Reportback of sorts about the produce testing project

Just what is the effect of ash from the #NorthBayFires landing on plants in our gardens? Is the food we’ve grown safe to eat?

Today I went to an event about the “Citizen Science” produce sampling project. Here’s a link to an original invitation for sites to get involved. It was really good but I can’t type up all my notes. Basically, very little is known about the effects of fires on garden/farm produce. A graduate student was “voluntold” by a produce project founder to look into air quality issues from the time of the fires so that any toxins in samples could be compared to the air quality during that time. The samples are from a nice smattering of places around Sonoma County (and, I’m sure, beyond). There is a basic list of things that are common chemicals in houses, furniture, clothes, etc, and there is a list of things they’ll test for. I seem to remember lead, PAH’s, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and cobalt. PS, more research is needed about the effects of flame retardants and the Phos-Chek that was applied.

There is at least one group doing bioremediation by putting (mushroom) inoculated straw wattles in/around streams. There will also be a project that will do soil sampling (I think they said it will be linked to the results of the produce test? or at sites that were sampled?). It sounds like sites that had more than one type of greens, ie lettuce and kale, will be prioritized. Someone from UC Davis has already collected ash from impacted sites to examine with mass spectrometry. “Science is amazing!” as the kids from the Pokemon cartoon TV show said.

I still need wood chips. Now I’m nervous about sources (were the trees from burned areas? was phos-chek dropped on them? etc) and about my compost in the future- are people bringing fire-damaged plant materials to the big composting sites? Should that stuff go to a toxic waste disposal site? It was mentioned that adding organic material to the soil is a key way to mitigate the effects of, or even basically break down some of the bad compounds into things that are not as bad. So I need to keep covering my soil 🙂

Funding for the produce project is yet to come. They figured out that each site’s produce testing will cost some $2000. There is a Giving Tuesday campaign to raise money for the produce testing project (although the project is not mentioned on the link I’m including?). The goal for this Tuesday is $2000 to be able to get one site’s samples tested, but I would like to think they will raise more. They will also be requesting grant money. Please help support the project if you can. Please comment here or contact the folks in the first link to find out more about the project.

Meanwhile, in my garden…

there are a few ripe strawberries!
there are still some strawberries!


10/30 (Ag/Rural Lands) Fire Recovery and Resource Town Hall

Wow, I wonder how this will come out. I copy and pasted it from an email from UCCE. October 30th at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Garrett Building at 5:30.

Ag and Rural Lands 
Fire Recovery and Resource Town Hall
Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Garrett Building
Monday, October 30 at 5:30pm
Special Guest Speaker:
Karen Ross
Secretary of California Department of Agriculture
The meeting, hosted by Sonoma County Farm Bureau, is in response to the recent wildfires in Northern California that have impacted rural property owners and agricultural operations in addition to multiple urban neighborhoods. Local, state and federal leadership will be there to address concerns and provide resources to rural Sonoma County property owners and agricultural business and employees.
We welcome Karen Ross, Secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture who will be speaking about recovery efforts for local agriculture. Ahead of the event, Secretary Ross will be meeting with producers to tour affected agricultural operations in Sonoma County.
All property owners, directly affected or not, are invited to learn about the process of recovery and rebuilding. If you have not been affected directly we welcome your attendance to learn how you can help with recovery efforts. A portion of the event will include an opportunity to ask questions.
Partnering organizations that will be represented on October 30th include:  American AgCredit, Community Alliance of Family Farmers / The Farmer’s Guild, Gold Ridge Conservation District, Sonoma County Department of Agriculture, Sonoma County Farm Trails, Sonoma County Sheriff, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Sonoma County Winegrowers, Sonoma Resource Conservation District, UC Cooperative Extension, USDA Farm Service Agency, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and USDA Rural Development.
Sonoma County Farm Bureau has been working to support the agricultural community over the last three weeks. Sonoma County Farm Bureau is working with the Sonoma County Emergency Operations Center and Sonoma County Animal Services to coordinate donations of feed and supplies for livestock. Sonoma County Farm Bureau also partnered with the Sonoma Grape Growers Foundation to establish a housing recovery fund for ag workers and their families who were displaced from their homes.

