Friday, October 30, 2020

Stirring up a hornet's nest - safely

Karla Salp

Man looking at log wrapped in cellophane
For WSDA’s Pest Program, persistence has paid off.

Months of researching, planning, and trapping finally led to the discovery of the first Asian giant hornet nest in the United States. The nest was found inside a tree cavity.

After vacuuming 85 hornets from the nest last Saturday, the entomologists in our Pest Program completed the second phase of the project by removing the portion of the tree with the nest on Oct. 28. When they cut into the tree to get to the nest, two queens emerged.

Opening the tree and nest

Early in the morning of Oct. 29, WSDA Pest Program staff gathered at the Washington State University Puyallup Research and Extension Center where the cellophane-wrapped log holding the nest was placed in a walk-in cooler. The cool temperature was meant to help keep any live Asian giant hornets less mobile.

Grabbing Asian giant hornets out of the opened log

In preparation for splitting the log, the team partially removed the cellophane covering it and pumped more carbon dioxide into the tree. They used a circular saw to cut partway through one side of the tree to help the tree split evenly and create a spot to insert a metal wedge. Once the wedge was inserted, one of the team struck it with a sledgehammer, splitting the log open.

The team went into a flurry of action to collect Asian giant hornets that had remained in the log, many of them still alive, though none flying. Numerous adult specimens were collected and there appeared to be both new queens and workers in the nest.

Once the adults were collected, the team set about removing and analyzing the remainder of the nest. They found several larvae in the nest and many white-capped cells with developing adults.

They also found the radio tag they had lassoed to the Asian giant hornet that led the team to the nest. It appeared to have been chewed off.

Still time to trap hornets and find another nest in 2020

Over the next several days, WSDA entomologists will continue to analyze the nest and its contents. They will record data such as the number and caste of adult specimens, the number and size of the nest cells, overall nest size, weight and length of collected specimens, and more. All of the data will be made publicly available when it is complete and will be posted to our Asian giant hornet webpage at

Although the first nest has been found, this is not the end of the story. Work continues for WSDA’s Pest Program as well as some citizen scientist trappers in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and San Juan counties who are keeping their traps up until at least Thanksgiving. There is still time to find another nest this year and residents are still asked to report Asian giant hornet sightings (with a photo if possible) online, via email at, or by calling 1-800-443-6684.

WSDA staff left to right: Rian Wojahn, Chris Looney,
Sven Spichiger, Jessica La Belle, Cassie Cichorz, Karla Salp

More resources:

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Take a delicious departure from the everyday during Seafood Month

Chris McGann

Here in Washington – a state brimming with local oysters, mussels, shrimp, crab, salmon, halibut, and a dazzling array of other fish and shellfish – October is Seafood Month and a great time to support local growers, fishermen, producers and purveyors by taking a delicious departure from every-day home cooking.  

But a lot of people, especially those in charge of cooking, don’t think of seafood for regular meal planning. They may think it’s too expensive, smelly, or hard to cook, maybe all of those things.

That’s one of the reason’s Quan Hoang, Executive Mansion Chef for Governor Jay Inslee, joined WSDA, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Washington Sea Grant to celebrate Seafood

Month and help undo some those misconceptions.

Chef Quan has heard these trepidations many times before. But fortunately, as chef to the governor, a man who ranks salmon among his favorite meals, he knows quite a few ways to help people overcome some of the most common misgivings.

Chef Quan wants people to know that a lot of Washington’s amazing seafood can be simple to prepare – and in some ways even easier to cook than other meats. 

“Seafood is often overlooked,” he said. “People are intimidated by seafood because they think the cost is high. They think it’s more of a gourmet type of food. But there are many types of seafood out there that are inexpensive and very easy to cook.” 

Anybody can cook seafood

As chef Quan demonstrated how to prepare a rockfish recipe in the governor’s mansion kitchen earlier this month, he mentioned that you don’t have to be a chef to cook seafood. 

“You just have to enjoy fish, and love to eat,” he said. “It’s a very simple dish and people will love it.”

Golden fish filets sizzled in a large sauté pan on the stove behind him as chef Quan spoke. A Lemon Beurre Blanc sauce bubbled on the back burner. Hoang discussed the virtues of local fish with a smile, occasionally rattling a whisk around the sauce pan and testing the filets’ doneness with the gentle press of his fingers.

“Rockfish is a very versatile fish to work with. It’s great for eating, it’s flakey and has a very mild flavor,” he said. “And it will take any flavor you may want to add. It’s one of those fish you can’t really screw up.”

