Posted by Editor: FDBobko
December 3, 2020
Koren Widdel
Agriculture Commissioner/Sealer of San Mateo County.
Article by Stacy Trevenon
Photos by Dianne Bobko
Joe Brennan formally introduced Koren Widdel as the day’s speaker. She is the director of the Department of Agricultural Weights and Measures and the Agriculture Commissioner/Sealer of San Mateo County. She lives in the East Bay, but upon becoming deputy Agriculture Commissioner three years ago discovered that San Mateo County “feels like home.” To illustrate points she made in her talk, she included slides with photographs and graphics. 
She started her remarks by noting that most people are surprised to hear that this department exists in our county; but after all, there’s lots of agriculture on the Coastside. Every year, when she reports on crops produced through our agriculture here, most of it comes from the coast to the tune of $130 million in 2019. The area’s Number 1 crops, she noted, are potted plants, brussels sprouts, and (given the Pumpkin Festival!) pumpkins. 
She pointed out that her agency is regulatory, enforceable under the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which also includes the Division of Weights and Measures as well. Its mission, she said, is to protect the agricultural industry, natural resources and agricultural workers.
On that agricultural side, the department has a pest prevention program. The first line of defense against invasive pests is to look into agriculture, check into proper  monitoring of means of delivery and monitoring of agriculture and how it is distributed, including Federal Express, the U.S. postal service and retail nurseries. Much of agricultural items that are delivered come from Southern California, where more and more quarantines are now in effect, she said. As an example of harmful pests, she identified the glassy-winged sharpshooter, a tiny insect that still carries disease that can threaten wine grapes.
She showed a photo of her staff that does inspections, including dog teams with dogs that sniff out dangerous invaders in agricultural products. A dog can find unmarked parcels too, she noted, citing examples.
She mentioned the certification process, used with agricultural products sent from San Mateo County to other states and other counties, and reiterated the need to certify agricultural products to make sure they are clean.
She spoke more about the pest detection program, and discussed in detail, with photos, traps used to capture the most detrimental pests. Traps are put in branches of trees, from which infestation can spread. She described how the traps attract flies, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly, which is among the flies that damage crops. She said that there is careful monitoring of pest populations that programs seek to eradicate, and described the “sticky trap,” a sticky slip of paper that is bright yellow, a color that naturally attracts damaging insects like fruit flies, that buzz right into the lethal glue. Other traps make similar use of pheromones, and described the Japanese beetle trap, used to catch pests that damage turf. That one was among several pests that she showed photographs of, including the gypsy moth that can damage forests, the aforementioned sharpshooter, flies and other pests that compromise citrus.
She discussed pest management, mentioning dealing with pests that you can’t find with traps or that avoid traps. What can be done to eradicate such pests, and at what cost, are pertinent questions, she pointed out. She spoke of eradication and management experts that are being consulted.  She also mentioned non-insect pests such as skeleton weed, purple loosestrife or jubata grass, and more, and showed photographs of volunteers working in weed control. 
She discussed pesticide use in residential and commercial settings. She mentioned complaints, such as illness, that had been lodged due to pesticides used in residential areas. She spoke of trainings that are given to those in contact with agriculture, such as to farmworkers, in residential and agricultural settings.
She said a big part of the pest control business is the monitoring of worker safety. She also discussed a fruit and vegetable standardization program, that also involves markets, and certification of local farmers allowing them to sell produce. Such programs work to ensure that farmers only sell what they are certified to sell. The idea is to protect the consumer, she said. 
She said that efforts are underway now to look at the wholesale produce market, such as in South San Francisco, where there are now a lot of issues around food safely, quality and standardization. She also spoke of organic programs and examinations of pertinent regulations to make sure laws governing the sale of organic products are followed. Public services and outreach can be provided if needed, she said. 
She discussed the weights and measures program, which is looking into economically suitable devices to ensure accuracy. This goes beyond fruits and vegetables: it includes such things as gas meters and grocery store cash registers.
She mentioned propane tanks. Yes, her agencies certify those too, following up on complaints about large scales’ accuracy. As part of this portion of her talk, she showed (virtually) a photo of preparations for Pumpkin Festival, of workers examining the scales used to weigh the giant pumpkins. 
She said her agency uses standardized weights as per the Department of Weights and Measures. She also mentioned price verification checks, making sure that the prices asked were the prices advertised. 