The sky after some rain; produce study

The air quality is, at least on paper, getting better. It rained .2 inches on Thursday night! Note dark-colored soil due to the presence of moisture in the photo below. The air is definitely worse in other parts of town (like 6 blocks from the Coffey Park neighborhood on Friday, and when I visited Bennett Valley on Weds it was really bad). I got out to the garden on Friday morning and picked a basket of strawberries.  A lot of the “eat today” berries did not take well to being quintuple-washed. 😦

In the evening I started a new compost pile. I only used 4 or 5 buckets of stuff because I sprained my thumb (tho now it feels like the whole wrist) taking off my backpack the other day. SIGH! I’ve really overdone it the last few days, but, you know, vacuuming has to happen, especially after all the smoke in the last week and a half.

On Saturday I am planning on going to an orientation training thing to be part of a study about the effects of fire on produce! Yay! The woman was like, wow, you were really close to the fires. (3.1 miles by our count) I hope that some of the farmers who lost everything in the actual fires have gotten in touch with her!


Resources about gardens, masks, and general health after a wildfire

Freeway overpass with thank you messages

10/30 update –

Way to donate: support day laborers and domestic workers thru the  Sonoma County Just Recovery Fund

Sonoma County Recovers

and the county’s Debris Removal Info

The CDC on Air Pollution and Respiratory Health

Some data from studying Ash and Burned Soil from a 2007 southern california wildfire Looks like this one is from a law firm? Helping Handbook for NorCal Fire Recovery

10/21 update: The things I added have a * at the beginning. (you can search the page for * if you’d like to see what’s new). I added italics to people’s commentary so it’s easier to skip over if you’d like.

*November 7th in Sebastopol with the Farmers Guild:  explore and discuss fire resilient land management techniques; find out what assistance is available (again, see a list of some resources at the end)

10/19: I spent too much time working on this today, but at least I was able to close a lot of tabs… Sorry about the formatting. Hopefully I will get to add more as I find them…

Fire Recovery/Cleanup Resources with a focus on Sonoma County

Home and Health (masks down below):

A real sense of the environmental mess we are in – what types of chemicals we face, and why people should wear protective gear when visiting burned sites: Cleanup involves health risks :

Safe cleanup after fire

About breathing the air: (I put this link down below again because it seems to have good info)

*Minimizing smoke exposures

Recommendations from Sonoma County: about handling fire and ash:

About the fire retardants:

Herbs for lung health:


*See end of this document for some resources for assistance for farmers, ranchers, and forest land owners

*A study of leaves from plants. It has yet to be funded, but we can take samples now (ask me how or come to a training):

*How to help plants damaged by heat and ash

*Things to consider when returning to a site that has burned: Post-fire tips for Sonoma Valley residents:

UC ANR on wildfires: somewhere in there- it didn’t give me a link because it was like a slideshow from the front page

*You can pretty much ignore this one. It is about food that was already in the house — remarkably unhelpful, considering all the focus the USDA puts on “food safety.” Fires and Food Safety:

*I think this is pretty much the same document as the previous one:

UC ANR Disaster Resources:

A List of Soil and Plant Labs:

*From the UC Master Gardeners on FB on 10/20/17: (I highlighted in bold the main point) “A number of our followers have been asking about food safety following fire. The following guidance was developed with input from food safety experts at the University of California; also below is a link to a USDA publication on fires and food safety.

Air quality in Sonoma County has been significantly impacted by the ongoing fires in the region. Local farms have played a very large and important role in food relief efforts immediately following the start of the fires and the mass evacuations. Many farmers and others in the community are concerned about how the air pollution might be impacting produce. While the University of California does not have data on the levels of these chemicals in produce that have been in contact with smoke and ash, we understand the need to share information with our community at this time.

When assessing the safety of exposed produce, the difficulty is knowing what has been burning. If it is just vegetation smoke then it’s probably safe to eat produce after rinsing down the ash (just the same as having a bonfire in your garden), although it might still taste/smell smoky.

If the air pollution has particulate matter from treated timber, tires, non-food grade oils, or anything plastic or chlorinated that burned it may include a mixture of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, and metals. Exposure to fire retardant may also occur.

