Among other ag industry activities of mine, I serve on the board of Associates Insectary, a grower owned cooperative in Santa Paula. For 80 years, we have reared and released beneficial insects as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program for Citrus and Avocados. In 1928, the term “sustainability” hadn’t yet been coined. Neither had the term “Integrated Pest Management.” But we did it anyway, because growers in our area have always been quick to adopt a practical idea when they see it. Typically it is done without recognizing that we are employing “sustainable” methods… most Insectary members think of themselves as “traditional” growers, although our organic acreage is on the rise.
Tuesday’s meeting brought another great example of a project that we didn’t conceptualize as being sustainable… it just seemed like the right way to get the job done. In order to raise predatory insects, you must have prey for them to feed on, and the prey must have food to sustain their population. The preferred food source for our feedstock is squash. For part of the year, we are dependent on imported squash from Mexico, since there simply isn’t any available closer to home.
But we have been very pleased with results from a pilot program with the Fillmore High School FFA. We provided them with seed, and they have cultivated a great crop of squash for us in a window that we typically use imported squash. From their small plot, they have delivered 5000 pounds of squash, and they are still setting blossom. More squash is coming and we are looking to expand the program in the fall. This has been a great outcome for every facet of sustainability. High School kids learn about farming and earn a few bucks by selling us squash. The whole production cycle has lower fossil fuel usage and carbon footprint, no risk of spreading invasive pests, and keeps dollars in the local economy. The Insectary gets reasonably priced squash, improving the economics of beneficial insect production for our members.
It feels pretty good when something works out this well, and there are many more stories like this one than the general public knows. I’ll touch back to this topic from time to time, because the Insectary always seems to have something cool going on.
Next time: converting our yard vehicle fleet to electric.