On April 24, Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales announced the launch of the pilot website, farmingsafelynearschools.com. The pilot softly launched in 2018 in three Pajaro Valley Union School District schools that are within Monterey County limits, including Ohlone Elementary, Hall District Elementary and Pajaro Middle School.
This "hard launch" of the bilingual website Wednesday expands to an additional seven schools in Monterey County, making notifications about pesticide applications available to 10 total school communities. It was funded by a $94,000 grant from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
The website's purpose is two-fold. The first is to be an educational guide, providing facts about pesticide regulations, how to avoid long-term pesticide exposure and other helpful resources pertaining to pesticides.
Its other purpose is to be a communication network between the Agricultural Commissioner's Office, schools, their corresponding families and the farms that surround the schools.
Those who sign up on Farming Safely Near Schools not only receive email alerts five days before fumigants will be used, but will also receive text message alerts.
"It's the first in the nation of this type," Gonzales said in his remarks on Wednesday morning. He adds that it could be a model system for other states when it comes to managing school relationships in farming communities.
Currently, the website only alerts users about fumigant applications within a quarter-mile of a participating school. But the hope is to expand the program to all schools countywide and to include use of all other restricted pesticides.
Gonzales and the Farming Safely Near Schools collaborators—who include superintendents and representatives from the CDPR—expanded the pilot program in hopes of improving the website.
In its initial launch at the three PVUSD schools, Gonzales says they received no feedback from parents. But there was feedback from teachers, which helped the website make crucial changes like creating a text-message alert system and providing both English and Spanish translations. And in Gonzales' view, the more criticism they receive, the better: "The whole objective is to explore and learn," he says.
To take provide feedback or sign up for notifications, go to farmingsafelynearschools.com.