Strawberries, Drones, Fumigation & the Ag Commissioner

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | February 7, 2019

Participating Schools:

  • Gonzales High School
  • North Salinas High School
  • Soledad High School


Ag Commissioner’s Office, 1428 Abbott St. Salinas, ca

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Barbara LaVake – TiCal Field Day planner and support.
  • Dennis Lane – TriCal
  • Abbie Asche – TriCal
  • Carolyn O’Donnell –  California Strawberry Commission
  • Henry Gonzales – Monterey County Ag Commissioner
  • Kevin Hill – ParaBug
  • Chandler Bennett – ParaBug

Summary of the Day:

Pests and disease are agricultures biggest adversary. Producers of all kind are always battling or protecting crops from bugs and killer diseases. FARMS Leadership Students met with Carolyn O’Donnell to learn how the Strawberry commission plays a key role in promoting strawberry consumption and sharing the amazing benefits of eating strawberries as a part of a healthy diet.

“Today I learned that 88% of straberries are grown in California.” – Annabel Uribe

First up, TriCal Inc. a family owned business that provides soil fumigation services to sterilize the soil before strawberry plants are placed in their beds. Students learned about TriCal and their commitment to their employee’s safety and well being by paying applicators a living wage with benefits and full-time year-round work. Students spoke with employees and learned about the different jobs TriCal offers. We were able to see the applicator machines and personal safety gear. Abbie Asche talked about her job as a Pest Control Advisor (PCA) with TriCal. Abbie explained the leading diseases that need soil fumigation, like nematodes, bacteria, fungi, and insects. TriCal’s motto is Healthy Fields, Healthy Yields. TriCal is a leader in regulatory requirements that help ensure the health of the consumers and growers.

“Today I learned about TriCal and what it takes to be a PCA or a CAA.” – Brenda Vasquez

Who regulates and permits TriCal to do what they do? The Ag Commissioner. Henry Gonzales is the Ag Commissioner for Monterey County and presented to students about what he does and the career pathway that brought him to the position of Ag Commissioner. Students were extremely engaged and interested in hearing about how Henry Gonzales grew up in Salinas at a local high school.

Students like Christopher Martinez from North Salinas High School related to Henry’s passion for soccer as a young man. Christopher plays soccer competitively on a traveling team. Students were encouraged to hear some of the challenges Henry went through and how that influences his role as Ag Commissioner. Henry takes his job very seriously and expects his employees to do the same. As Ag Commissioner, he sends auditors to make sure that companies like TriCal are properly using pesticides and following all safety precautions and procedures. He also approves the permits that give companies permission to use pesticides. There is a lot of paperwork that a company like TriCal has to provide for a single job it fills an entire binder.

“Today I learned about the top 10 Ag commodities. I also learned about pesticides and when they can and can’t be used.” – Katelyn Jimenez, Soledad High School

After Henry’s presentation, Kevin Hill, a drone pilot and Chandler Bennett, the creator, and owner of ParaBug. Chandler and Kevin came to talk about how they are using drone technology to fight unwanted pests by dropping beneficial insects from a drone like a paratrooper being dropped on the battlefield. Students were able to hear the story of Chandler’s success and see this creative new idea up close and personal.

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