An unpublished literature review on the health impacts of PAHs from traffic-related air pollution on lettuce grown in urban agriculture found that:

Some PAHs can be absorbed into plant tissue, and so cannot be simply washed off. The health risk from eating these PAHs is a small proportion of the health impact from breathing them, and it is far below the EPA’s level of concern for lifetime cancer risk. It is possible that the health benefit of eating the vitamins and nutrients in green leafy vegetables might outweigh that negligible negative impact. There is not enough research available on the cumulative impacts of air pollution on produce to make any solid conclusions about the health impacts.”


Ways to Learn Current Air Quality

seems to  involve signing up but some consider it more accurate despite not knowing what the things it says mean:

Soil Discussion:


from Erik: the only real way to find this out is going to be taking soil samples and sending them in for testing (harmony does the testing)Every zone is going to be different, depending on the winds and ash settling.The low areas where the smoke and ash are settling the most will probably be worse than coastal hills. There is a difference between the house and forest fire/ash as well. Today’s smoke and ash is mostly forest ash and actually can be a good thing for soil as a source of potassium and alkalinity. Monday – Thursday’s ash was the most toxic.

from Pam:  I know that part of the clean up in homes destroyed near me requires removing up to 4” of soil and testing until toxins are no longer present. Maybe the same for gardens- some soil removal??

Saivya (sp) “Harmony Farms told me to contact the soil testing labs directly to ask which toxins they can test for and that I should have a list of what types of chemicals I was wondering about.  “

from Peter Probably not soot: soot is black carbon, and may have oil and tar content, including some nasty stuff. Ash (grey or white) is all mineral, some soluble and not typically toxic. I would just wash as usual.

If you actually have soot – black carbon – test for dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, for starters.

From Erik- Dioxins from plastics(this is the major concern In think), lead, (copper, aluminum maybe too?) hmmm what else?? 


N95, N99 or P100

*Why wear one:

Wildfire smoke and face masks

Tips for adjusting an adult mask to fit a kid:

For p100:  Make sure the respirator comes with replacement cartridges. Example:



*Grainger carries child-sized N95 masks, but you may have to ask your local store to order a box for you. The store in Rohnert Park had them in stock on 10/19/17. Looks like you can also order stuff for delivery (?)

Home Air Purifiers:

Build your own with a box fan (need better link, sorry): will give a 25% discount on all purchases until 10/31

Article about vacuums:

For helping kids:

Picture story on fb:


Tips for Parents and Caregivers:

Get trained:

from Carolynn Spezza

Tips for Parenting Children Through a Wildfire:

First, I am so sorry. As a mother who lost a home two years ago and is currently experiencing the Tubbs fire, I get it. Surviving an emotional, logistical nightmare may be hard, but navigating a nightmare while simultaneously nurturing children through it is even harder. This is exhausting work.

Below are a few things that helped our family survive wildfire evacuation and home loss. I hope a few may be useful in caring for your hurting children …because, truly, the last thing you need right now or a few months from now are children that are completely falling apart. Or worse: shutting down emotionally.