Fishing, crabbing and shrimping are part of Washington’s heritage. The communities along Washington’s coastline play host to a commercial fleet that puts more than 20,000 people to work each year in living-wage jobs. Their labor drives more than $600 million in economic benefit to our state and delivers healthy, sustainable Washington seafood to kitchen tables across the state. 

Seafood month isn’t the first time chef Quan worked with WSDA to help people find ways to prepare food  they may not be familiar with. In the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, he took on the challenge of coming up with good recipes based on emergency food boxes.

“I took it as a challenge to try to make meals out of the ingredients in these boxes at the food banks,” he said. “From garbanzo beans to canned salmon to pre-packaged stew, I made meals out of each. Hopefully, I gave people some ideas of what to do with their food boxes.” 

Chef Quan said he tested his recipes on a very picky eater, his wife. 

“If she liked it, then I knew it was good to go,” he said.

 He also worked with the Farm to Food Banks products, which offered more fresh vegetables that not everyone knows how to prepare. All these quick-and easy recipes are available online.

“We tried to do recipes that people could do with ingredients they have in their homes,” he said. “Nothing elaborate. It was a lot of fun, and I’m trying to come up with a lot more to make it more exciting to “eat out of a box.””

More information about when and where to buy locally sourced Washington seafood is available at WFWD. Consumers can also find Pacific Northwest seafood near them with the help of Local Catch, a network of supported fisheries and small-scale harvesters. 

Visit WSDA’s Food Assistance Program’s webpage for more recipes.

Here’s Chef Quan's rockfish recipe. (Reporter's note: It's delicious!)

Pan-seared Rockfish with Garlic Lemon Beurre Blanc Sauce


2 Lemons (Juiced)

½ cup dry white wine (like a Sauvignon Blanc)

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

½ cup vegetable oil

6 (8oz) Rockfish fillets

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cold butter (cubed)


Prepare the lemon beurre blanc sauce by combining tablespoon of oil and garlic to a 1-quart saucepan cook for about 30 seconds. Add lemon juice, wine and cream to saucepan and simmer on medium heat until reduced by half the volume. Meanwhile, heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge fish fillets in flour and sauteed in the hot skillet until golden brown. Remove fish from heat and let rest. When the sauce has reduced, slowly whisk in the butter one cube at time, whisk until all the butter is well incorporated, add salt and pepper to taste. Place fish on platter, and drizzle sauce around and over the fish to serve.

Note from Chef Quan: I like to serve this with some wild rice and grilled vegetable.


Friday, October 16, 2020

2019 sees dip in revenues for Washington crops with onions joining the Top 10

Hector Castro
WSDA Communications

Washington’s agricultural production dipped slightly in 2019 to $9.49 billion, down 2 percent from the previous year, according to the annual value of Washington agriculture production report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Statistics Service (USDA-NASS).

The Value of Washington’s 2019 Agricultural Production announcement was released this week. Among notable developments, a two percent increase in the value of onion production boosted it into the top ten, with a value of $181 million in 2019.

“Onions have always been right on the cusp of the Top 10, they’ve usually been in that 11th through 14th range for some time,” said Dennis Koong, deputy director of the USDA-NASS Northwest Regional Field Office. 

Apples remained Washington’s leading agriculture commodity, despite an 8 percent decrease in production value, followed by milk, which was up 13 percent from the previous year, and potatoes, which saw an increase of 19 percent. 

No data is yet available on how production has fared during 2020 and the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. All figures in this week’s report are for 2019. Also, USDA-NASS does not include data on marijuana production, as it is not a federally recognized agriculture crop. 

The 2019 Washington State Top Ten list of agriculture commodities 

  1. Apples -- $1.95 billion
  2. Milk -- $1.28 billion
  3. Potatoes -- $934 million
  4. Wheat, all -- $792.5 million
  5. Cattle and Calves -- $698.7 million
  6. Hops -- $475.6 million
  7. Hay, all -- $$468 million
  8. Cherries, sweet -- $393.5 million
  9. Grapes, all -- $308 million
  10. Onions, all -- $180.5 million

Several crops that did not make the top 10 list still had good years in 2019. These included blueberries, which reached a record high value of $153 million in 2019, a 10 percent increase from the previous year, barley, with a 39 percent increase in value of $29.9 million in 2019, and canola which, at $22.3 million, saw a fourth consecutive year of increasing values.

The USDA-NASS report also lists commodities that Washington leads the nation in growing, including hops, spearmint oil, apples, sweet cherries, pears and cultivated blueberries.

