDFA is cautioning residents not to put produce grown in the quarantine area into the yard waste bin. If they’re going into the garbage, veggies and fruit must be double-bagged before they’re dumped.
Jensen says she’s looking into whether there are federal funds that could help offset losses sustained by small-scale farmers, but she hasn’t found anything yet.