Keeping an eye on our food supply is at the core of what we do at the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Nutrition, food safety, quality – that’s important work. But there’s a lot more to it than that, and seeing that this is Public Service Recognition Week (May 1 – May 7), I’d like to dig deeper and tell you a little bit more about who makes it all work.
It starts with the experts who work for CDFA, beginning with our veterinarians, biologists, entomologists and other “ologists” in the Animal Health and Plant Health offices. Some of them check the health of cattle and chickens, or the safety of eggs and milk. More than a few of our vets wear cowboy boots on a daily basis (and get them dirty) because their job isn’t in an office – it’s in the field, on the farm, in the barn, at the bottling plant, the auction yard, the butcher shop, the farmers’ market. Others working in our labs peer through a microscope at weeds and seeds and feeds, not to mention a long list of bugs and much smaller crawlers. We either want them (pollinators) or we don’t (E. coli), and knowing we have highly-educated eyes doing the looking is essential.
There are other kinds of scientists here as well, though they may not fit our assumptions about what an agricultural department does. Specialists and technicians in our Division of Measurement Standards, for example, are renowned for their expertise in the field of motor vehicle fuels, from the petroleum-based variety to hydrogen, electricity, bio-fuels, and whatever is next in the pipeline. When you go to the gas station, the confidence you have in the quality of that fuel is a direct result of this work. This division also makes sure next-generation companies like Uber and Lyft are operating with apps and systems that are fair for consumers. There is also oversight of the scanners at the supermarket, the scales in the produce aisle, and that empty space at the top of the cereal box? (That’s called “slack fill.” And yes, I am surrounded – and fascinated – by these technical terms.)
We have a wealth of experience working for us in our Inspection Services and Marketing Services divisions, including inspectors who check fruits, vegetables and nuts for everything from ripeness to size, weight, and the accuracy of labeling. We go to farmers’ markets to make sure vendors are growing what they sell, and we have economic experts who regulate milk pricing at the farm level.
Did you know we also help dairy farmers fund, design and install digesters that turn methane emissions from their cows into energy that they can use and even sell back to the power grid? And we are responding to this historic drought by helping farmers install highly efficient irrigation systems, soil moisture monitors and related solar-powered systems that ratchet up our water use efficiency and even improve the health of our soils. That’s science at work for all of us, and those scientists are right here at CDFA.
Food will always be at the heart of our mission. And people – scientists, specialists, technicians, trappers and everyone else who works for you here at CDFA – will always be the heart of this organization, along with absolutely crucial supporting contributions from administrators, administrative assistants, information technology technicians, human resource specialists, budget analysts, and our legal and public affairs shops. Like all of us, their lives extend beyond their jobs – but being public servants is part of who they are, and that distinction is worthy of our appreciation.
Thanks to all CDFA employees on the occasion of Public Service Recognition Week as well as their tireless efforts throughout the year. Every healthy meal – and a whole lot of other important things that happen just the way they should – is proof of their value to us all.
If you would like to learn more about the wide range of CDFA’s activities, here’s a video that covers much of it.