Monday, April 23, 2018

Farm to Food Pantry– a win-win for farmers and food pantries

Nichole Garden
Food Assistance 

The Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Food Assistance programs, in partnership with Rotary First Harvest, is kicking off the fifth year of its Farm to Food Pantry initiative. The goal is to make more fresh produce available to hungry people by connecting local farms to food pantries. This initiative also helps promote a community-based food system, increasing the viability and success of both agricultural producers and emergency food assistance providers.

What is the Farm to Food Pantry Initiative?

WSDA contracts with Rotary First Harvest of Seattle to coordinate the allocation of grant funds. These funds are distributed to lead agencies involved in the emergency food system that, in turn, use the money to buy produce directly from local growers. These lead agencies are asked to obtain matching funds from private groups, in some cases doubling the amount available to purchase produce.

What’s New?

WSDA has launched a Farm to Food Pantry Seal that lead agencies, food pantries, farmers, and donors can use to display their participation in the initiative. The seal was created as part of a collaboration between WSDA and Farm to Food Pantry participants. Elements included in the seal  came from the feedback we received when speaking with the farmers, food pantries and lead agencies that will use it. This seal is meant to give farmers a marketing tool for their produce and food pantries a tool to leverage additional donations.

What Impact is the Initiative Making?

Since our pilot in 2014, WSDA has invested $98,467 in the initiative, with $77,000 of that going directly to farmers. Farmers also received $52,181 in local match and SNAP-Ed funding for a grand total of $129,181 targeted for farm direct purchases. This resulted in food pantries receiving over 395,882 lbs. of purchased, donated, and/or gleaned, nutrient dense produce to distribute to low-income families in the state of Washington.

Next Steps

This year, WSDA has carved out $33,000 in existing state and SNAP-Ed funds to pay local farmers in 18 Washington counties. These counties include: Asotin, Chelan, Clallam, Clark, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Island, Jefferson, King, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Skagit, Snohomish, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman, and Yakima. In addition to the 12 lead agencies participating in 2017, Opportunities Industrialization Center in Yakima and the South King County Food Coalition in Des Moines are joining the initiative for the first time.

Where can I Learn More?

More details on the initiative, with feedback from the participating food pantries and farmers are included in the 2017 Farm to Food Pantry Report. Visit our Farm to Food Pantry webpage  to review the report, past reports and learn more about our project. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Practicing to protect the food supply post-disaster

Sonia Soelter
WSDA Emergency Management

Last month several WSDA staff participated in a multi-agency exercise to prepare for one of the least-known agency responsibilities: protecting the food supply after a
radiological incident.

PNW’s only nuclear power plant 

Columbia Generating Station near Richland
The Pacific Northwest has only one active nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generation Station (CGS). The federal government requires that nuclear facilities such as CGS demonstrate that they can appropriately respond to protect the public if there were an incident at the facility that resulted in the release of harmful levels of radiation. They demonstrate this readiness by having regular exercises that simulate nuclear incidents. Several local and state agencies participate in these exercises, including WSDA.

Protecting the food supply

WSDA plays a critical role ensuring the safety of the food supply both at the time of a radiological material release and in the months that follow. The agency has two main responsibilities:

  • Issuing an “ag advisory” which provides the community with advice about how to protect their food and water supplies from potential radiological exposure. 
  • Establishing food control areas to prevent contaminated food from entering the food supply chain. 

It was the first of these responsibilities – issuing the ag advisory – that WSDA staff practiced during last month’s exercise.

Practice makes perfect

WSDA’s Rapid Response and Emergency Management Program works closely with the Food Safety and Consumer Services Division, the Animal Services Division and the Communications Office to plan, prepare for, and practice for these events.

During the exercise, participants play out a fictitious scenario using real-world data. For example, the scenario may be that a malfunction has resulted in the release of a plume of radiation. Exercise participants then use real-time weather information to make decisions about how to respond to the incident.

During the exercise, WSDA food-safety staff work with county representatives to identify which counties may be impacted by the scenario. They use this information to draft the ag advisory, which is then coordinated with the other participating agencies and released to the media. Speed is key to getting the advisory out, so farmers and the public can take to protect food and water supplies before any potential exposure. The ag advisory recommends things like:

  • Sheltering animals.
  • Covering animal food and water supplies.
  • Not transporting agricultural products out of the area.

Feedback from other exercise participants, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency  (FEMA) which monitored and graded the exercise, was positive. WSDA staff have dramatically sped up the process for issuing the ag advisory over the years, and they continue to look for ways to improve.

The real-world implication for the public is that they will get information in time to take actions to protect our food supply, which is important for both the health of Washingtonians and our agricultural economy.

As WSDA practices for emergencies, we encourage residents to prepare as well. Check out our website for information about WSDA’s disaster response and how you can prepare for emergencies, such as a nuclear event.

Interested in learning more about the Columbia Generating Station? Check out the video below!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Nine ways to celebrate Washington Shellfish Week April 15–21

Karla Salp

Washington state leads the nation in the production of many agriculture commodities, such as apples, cherries, and even tulip bulbs. But another commodity in which we are tops is sometimes forgotten: shellfish.

