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Dallas' Urban Farmers Are Tired of Getting Sprayed with Pesticides, and Say They Have a Better Plan

After their time in the Army, James Jeffers and Steve Smith have turned to the soil of Oak Cliff to get back to health.
After their time in the Army, James Jeffers and Steve Smith have turned to the soil of Oak Cliff to get back to health.
Dylan Hollingsworth

Bad news from Eat the Yard, the army veterans-turned-organic local gardeners who were on our cover a few weeks ago: they think that four of their seven gardens got hit with the toxic insecticides the city has been spraying to kill West Nile-infected mosquitoes.

To be safe, Eat the Yard has been pulling up crops at all seven of its gardens. They don't want to risk selling people organic crops that might actually be loaded with pesticides.

"We're at a complete loss right now. We're financially stagnant for the next two months," co-founder James Jeffers tells Unfair Park. Jeffers hadn't anticipated the spraying until he stepped outside last week in South Oak Cliff and noticed a strong chemical smell in the air.

Jeffers says the City of Dallas website has been less than helpful in trying to figure out when and where spraying will occur next. Most recently, the City of Dallas website posted a notice warning that more spraying would take place on August 11. But while that press release is dated as August 9, it appears that it wasn't actually posed on City Hall's West Nile page until the 11th, giving local farmers, gardeners and beekeepers little time to plan.

"We have to know where they're spraying so we know which bees we need to cover," says Brandon Pollard of the Texas Honeybee Guild.

The Honeybee Guild, Eat the Yard and a group of about 40 others have been distributing an open letter to the Dallas County Commissioners and Dallas City Hall, breaking down the reasons why a substance called Bti Larvicide is safer and more effective at killing West Nile-infected mosquitoes than adult insecticides.

Jennifer Land, from the Concerned Citizens for Safer Mosquito Control, is optimistic about the responses she's received from County Commissioners and City Hall so far.

"We've been very appreciative of the County and City staff's willingness to meet with us," she says, adding that she wants to see those encouraging meetings turn into action. "What we'd like to see happen next is a switch from prioritizing adult insecticide to prioritizing larvicide."

It's too early to say if Dallas will take action, and how. In the meantime, Zachary Thompson, the Director of the Dallas County Health and Human Services, had plenty of nice, vague things to say about the pro-larvicide effort.

"Let me frame it this way: I want to commend Jennifer Land and the committee that has been looking at that," Thompson tells us. At some point in 2014, the County might make more use of larvicide. We think.

"Here's my point: They provided good information, they have definitely raised awareness on the importance of larviciding. We're going to take the information that they've provided and incorporate that in the review process as we head into the 2014 West Nile season."

Jeffers from Eat the Yard isn't so sure. He testified about his damaged crops at the County Commissioners meeting Tuesday. He says that during his testimony, half the Commissioners were looking at their phones, and it seemed to him like "they just told us what we wanted to hear... I just thought it fell on deaf ears."


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