Visit for more agriculture statistics. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Food security during COVID-19, WSDA rises to the challenge

Chris McGann

Amy Dietrich of Frog Hollow Farm, Jeff Mathias of Blue
 Mountain Action Council (BMAC) and the National Guard
 show off their harvest from Frog Hollow’s ½ acre Food Bank
Garden.  BMAC contracts with Frog Hollow as part of
 WSDA and Harvest Against Hunger’s Farm to Food Pantry

When COVID-19 struck our state in February, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) rose to the challenge, responding in real-time to adapt safety guidelines, distribution networks, food procurement, processing, storage and financing models in a difficult, rapidly evolving environment. 

COVID-19 unleashed a devastating wave of illness that spread so fast and uncontrollably that within weeks of the initial infections, a statewide shutdown of many businesses and a mandatory stay-at-home order became the only option for slowing the contagion. 

The response saved lives but it also wiped out hundreds of thousands of Washington jobs, threatened our food supply chain, and put millions of Washingtonians at risk of going hungry. 

A multi-pronged response

From the onset, WSDA stepped up to activate and execute a multi-pronged response to coordinate, administer and carry out a massive hunger-relief effort to address a situation with an estimated 1.6 to 2.2 million people at risk of food insecurity. 

The agency secured more than $75 million of state and federal dollars for food assistance. It worked to help state philanthropic organizations raise more than $10 million for food assistance. It pioneered innovative new projects, such as working with AMI Airlines to redirect frozen airline meals to people in need at a time when air traffic had ground to a halt. 

The agency threw its all into the effort and that was just the start. WSDA partnered with private donors, other state and federal agencies, and tapped its own emergency funds to procure food, personal protective equipment and everything from paper boxes to additional cold storage facilities.  

WSDA has played a lead role in stabilizing the food supply chain, ensuring food access to a soaring number of food insecure Washingtonians, and providing technical assistance to farmers and producers who have adapted their business models to secure new markets. 

The effort required establishing new partnerships with major hunger-relief organizations to tap into existing distribution networks, facilities and expertise to make sure the food would get to those in need. WSDA continues to work with schools, food banks, farmers, processors and the National Guard in this endeavor. 

The agency developed new arrangements to redirect food originally intended for restaurants and even airlines to people in need, as well as establishing a strategic reserve of shelf-stable food for the need that remains.

For nearly six months, WSDA and its partners have been providing food assistance for people experiencing difficulties during the COVID-19 crisis. With the help of National Guard members, WSDA has distributed more than 1 million Washington Emergency Food boxes and helped food pantries across the state stock up on food for hungry families. 

This work is in addition to distributing roughly 1 million pounds of food to almost 200,000 Washingtonians each week through WSDA’s Food Assistance program. 

To ensure our ability to address a potential food security crisis, WSDA also secured more than $75 million of emergency funding through the state Office of Financial Management since the beginning of COVID-19.  

$10 million in April from the Disaster Relief Account.

$51 million in May from federal CARES Act stabilization funding. 

$15 in June -- $4 million CARES stabilization funding and $11 million from the Disaster Relief Account

This money was used for:

Capacity investments to help move higher volumes of food through the emergency food system, including more perishables like fresh produce and frozen meals.

Support of the state-funded Emergency Food Assistant Program, including food assistance to the tribes.  

Food Assistance Program pilot projects getting fresh food and frozen prepared meals to communities with high need and low food access.

Shelf-stable food procurement to offset unfulfilled bids for USDA commodities promised to the hunger relief network through the federal Families First legislation.

Ongoing emergency food box production and distribution.

Establishment of a strategic reserve of food to mitigate ongoing supply chain disruptions.

Procuring PPE, boxes, and disinfectant to support the hunger relief network with safe distribution models.

Redefining an agency

Beyond the raw numbers, the crisis has redefined WSDA’s entire organization. The agency has undertaken many new tasks and challenges to ensure ongoing food production and access to food in Washington. Some of WSDA’s actions and innovations include:

Multi-agency food security coordination – At Gov. Jay Inslee’s request, Director Sandison joined the Governor’s staff in leading the Food Security Coordination Team established in March. Working alongside other state agencies, the state Emergency Operations Center, FEMA and key non-government (NGOs) hunger-relief partners, WSDA quickly expanded its capacity to provide food assistance and helped plan, prepare and take action to enhance emergency food system operations and prevent a hunger crisis. 

WSDA Director Derek Sandison tours 
a Fife warehouse now housing a strategic 
reserve of shelf-stable emergency food. 
Washington Emergency Food Initiative – In partnership with the Governor’s office and NGO hunger relief organizations -- Northwest Harvest, Food Lifeline, and Second Harvest -- WSDA launched an initiative to procure and distribute shelf-stable emergency food to hunger relief partners statewide. 