Enjoyed for generations

Shellfish – including oysters, clams and muscles – have long been an important staple of area’s diet as tribal communities harvested and enjoyed shellfish from the Puget Sound and coastal beaches for generations. Today, both tribes and Washington’s shellfish farmers continue the tradition and cultivate shellfish that are enjoyed both locally and around the world; over 20 million pounds of shellfish are produced in Washington’s waters each year.

Boon to the environment

The fact that Washington leads the nation in shellfish production is good news not only for the economy, but for the environment as well.

Shellfish are a key part of our marine ecosystems by helping filter and clean water which in turn promotes healthy growth of seagrass habitats.

Shellfish beds also act like reefs, providing habitat and increasing biodiversity in our waters. Scientists consistently find higher populations of marine life around shellfish beds.

Threats to shellfish

No agricultural endeavor is without its challenges, though, and shellfish are no different.

Less than 4% of historic core populations of native Olympia oysters remain in Puget Sound. Shellfish growers and the Washington State Shellfish Initiative are working to restore historic locations that will create nearshore habitat and natural filtration.

Shellfish also face pressure from invasive species, ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, habitat destruction and urban runoff. Shellfish growers, researchers and many government agencies are working together to identify and mitigate the threats to our shellfish, ensuring that shellfish will continue to remain a Washington staple for generations to come.

Join the celebration

Here are nine ideas for digging into Washington Shellfish Week:

Whether you are a shellfish lover or just appreciate their environmental benefits, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate shellfish this week.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Spring is here – time to vaccinate your horse for West Nile virus

Dr. Thomas Gilliom
WSDA field veterinarian 

Mosquito season is upon us which means it’s time to make sure your horses are vaccinated for West Nile virus. Washington often reports more cases of West Nile virus in horses than most other states in the nation, making vaccinations all the more important.

Usually, most confirmed cases of West Nile virus are in the central and eastern part of our state. Cases crop up beginning in late spring and through the summer and fall, which is also prime mosquito season.

Since the virus spreads by mosquitoes, there are no mass outbreaks affecting several horses at once, but rather just one or two cases at a time. Last year, nine horses were diagnosed with West Nile virus statewide, but just two years earlier, 36 cases were reported in Washington, with several horses dying or being euthanized as a result of the disease.

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds and while it can sicken people, horses, birds and other animals, it does not directly spread from horses to people or other animals.

Most horses exposed to the West Nile virus don’t show any symptoms. When they do become ill, however, symptoms can include lack of coordination, loss of appetite, confusion, fever, stiffness, and muscle weakness, particularly in their hindquarters. The disease is fatal in about a third of the cases where these symptoms show up.

West Nile virus can be prevented with vaccination and spring is when horse owners should plan to include West Nile virus with annual equine vaccinations.

The vaccine is most effective when given to horses early in the mosquito season. Horses require two doses of the vaccine initially, and then boosters at least annually.

Use insect repellent and fly sheets to reduce exposure to mosquitoes. Also,look for and eliminate areas with standing water where mosquitoes can breed. Get rid of old tires or other areas where rain water can accumulate. It’s even a good idea to refresh the water in water troughs weekly.

Veterinarians who diagnose potential West Nile virus cases should contact the State Veterinarian’s Office at (360) 902-1878.

Visit WSDA’s West Nile virus webpage or the state Department of Health for more information.

Friday, April 6, 2018

EHV-1 detected in horse at equine facility, quarantine order issued

Dr. Brian Joseph
Washington State Veterinarian

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has quarantined a facility in King County after a single laboratory-verified case of equine herpes virus EHV-1, neuropathogenic strain, was detected there.

On April 5, a horse at the Gold Creek Equine Facility in Woodinville tested positive for EHV-1. The horse has been moved to an isolated area on the premises and WSDA has quarantined the facility. Temperatures of the horses at the facility will be taken twice daily.

Gold Creek has cooperated fully with the quarantine order and operators there are working to ensure strict biosecurity measures are in place. WSDA is tracing movements of horses off the premises prior to the quarantine and may issue additional quarantine orders if needed.

Given the highly infectious nature of the virus, WSDA is urging horse owners to follow these recommendations:

  • Watch your horse for signs of possible infection, such as:
    • Fever of 102.5F or higher
    • Discharge from the eyes or nose
    • Respiratory symptoms
    • Swelling of the limbs
    • Spontaneous abortions
    • Neurological signs such as unsteady gait, weakness, urine dripping, lack of tail tone and recumbency.
  • Check your horse’s temperature twice daily, ideally first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Also, check before administering medications as some can lower body temperature.
  • Notify your veterinarian immediately if you detect any of the symptoms above. Your veterinarian may want to take nasal swabs for virus detection or blood samples for evidence of exposure to EHV-1.
More information about testing, vaccines and biosecurity can be found in our previous blog about EHV-1.  This is a developing situation. We will update this blog as we learn more.

4/9/18 UPDATE: 

As a precautionary measure, on April 6 WSDA issued quarantine orders for two additional locations in Snohomish County where horses from Gold Creek had been transported prior to WSDA issuing the initial quarantine. The additional locations include a stable in Snohomish and a private residence in Monroe.

Horses at these additional sites are being monitored by veterinarians, but none have shown any signs of illness. All three sites are cooperating with the quarantine orders and are working to ensure strict biosecurity measures are in place.