UC Davis

Explosions may cost organic farm certification

By From page A1 | January 27, 2013

When police destroyed explosive-making materials found in a junior researcher’s apartment, they may have contaminated part of the UC Davis Student Farm.
Soil samples were collected before and after eight controlled detonations on a fallow field off Orchard Park Drive on Jan. 17.
“The national organic law says you can’t put anything synthetic on organic ground. Our basic assumption is that we’re going to have to take some land out of certification,” said Mark Van Horn, Student Farm director, on Saturday.  “We’re just sort of in a holding pattern at this point, waiting to see what the results of the tests are.”
The Santa Cruz-based California Certified Organic Farmers, which certifies organic farms throughout the state, will use the samples to determine whether the detonation site will lose its organic certification and, if so, how much acreage around it will also lose its certification, under the law, for three years.
The chemicals and other materials were collected after a small explosion in a Russell Park apartment complex early Jan. 17 resulted in the evacuation of 40 apartments and a 20-hour chemical-removal operation by bomb technicians. David Scott Snyder, 32, who suffered minor injuries in the blast, was arraigned on 10 felony counts in Yolo County Superior Court. He is being held on $2 million bail.
Van Horn said the field used to destroy some of the material has typically been used for research. It has been left fallow for “a couple of years.”
Organic farming is the “default mode of management” for the 20-acre farm, which includes a Market Garden that grows crops for students and the community.
UCD Police Chief Matt Carmichael said that the site, about 50 yards from any crops, was picked with safety in mind. Transporting the chemicals was dangerous work, so the experts on the scene didn’t want them carried far.
“It was absolutely regrettable that we had to render these items safe in that area,” Carmichael said. “That is a shame, but human life was paramount. The people from the Student Farm have been very supportive. We’ll do everything we can to help get the farm back to where it was.”
Carmichael said that the controlled method of detonation, the heat of which eliminates the chemicals’ explosiveness, is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency — “but we’re at a different level (with this field), because we’re talking about organic certification.”
Five people representing the Student Farm or the Agricultural Sustainability Institute, the farm’s governing body, met with Carmichael on Tuesday to voice concerns about a lack of communication with the department.
“It was not because of lack of trying, but we were just faced with the facts at the time and the time window we had,” Carmichael said. “If we had more time, we would have had someone from the farm point us to a different area, but  hindsight is 20-20.”
On Thursday, technicians disposed of materials collected from Snyder’s lab on campus. This time, the materials were taken to a more remote area, west of Old Davis Road and south of I-80, to what police were assured was an idle field that was not being farmed.
They issued a WarnMe message to the campus community, personally alerted several nearby rural residents and also gave people responsible for any animals in the area a heads-up “to make sure they were in the know.” Another WarnMe message was sent out once the detonations — two this time — were done.
Carmichael said having time to plan the second disposal made all the difference.
“Thursday’s an example of everything going pretty darn good.”
— Enterprise staff writer Lauren Keene contributed to this report.

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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