Strategic Reserve of Emergency Food – High competition for products, long lead times, and nearly empty food bank warehouses in April compelled WSDA to procure shelf stable emergency food to ensure availability of food throughout the emergency food system. These foods will be distributed to our food assistance contractors and our Washington Emergency Food Initiative partners. 

Food Assistance Funding – Additional state funds have been issued to increase state and federal emergency food assistance funding. 

WSDA partnered with Harvest Against Hunger to help
 buy cold storage units for hunger relief programs. One
recipient, the Kalispel Tribe said the new freezers
"opened the doors to better dietary options".
Emergency Food Procurement –Orders for hunger relief organizations have quadrupled in volume and availability and food supply chain challenges persist. Through all of this, WSDA has been able to increase our orders and distribute food. In addition, WSDA has backfilled food orders in response to a large increase in the number of canceled USDA foods. 

Emergency Food System Capacity Investments – WSDA provided millions in federal CARES funding to hunger relief organizations so they could increase their storage capacity for cold, frozen and dry products. This became an increased priority due to the influx of fresh food boxes through the USDA Farm to Families Food Box Program and the increasing amount of fresh and frozen foods through TEFAP.

Emergency Food Pilots (Flexible Funding) – The CARES funding allowed WSDA to create pilot projects to fill emergency food gaps in a COVID-19 environment.  As shelf-stable foods became a challenge to obtain, the agency diversified strategies to fresh and frozen foods. The Charlie’s Produce pilot, for example, provided fresh food boxes to rural areas and tribes, as well as supported local farmers. The AMI “Airline” Farm to Freezer local pilot project allows for the purchase of local foods from farmers in Whatcom County to be turned into soups that can be frozen and distributed to food insecure families.

Farm to School – WSDA facilitated connections between school meal programs and local farms and distributors to support local supply chain functioning as school cafeterias closed but meal programs continued to provide food to children in need. 

The road ahead

The emergency food system may be forever changed as a result of COVID-19.  But at WSDA, we are committed to supporting hunger relief professionals and households that have been impacted by this crisis. 

While the months ahead remain uncertain, we are confident in the strategies we’ve implemented to shore up the operations, staffing, cold storage capacity and food supply of the hunger relief network to face whatever challenges may lie ahead.  Through our work with the Governor’s office on the Food Security Coordination team, we continue to address critical needs through collaboration and innovation.  

Our work will inform the Legislature, our congressional delegation, and our partners at USDA about the needs of Washingtonians and the opportunities that lie ahead to support all aspects of growing, processing and distributing food, protecting animal and plant health as well as our precious natural resources, helping our farmers and producers connect with markets for their products, assuring consumers that their food is safe, and making sure everyone in our state has access to good food.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Steam cleaning invasive snails

Scott Weybright
Washington State University

Where other solutions failed to eradicate invasive snails, steaming them appears to do the trick.

The steaming apparatus at work, next to
a plot that had just been steamed.
Photo courtesy of WSU. 

WSDA is working with Washington State University and the Port of Tacoma to eradicate an infestation of invasive Mediterranean vineyard snail using an innovative new method, steam. 

The invasive snails were first found on Port of Tacoma property in 2005. The total infestation covered about 300 acres of land held by the port, Pierce County, and private owners, according to Jenn Stebbings, a Port of Tacoma biologist. 

Traditional treatments, including debris removal, brush cutting, and molluscicides, or snail bait, were used on most of that area. But areas within a 10-acre plot at the port, where the invasive snail was originally found, have proved difficult to clear. 

“It’s a wetlands area, so you can’t use snail bait when surface water is present,” said WSDA Eradication Coordinator Rian Wojahn. “We’ve been looking for years for another way to get rid of them.”

“We’ve had a portable steam boiler system that we use to fight fungi,” said Gary Chastagner, a plant pathology and extension specialist at WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center. “This is definitely an unplanned use of the technology, but the results have been very positive.” 

The idea came up at a meeting about other projects two years ago. WSU research associate Marianne Elliott overheard people talking about the continuing snail problem and suggested the steam system could help.

How to steam invasive snails 

The system consists of a trailer-mounted powerful boiler with a 300-gallon water tank, temperature sensors, hoses, and large plastic tarps. Swimming pool covers are used to retain heat. 

Steam from the boiled water is released at several spots under the tarp, warming the covered soil.

