Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian Watsonville Mayor Vanessa Quiroz-Carter speaks of the hazards of pesticide use at area farms around area schools and elsewhere Tuesday in back of MacQuiddy Elementary School.

Several community leaders and community members gathered at MacQuiddy Elementary School Tuesday evening to call on Driscoll’s, Reiter and other companies to stop using toxic pesticides around schools.

“Choosing to farm organically is a decision based on hope and a deep understanding of our interdependence with the earth,” said Mireya Gomez-Contreras, co-founder of Esperanza Community Farms. “When Driscoll’s makes that transition, it will transform people, families and entire communities, starting with Watsonville. The ripple effects will be as big as Driscoll’s itself.”  

While the goal of the Campaign for Organic and Regenerative Agriculture (CORA) is for the entire Pajaro Valley to transition to organic farming practices, the group hopes this can start in places close to where children congregate daily, the organization states in a press release.

“That’s why we’re here at MacQuiddy Elementary School right behind this great school,” said CORA co-founder Adam Scow, who also serves as a Pajaro Valley Unified School District trustee.

Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian Adults and and children showed up at the event with homemade signs.

The press conference occurred on the same day that CORA released a map of the farms surrounding schools, and whether they use toxic pesticides.

“We’re asking those fields be transitioned to organic as soon as possible,” Scow said.

Roughly 20% of the Pajaro Valley is already farmed organically, he said. 

“We know with that legacy we can build on that, and make this valley a safer and healthier place for everybody,” he said.

In 2023, the Watsonville City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of organic farming within 1-mile of the perimeter of the City’s boundary, and to work with local, regional and private orgs to realize that

“I’m here to be part of that work,” said Watsonville Mayor Vanessa Quiroz-Carter, who said that she often smells pesticides while driving by farms.

“It hurts my lungs,” she said. “It’s hard to breathe. And that’s what our kids are being exposed to, that’s what the workers are being exposed to, and that’s just simply unacceptable to be constantly exposed to that kind of toxicity.

In previous interviews, Driscoll’s chairman Miles Reiter has stated support for the concept of organic farming near schools, CORA stated in a press release.

Reiter Berry Farms Inc. and Driscoll’s did not respond to requests for comment.

The infographic map highlights specific pesticides used on specific fields by thirteen Pajaro Valley schools including Macquiddy, Ann Soldo, Amesti, Bradley, Ohlone, Pajaro Middle, Lakeview Middle Calabasas, Renaissance, Alianza, Pacific Coast Charter, Watsonville Charter School for the Arts and Watsonville High School. 

Pesticides identified include Malathion, Glyphosate, Telone, and Chloropicrin which have been identified as carcinogenic and associated with other health problems. 

Ann Lopez, Executive Director for Center for Farmworker Families, said that Driscoll’s should stop using toxic pesticides near schools, and, “lead an organic conversion of fields by our schools and neighborhoods.”

“The company already has many organic fields in the region,” Lopez said. “It is only fair and morally responsible that they keep pesticides that cause cancer and learning disabilities away from our kids and the places where we live and breathe.”

Dorothy Rudolph, 8, worried that schools are “getting attacked” by pesticides, and that kids are getting cancer as a result.

“I think people should stop spraying pesticides, because I would hate it for someone to spray pesticides at my school,” she said. “It may get away the bugs, but it’s not good for us as well. Maybe we should find a different way to get the bugs away from the plants and still keep us healthy.”

To see the map, click here or visit farmworkerfamily.org/cora

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA. https://pajaronian.com/r-p-reporter-honored-by-csba/


  1. The farmers don’t care. If they did there would be no sparing near schools we would not have to tell them. They know the danger to the kids and residents. Watsonville Strawberry Capital of the World and soon cancer capital of California.
    Ask the farmers if they would send their school near these farms or better yet make them sit in the classrooms with students while the sprays are being applied
    Wake up Watsonville residents, those chemicals are already in the water you drink and bathe in.
    It will take years to clean the groundwater of these toxins even if they stop now

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