There aren’t too many urban farmers in Dallas, and even fewer are the urban organic farmers who’ve been affected by the West Nile spraying that went on for eight stressful days. Beekeepers (like Brandon and Susan Pollard of the Texas Honeybee Guild), people with chemical allergies, and urban organic farmers have been the loudest in their criticism against the aerial and ground spraying, and they’re making their shouts heard on Facebook and Twitter these days. The Eden Organic Garden Center and the Texas Worm Ranch are two small gardening businesses in Dallas that have struggled to preserve their produce’s organic purity amidst the chemical assaults on their land.
On the edge of Dallas and right up against Mesquite lies Marie Tedei’s one-woman farm, the Eden Organic Garden Center, where, in Balch Springs, the county has honored her farm’s organic integrity by declaring it a no-spray zone since 2007. But between the late-night hours of last Thursday night and early Friday morning, a contract worker driving a truck didn’t turn off his ground spray, didn’t slow down when he saw Tedei waving him down to stop the spray, and instead continued along his merry way.
Stay with me here.
“They hired subcontractors to help them with the accelerated truck spray, so the explanation that I was given by Tony Perkins was that there must’ve been a lack of communication to the substitute drivers. He [Perkins] apologized profusely, and they called me back. They were sincerely apologetic. My beef isn’t with the county; they have always been pro-Eden. I don’t know who the [first] driver was. The second driver did stop, did turn off his sprayer, and did go around me, then start his sprayer again,” say Tedei.
What Tedei does have a problem with is the effect the spray has had on her lungs. That evening, she immediately started having a scratchy throat, and throughout the next day she could smell the chemicals in the middle of her farm. Her symptoms soon developed into bronchitis, which she has not had in two years. “Poison control tried to tell me that my bronchitis attack was somehow not mysteriously not related to this. Just because someone doesn’t end up in the ICU or dead doesn’t mean it’s not affecting people in the short term with the continued spraying.”
“…hopefully, we’ll not have to repeat this drill ever again. doing it on a few rows for a snap freeze is one thing – doing it over 18+ rows – something totally different. sigh – but, at least everything was safe – no residue up by the gardens, and I believe the integrity of our no pesticide use is safe – thankfully. Now I want to get back to farming!”
She also reports that her throat has been feeling better, but she is worried for “people with chemical sensitivity, (for) these are the people who can be seriously affected.”
Heather Rinaldi and Steve Clary of the Texas Worm Ranch are serious composters who raise worms to help grow their organic garden. If you’ve been to the Coppell Farmers Market, White Rock Local Market, or the Dallas Eco-Op’s Pop Up Market on Wednesdays, you’ve probably seen Rinaldi or Clary at their booth selling gallons of worm wine along with a slew of organic vegetables like okras and peas. While the city was debating whether or not to start spraying for West Nile, the two small business owners figured it would cost $1,000 on material to cover their garden at Lake Highlands – material that would’ve had to be disposed right after anyway. “It would’ve been a waste of material, and it would’ve been about the same as the produce that we can’t use or sell. From a business standpoint it didn’t make sense,” says Rinaldi.
After the county sprayed the Worm Ranch’s property for West Nile, Clary immediately began to treat their garden foliage with high microbe worm wine to combat the synthetic pyrethroid sprayed by the city in the soil. The Worm Ranchers took to social media so that their campaign against the spraying could be heard by the rest of Dallas. Last Friday on August 18, Steve Clary wrote:
“Earlier this week, Heather spoke against the aerial spraying at Dallas City Council. Unfortunately, our words fell on our Mayor’s deaf ears. We are not happy of the effect this spraying is having on our bees, butterflies and other beneficial creatures. Heather’s daughter has a rash that started the day after they started fogging our neighborhoods by truck. We cannot eat from our organic garden or sell our organic produce.”
In fact, Rinaldi estimates a profit loss between $1,200 and $3,000 from the produce that they won’t be selling in the weeks coming up. In addition, they’ll also be losing potential customers tomorrow at White Rock Local Market, because people are usually drawn in by the organic produce to buy worm products.
“That doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but when you’re a small business owner and it’s August, the hardest time of the year to make ends meet, and you still have employees to pay… it’s hard. It’s hard to have a hit like especially at this time of year. And it’s a lot of work, and we’ve tried covering plots, and it’s adding hours of work to our day, and we’re not getting any benefit to it,” says Rinaldi. “It [the spraying] is not effective, in my opinion, and it’s poisining all of us – humans and all. It’s probably letting the mosquitos develop a resistance, and it will take a stronger chemical to kill them.”
In two to three weeks, the Texas Worm Ranch hopes to have produce in local farmers markets again. This morning, Rinaldi sounded hopeful on her blog.
“Despite all this, I feel hope. It’s nearly a new season. I’ve placed my faith in seeds nestled in flats. I’ve given them love and tender care by placing them in sunny spots during the cooler parts of the day and bringing them into the shade during the heat of the day. I have brought them in to avoid the overnight pesticide spraying. I pray for sense and reason to come to our local government and awareness and education to enlighten our citizens.”