June 17, 2021

Re: “Ripe for Fraud? The challenges of keeping locally grown products in Certified Farmers Markets” (Kimberly Rivers, June 3).

I just wanted to clarify one thing, which really doesn’t affect the overall message of Ms. Rivers’ article. Our CFM inspection program receives a contract of about $7,500 or so per year from State funds paid by vendors at CFMs. We can use those funds to conduct investigations, extra inspections at CFMs and producers sites, and to pursue enforcement actions/conduct hearings, not just for lab tests. Those are the funds we can use to submit samples for testing at a lab, but most of those funds are used to supplement our inspections at CFMs and for follow up on complaints we receive about producers from other market counties. Overall compliance is actually pretty good at the CFMs in Ventura County.

We also charge annual fees of $80 per certified producer’s certificate issued and from $300 to $900 per CFM based on the number of vendors in each market (about 200-300 vendors per week county wide). We have eleven CFMs now in Ventura County and about 125 certified producers.

We use these funds to do the field/site inspections for producers, to do two inspections at each market each year, issue enforcement actions, and hold hearings. In addition we use some net county dollars to cover some of the costs in this program.

Regarding the impacts of budget and drought: Testing products can help, but AgComm is hindered by financial constraints. The total budget for the AgComm office, with a staff of 55, is $7.2 million. The budget for lab testing related to direct marketing (CFM) complaints is a mere $7,500 annually. And tests are expensive: one for pesticide residues (which can indicate a product comes from a different farm) can cost around $600 per lab test.”

We have four divisions in our department and we conduct 30 different programs. Each inspector is assigned to one of the four divisions and des work in all of the programs assigned to that division. Pesticides, hemp, fieldworker safety, etc. in our Pesticide Use Enforcement Division. Pest Management does work in the Glassy-winged Sharpshooter nursery inspection, Invasive Shot-hole Borer, Light Brown Apple Moth, Celery Mosaic, etc. Commodity and Consumer Protection Division is where our CFM program is, and includes inspection of imported melons, citrus maturity, organic enforcement, Bulk Citrus monitoring for Asian Citrus Psyllid, produce quality and labeling, bee colony inspections and registrations, etc. Our Pest Exclusion Division tries to prevent pests and diseases from entering or leaving Ventura County in or on agricultural products by inspecting UPS/FedEx packages, truckloads of nursery stock, packinghouse shipments of various produce that is exported to other countries, etc.

Edmund E. Williams
Ventura Count Agricultural Commissioner

June 10, 2021

My observations as a BHAB member

The Civil Rights Movement was led by ministers courageously confronting the erroneous belief that some of us are more valuable than others.  They marched in protest to challenge the racial segregation that had been eloquently defended by politicians and enforced by police. The neglect and criminalization of people with mental illness is the civil rights and social justice issue of our time. People with mental illnesses continue to face stark inequities borne from stigmatizing beliefs about their worth. You won’t see them marching in protest.

Ventura County leaders falsely claim there is nothing they can do. When given the chance to advocate for reimbursement for services, they refused.  To do so would mean they would have to provide the services. Their indifference keeps people untreated and perpetuates societal stereotypes and prejudices, denying opportunity and the rights and freedoms most of us take for granted. 

Other California counties have assessed what is needed to provide appropriate treatment and supports.  Ventura County is unwilling to assess what is needed.  Blaming restrictive laws and lack of funding for their refusal to create a plan for care is more evidence of stigma when other similarly situated counties are doing this work. 

We waste millions on anti-stigma campaigns aimed at changing society’s attitudes, but it is the leaders with the power to do something who must commit to the principles of equity and justice to exercise their moral and ethical responsibility to bring change.

I spent six years on Ventura County’s mental health board witnessing structural stigma. I observed the lack of investment in wellness and recovery-of-function models of care; I watched millions of dollars approved by Supervisors for programs with no data, focused on people with mild mental health challenges, while the population most in need kept cycling, untreated, through successive restrictive environments. I watched top leadership display a belief that some people’s basic human rights are open for debate when they stated, “we are doing more than we have to” for this population.  I listened to countless families whose loved ones were passed from law enforcement to hospitals, to out-of-county facilities, to jails, to homelessness and then back again. 

Leaders who are responsible for making decisions about mental healthcare should know that their silence and inaction is influenced by structural stigma and the erroneous belief that some of us are more valuable than others.  They should work toward solutions instead of continuing to endorse an inhumane status quo.   

Mary Haffner