  1. Create opportunities for a sense of control and “container”
  2. Keep individually packaged snacks and drinks in your trunk. These are useful in giving children a small sense of control over their chaotic world, as well as in keeping blood sugar level when you need a few more minutes at a store or in a meeting.
  3. Find a way to create a small space a child can retreat within and keep their few belongings. For instance, create a soft, blanketed space under a shelter cot or consider purchasing a pop-up tent designed for play or to fit over a twin bed. These spaces are particularly vital for children with sensitive nervous systems. Blanketed spaces can also be created in a hotel room under a table or in a closet.
  4. Purchase card games or board games to play as a family. Games like Uno and Go Fish can be stored in a glove compartment or purse …and require little brainpower for exhausted parents. Games can create a “container of family” at a restaurant, shelter, hotel, or sparsely furnished home. If used regularly, games can also create a sense of routine for children overwhelmed by the sudden disorder in their lives.
  5. Create meaning
  6. During mealtime, tell stories from your childhood about when you overcame hardship. This communicates to children your family’s legacy of being overcomers. It also communicates your firm belief that they will survive this experience.
  7. Highlight the helpers. Routinely begin conversations about the people helping your family and your community. Explain how when bad things happen in life we talk about the hardship, but we also focus on the beauty of kindness and love that flows in to surround that hardship.
  8. Give kids vocabulary to express the feelings in their bodies. Use words such as tight, tense, confused, trapped, sad, angry and worried. Also emphasize empowering words such as tenacity, family, community and kindness. Language centers of the brain can go off-line during trauma, yet we need them to make sense of our experience to guard against potential long-term effects from trauma.
  9. Show children how healthy adults handle trauma
  10. If two parents are available, take turns being with the children. Commit to the parent who is with the children to being off his/her phone as much as logistically possible.
  11. If friends and family are offering to help, work with your children to create a list of ways people can support you. Include a short list of your child’s favorite books, meals or outings (if relevant). In doing this together, you are modeling how to proactively turn to relationships and receive kindness during times of stress.
  12. Move your body and get your kids moving theirs. Bodies pump out stress hormones during trauma to make extra movement possible. Movement is both helpful and critical during stress to ensure stress hormones do not damage the body. If opportunities for large movement activities such as swimming are restricted, be a fierce leader and spearhead games of running down hallways, seeing who can run in a circle the longest, bear crawls, hopping on one/two feet, or wiggling toes to work out stress. Hopscotch and flat “obstacle” courses can be created using sidewalk chalk, tape, pillows and towels. (I know: Playing with kids may feel like the LAST thing you want to do right now. But time spent moving and playing with your kids will pay dividends in the long haul. Fake it till you make it.)
  13. Take care of your body
  14. Challenge yourself to turn away from screens and towards people.
  15. Eat vegetables, protein and whole grains. You need your body to feel as agile as possible right now.
  16. Stay away from things that will decrease time in “deep sleep.” Most importantly: (a) avoid caffeine after lunch, (b) turn off your phone at least one hour before bedtime, and (c) minimize alcohol. Your kids will need you tomorrow and need you to rest. You may technically sleep for a few hours after caffeine, screens and alcohol, but it will not be the deep sleep that rejuvenates your brain. If sleep seems impossible, try focusing your mind on slowly repeating the lines of a favorite verse, poem or calming statement. When you awake in the middle of the night, quickly focus on the words of your simple, calming verse or sentence. (Your mind will drift. Just keep trying.) Again, your children need you to sleep.

*The Magic of Caring, Responsive Adults

A growing body of research indicates the number one “protective factor” for resilient children is the presence of caring, responsive adults. During the coming months you will likely hear adults flippantly minimize children’s experience of powerlessness and chaos with, “Oh, children are resilient.” Please remember children possess immature nervous systems and need adults to guide them in establishing a sense of stability and in developing healthy coping mechanisms. Wrapping a sense of safety, control and the opportunity to express emotions is critical to ensuring that in the long-term, children will indeed be resilient.

Giving children time feels daunting when there are phone calls to return, news to catch up on, …and the problem of figuring out how to feed kids their next meal. Consider reminding yourself, “This is what mammals do. We work endlessly for the sake of our kids. I’ve got this.”

Parenting children in a caring, responsive way while scrambling to survive is a steep mountain to climb. If you find yourself in a position of parenting in the midst of not just evacuation, but also losing your home and rebuilding your life in the wake of a wildfire, your task is even steeper. Perfection is not required, nor is it possible during this time. Instead, consider creating a mental list of three things you can do for your child each day to provide the container of love, stability and “being seen.” According to research, just holding children while listening to them talk or cry can be the most valuable gift of all.

Our family offers tender wishes of grace during this most difficult time.


Carolynn Spezza

P.S. My younger daughter just reminded me that among the most helpful things we did for her during the Valley Fire was to let her choose a notebook and pencil to have as her very own. With all my exhausting work and failures during that time, it feels curious that a $2 notebook is what stuck with her the most.

As the smoke outside the window is getting thicker and my children are waiting for attention, I am not allocating time to add references to a few items above. Please forgive me. Most ideas come from my years as a social worker, research associate in youth development, and perhaps most useful, my years as a mama.