The steam kills snail eggs and adults in the covered area. The process takes about four hours per plot, and they can do two 750-square-foot plots per day. 

Treatment of infested areas will take a few weeks to complete, depending on weather. The colder the temperature, the longer it takes to heat the soil, Elliott said. Wet soil is more difficult to work with.

“This is a bigger area than we’re used to, it’s not a nursery with a small area infested with an invasive fungus problem,” Chastagner said. “But we did several test runs last year and it really worked well.”

The steam process isn’t targeted, so all plant life is killed in treated areas. As part of the permit for the steaming project, WSDA is seeding the affected area with native grasses and covering it with hay for protection.

Need for eradication

Examples of the Mediterranean vineyard snails that 
invaded Port of Tacoma land.  
Photo courtesy of WSU. 

Mediterranean vineyard snails love to feed on wheat. That’s a big problem in a state with a $700 million wheat industry. 

“It’s a nasty wheat pest,” Wojahn said. “It’s gotten to Australia, and they can’t harvest the wheat. They gum up the harvesters. It would be a huge problem if the snails get away from the port.”

Other uses for steam-powered pest control

This isn’t the first unplanned use for WSU’s steam system. Chastagner and his team have helped fight apple maggots near Twisp and treated yard waste in Okanogan County, among other projects.

“Steam is one of the oldest ways to fight agricultural pathogens,” Chastagner said. “It’s all about reaching the right temperature at soil depths where the targeted organism occurs. We think this will be very helpful for the port as a way to eliminate this invasive species.”

Visit our website for more information about WSDA's Pest program.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Taste Washington Day 2020 celebrates resilient farm to school connections

 Chris Iberle, Farm to School Lead

Common Threads Farm, Bellingham, school garden harvest.

The tenth annual Taste Washington Day may look a little different this year, but even with challenges associated with remote learning and COVID-19 precautions, it remains true to its mission of celebrating community, connecting students and farmers through school meals, and educating them about where their food comes from.

Across Washington State this year, schools, farms, children, families, school gardeners, agriculture educators, organizations and businesses have come together to support one another, showing strength and resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges.

However school districts adapt their activities for Taste Washington Day, scheduled for Oct. 7, this special day highlights how they provide local food to students in school meals, learn in their schools’ gardens, and educate students about food and agriculture. 

Thirty-six school districts are signed up to participate so far, and working with dozens of Washington farmers and producers to buy food items and ingredients for their meals. School districts and farmers can still sign up online to be a part of the event and share their plans with WSDA.

School nutrition staff have showed heroic, creative, and inspiring efforts to overhaul their school meal programs since the COVID-19 pandemic turned school operations upside down. 

School nutrition programs continue to be a critical food access point providing millions of meals for many children, families and communities statewide, especially during the pandemic. School meals have also provided an opportunity for students to stay connected with their school. 

“Nutrition staff in our districts love greeting the kids when they pick up their meals,” said Janis Campbell-Aikens, Child Nutrition director at Auburn School District and president of the Washington School Nutrition Association. “They have been one constant for the kids, from before COVID-19, and through the spring and summer.”

Coupeville School District boxed pasta lunches with sauce
that includes Washington-raised meat.

New, unique meal needs

The Taste Washington Day theme this year is “What’s in the Bag or Box from Washington?” encouraging schools to feature at least one Washington-grown product in sack lunches or meal boxes distributed to students. 

Local Washington-grown foods have been filling schools’ new, unique needs, as farmers support schools with products that fit grab-and-go meals, such as lunchbox-sized apples or pears, individually wrapped hardboiled eggs, dried cherries, and snacking veggies for sack lunches. 

Schools offering multi-day “grocery box” or recipe kits have added local yogurt, cheese, potatoes, onions, rhubarb, broccoli, and bread to distribution boxes. Districts incorporating scratch cooking into new distribution models, such as prepared meals to heat and eat at home, have featured Washington-grown beef, vegetables, and other cooked ingredients.

Washington Apple Crunch goes virtual!

The Washington Apple Crunch will again be part of Taste Washington Day, albeit virtual this year. Teachers, students and parents are encouraged to participate in the Washington Apple Crunch, and bite into a Washington-grown apple at noon on Oct. 7, and make a statewide crunch to celebrate our state’s agriculture. 

WSDA partners with the Washington School Nutrition Association to organize Taste Washington Day, with support from Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Child Nutrition. Local nonprofits, parents, volunteers, and community partners also work to support Taste Washington Day. 

Together with schools and local farmers, we celebrate Washington agriculture and promote the nutritious foods being served in our schools.