She said her employer has three offices in San Mateo County: in Redwood City, on Main Street in Half Moon Bay, and in San Bruno, near the airport. 
President Mary then invited questions. 
  • How large is her staff? Koren said she had a staff of 36 total, which included 19 biologists who also do inspections and nine pest detection specialists working seasonally. 
  • Did she ever use aerial pesticide dissemination? Not really, she said, recalling only one instance when it was used in the 20 years she had worked there.
  • How safe are county residents who live near agriculture? Safe, she said, though sometimes there have been complaints about the odor of the pesticides. If anyone sees anything unusual or disturbing about such pesticide disbursement, they should call her agency, she said.
  • Kevin O’Brien raised the question about insurance for farmers or other agricultural workers, noting the recent wildfires. She said she had not heard of any problems around the insurance component. She noted that the southern areas of the coast had been hard hit by the fires; her department did not have a definite role in these issues but had tried to help  those trying to save some of their crops when emergencies were declared.
  • That must be overwhelming, Larkin Evans said, and then she mentioned analyzing soil samples from her garden to determine the quality for future growing; Koren spoke well of the  Master Gardener program, which is under the University of California extension, and helps monitor pests. John Evans playfully asked what the difference was between a bug and an animal; Koren said a pest is generally an insect.
  • Paul Wrubel spoke of local resident Joaquin Jimenez and the local Latino population, and about exploring the possibility of obtaining large chunks of land to divide into small plots for gardening or sharecropping and sharing the marketing of the produce. Koren thought that was a great idea which she would support, and said her department would help certify the produce if the gardeners wanted to sell it. She suggested publicizing that produce by word of mouth.
  • Warren Barmore wondered what might happen around the legalization of marijuana? Koren said there is a new program around that movement. She also spoke of the differences between hemp --  which is legal, was originally a fiber and now allowed for industrial use and also as an additive for food products -- and pot. The difference, she said, depends on the level of THC.
President Mary thanked speaker Koren, spoke of Rotary and its polio eradication efforts and showed her the certificate the Club will give her noting that a donation in her name has been made for polio eradication.
Club Meeting - December 3, 2020 
President Mary Rogren  called the meeting to order at 12:04 p.m. with greetings to guest Koren Widdel, whose presence at the meeting had been arranged by Joe Brennan. 
Pledge of Allegiance Dave Dickson, who was in his car, checked in from behind his steering wheel to both lead the Pledge of Allegiance and deliver an inspirational message. from the Ancient Greek author, Aesop in 600 B.C.,  “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” 
Inspiration Thought - Dave Dickson quoted from 600 B.C., from Aesop, "Disagree without being disagreeable."
New Member Induction
Mary noted that today was a very special day for our club, and introduced Past President Ginger Minoletti to officiate over the induction of new member, Sean Engmann. He is a realtor with Compass in Half Moon Bay, and has been involved in coaching youth sports locally.  He lives in Montara. Previously he worked as Director of Operations with the San Francisco  Chocolate Factory. After moving here he sought out membership in Rotary. Ginger told him about how Rotary works to better the community; explained the Four-Way Test,;showed him his Rotary handbook; noted that she is his sponsor and drew his attention to the Rotary pin which, unfortunately she could not personally pin on his lapel, but is happy to present it to him. Mary welcomed him into the club; and then had to leave, but encouraged attendees to go on chatting among themselves.
Community Services
Rose Serdy noted that Club members’ donations had raised $640 toward shopping for Adopt-a-Family and $1,700 for ALAS.  She spoke of the Rotary District Grant we recently received, some of which was for Abundant Grace and already delivered by President Mary, and $3,551, which will go to Coastside Hope for their Special Delivery program which will help families. 

Happy/Crappy News smiley/crying   

Ginger added that, as Happy News, the Barterra Winery had reopened; and that travel-oriented 2021 wall calendars are available at her office. 

Adding some more Happy News, John Evans noted that this Thanksgiving was also his daughter’s birthday and his and Larkin’s 50th anniversary. He noted that that’s a coincidence of dates that only happens once every seven years, and described a walk they took to celebrate the anniversary. On the walk, they encountered a pair of young newlyweds, and took photographs with everyone.
Mitone said that the next beach cleanup is scheduled for Dec. 13 (the second Sunday of the month) at Dunes Beach. Warren noted that he picks up trash regularly anyway when he goes walking on the beaches. Mitone also spoke of activities other District 5150 clubs are involved with, such as Rotarians for Global Action, and of the idea of organizing a cleanup for Jan. 1, to kick off the new year. 
Marble Draw - Marble spin and draw was postponed to next week.

Buy marble tickets and feed the pig!  Mary sends an email with the link prior to each meeting.