Cuyamaca College’s Don Schultz spent his summer vacation using his expertise to save some lives.
|Don Schultz (center) with Guatemalan farmers|
Schultz, program director of the award-winning Ornamental Horticulture department at Cuyamaca College, volunteered with the Farmer-to-Farmer Program for two weeks in Guatemala instilling best practices in pesticide safety at plant exporters large and small. Some of the larger growers were as professional and safety conscious as they come. Some of the smaller ones? Not so much.
“At one farm, a guy was spraying paraquat without any protective equipment,” Schultz said, referring to the toxic chemical used for weed and grass control whose use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as restricted. “That stuff can kill you.”
Volunteers tend to be senior or mid-career professionals with practical industry experience. Besides serving as Cuyamaca College’s Ornamental Horticulture program director, Schultz also teaches a class in plant pest control, a class that includes identification and control of insects, mites, diseases and other factors that affect ornamental plants and details various methods at keeping such impacts in check.
The production of flowers, ornamental plants and foliage is a growing industry in Guatemala, with approximately 80 percent of production shipped overseas. In 2015, exports exceeded $95 million, and that number has been increasing by more than 10 percent annually. While imports in the United States are limited because of a quarantine on soil, markets in Europe and elsewhere are thriving.
Schultz was based in Guatemala City during his stay and would ride out with farm representatives to their greenhouses around the country. “For the most part, the trip consisted of providing advice and technical assistance on pesticide use and safety,” Schultz said. The excursion ended with a four-hour presentation in Spanish at a Guatemalan Exporters Association (Agexport) conference in Guatemala City that included college professors, government officials and agronomists.
“Cuyamaca College is a leader in workforce training when it comes to ornamental horticulture and works closely with business and industry in our region,” said Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes. “We’re proud that Don Schultz unselfishly provided so much of his time and expertise in working with the growing ornamental horticulture industry in Guatemala, and it underscores our commitment to serving others.”
The trip was somewhat of a homecoming; Schultz served in Guatemala with the Peace Corps 30 years ago.
Most striking to Schultz on his recent trip was how far greenhouse production has come in Guatemala, yet pesticide safety varies from farm to farm.
“There’s not the same level of structure in terms of providing technical assistance pertaining to pests,” Schultz said. “Here, you have a strong sharing of knowledge among trade groups, industry, the University of California and other higher education systems. Hopefully, we made even a little bit of a difference and left leaving somewhat of an impact.”