What's in Season at the Farmers Markets: Fruit Flies and Netting?

Netting over peaches at Tenerelli Orchards, Pasadena market
Netting over peaches at Tenerelli Orchards, Pasadena market
Felicia Friesema

If you've been to the South Pasadena, Pasadena, or Alhambra farmers markets these past two weeks, you've likely had to navigate your fruit buying through a maze of makeshift netting draped over long tables. On August 10th, the California Department of Food and Agriculture announced a quarantine of about 89 square miles in the Pasadena-San Marino area (full map after the jump). The netting isn't to protect you. It's to keep the Oriental fruit fly out of orchards and farm fields.

Infected produce brought back from the quarantine zone could spread the infestation and allow the pest to gain a foothold at a very ample buffet table. The potential damage cost estimates from this tiny bug shoot into the hundreds of millions of dollars. But that's only if someone breaks quarantine and takes their homegrown fruit and vegetables out of the quarantine zone. Affected farmers markets include Pasadena's Victory Park, Villa, and Shopper's Lane markets, and the Sierra Madre, South Pasadena, Alhambra, and El Sereno markets.

Affected markets in the quarantine zone are marked green.
Affected markets in the quarantine zone are marked green.
California Department of Argiculture/Felicia Friesema

Andrea Tenerelli of Tenerelli Orchards says that the Department of Agriculture sent out officials to each of the markets two weeks ago with maps of the area and a list of the fruits and vegetables that serve as hosts to the invasive pest. "Basically, everything we grow is host to the fruit fly," said Tenerelli. "[The nets] haven't hampered sales with our regular customers. But new customers are a bit shy and the netting just messes with the aesthetics." Other market vendors agreed, and added that they were in favor of protecting their farms from what could be a pretty costly infestation. As to whether or not the tulle drapes and mosquito nets were effective, no one would question the guidelines put in place by public officials. One vendor who asked not to be named said simply, "It's cheap and it keeps us selling our produce. Hopefully it's enough."

In the meantime, the Department of Agriculture is treating the area outlined in the map above using a "male attractant," which workers squirt onto light poles, street trees and similar surfaces. The attractant is mixed with a very small dose of pesticide. Male flies are attracted to the mixture and die after consuming it. These treatments "will be repeated at two-week intervals for two life cycles beyond the last fly find, with a minimum of four applications." In addition, local residents within the quarantine area cannot move host fruits and plants grown on their property out of the quarantine zone. So keep the stone fruits, apples, berries, and homegrown tomatoes at home -- a good excuse to bring the potluck to you.

Oriental fruit fly
Oriental fruit fly
Flickr/Michael Swiderski

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