Some disaster relief funds to donate to:

Farmers Guild/CAFF:

Support local undocumented immigrants:

Vanoni Ranch for Cattle Feed:

Cannabis growers:


Sonoma County recovers:


Local (unofficial?) Industrial Workers of the World Longterm Community Support fund:

Elem Indian Community in Lake County:

*Merchandise that’s said to be benefitting relief efforts (t-shirts, decals, etc):

*Other post-disaster info and assistance:

*Assistance to come from USDA

*Safe cleanup of ash

*FEMA’s (event on 11/7 – see facebook link at top of this list)

*Preparing for the next disaster

FEMA on food and water:



A week since the fires started

Well, it’s been a week since the #santarosafires started. A short, but long week. Most of the fires are yellow on the maps, but there’s a new fire that started as 2 separate fires this weekend, I think. It’s a ways away but we have been seeing weird smoke over Taylor Mountain – it’s from a few hills back. Hopefully the fires die back and those thousands of firefighters can go home. I heard today that it’s thought that some 50,000 people 100,000 people were evacuated because of these fires. And so many lost their homes. I wonder if parts of the previously-forested hillsides that were burned will somehow end up with housing on them. Extra housing was already desperately needed. I heard on the radio that some folks are not planning on rebuilding… It might take a while to sell those properties off.

We finally got our hands on a P100 gas mask (respirator) today.  I still have been having pain in my chest and headaches. I’m probably a bit more sensitive because I have a bit of asthma and multiple chemical sensitivity. Z can feel it, too, though. Unfortunately, we only bought one (to see if it would fit me- I had had my doubts, and it’s not great with my glasses, but we have it), and there weren’t any in a kids’ size. We finally bought a room air filter for the house, and the plastic smell of it is horrible! Z tried using it after he’d had the window open, and he found that it cleaned up the burnt smell right away, so that’s good.

I am starting to wonder if we should be eating the produce from the garden. There was so much oily stuff in the water I soaked the basil in today. Sure, basil has oils. And the kale water had oils, too, but I initially put the basil into the same bucket. Ashes definitely come off into the water. There were farmers markets today – we went to the Sebastopol Market. It was sad to say goodbye to one couple and to not see my friend’s farm whose stand my family shops at every week. They were evacuated early on Saturday and probably haven’t been let back in. I’ve heard of farms that were destroyed, including another farm from the Saturday market :(. So sad.

Bucket and seedling tray that have ash on them from the fires
Ashy bucket and tray


#SantaRosafires — Go Away!

Artichoke in bloom

Hi! It’s been a rough week, what with all the smoke and ashes in the air. We are about a mile east of the mountains that 2 fires are on the other side of – one spot is 3 miles to our south and east, and the other is I’m not sure how far, but to the north and east. Z hasn’t seen red at the top of the hills since Sunday night/Monday morning. I saw flames through the trees at midnight on Sunday night and looked on Calfire to find out what fire it was – I figured that it was in Lake County. At least one family from T’s preschool lost their home.

Garden update: I’ve still been picking some stuff out there- kale, strawberries, corn the other day, and some of the tomatoes. Oh, and melons that we haven’t gotten around to trying. Last weekend there was one that was delicious in one half and bitter in the other!

There’s a bit of ash on everything. I’m worried about my soil. The raccoons are digging up what little I planted (greens). I bought garlic seed on Sunday (maybe 8 hours before the 1st fire Santa Rosa fire started. Haven’t planted it yet! The zinnias and celosia are still lovely. Some of my newer marigolds blew over and/or got eaten by gophers. The wind on Sunday night was so strong. (I actually predicted the fires right around the time they started). The wind tossed my little greenhouse and scattered my seedlings all over the place. Some of the supports were broken. We’ll have to examine that situation in a few months – it’s the end of the season, pretty much. I’m so frustrated that I didn’t get my cover crops to germinate. I can plant again, but the way the soil is and the sprinklers are, it’s hard to germinate anything.

It’s not really safe to be out there, and I’ve been extra busy with a preschooler at home, errands to run, and twitter and facebook updates to share (I have a separate twitter account that I use for more personal and political stuff).

The wind isn’t as bad tonight as it was on Sunday night, and at least for the northern fire (Tubbs) it may be blowing in such a way that the fire will stop spreading. Please wish us luck!