DOWNTOWN — At least 17 Farmers’ Markets, including four in Santa Monica, are under quarantine after state officials found Mediterranean fruit flies in a backyard on Warwick Avenue near Interstate 10.
Farmers selling fruit and some vegetables within the quarantine zone — which includes Santa Monica, Culver City, Venice, Marina del Rey and Westwood — are now required to cover their products with nets and dispose of or donate any produce that is not sold.
Farmers must also keep produce covered during transport. Fruit that has been exposed only while being handled briefly and actively will be exempt.
Customers are not allowed to take produce purchased at the markets out of the quarantine zone.
The quarantine is expected to last as long as 7 to 9 months depending on how rapidly the California Department of Food and Agriculture can eradicate the pests. The Medfly can infest over 260 types of fruits and vegetables, causing impacts on California’s agricultural exports and backyard gardens, resulting in an estimated annual loss of $1.3 to $1.8 billion, said Steve Lyle, spokesman for the department.
News of the quarantine comes as city officials prepare for some of the busiest markets of the year, with hundreds of cooks looking for fresh ingredients for their Thanksgiving meals.
“It will be disruptive and very inconvenient for people, but it is something we all have to do to stop this,” said Laura Avery, the Farmers’ Market supervisor who met with county, state and federal officials Thursday to discuss steps to eradicate the Medfly and comply with the quarantine. “The farmers know how important this is. No one wants this to spread.”
Avery and her staff will be on hand at this weekend’s markets in the Pico Neighborhood, Main Street and Downtown to inform farmers about the steps they need to take to protect their crops. Avery said the city will have nets and piping on hand for farmers to create barriers for their produce.
Local markets have dealt with Medfly quarantines before, Avery said. The biggest issue for farmers will be creating structures to hang insect-proof netting. Farmers cannot simply drape their products with netting because the flies can still land on the fruit and penetrate it. Once that happens, the flies lay their eggs. The larvae or maggots begin eating the fruit, destroying it.
As a result of the quarantine some farmers said they will bring less fruit to the markets. Avery said leftovers can be donated to local nonprofits as long as those organizations do not take the produce out of the quarantine zone.
There are three quarantine zones in California in addition to the one covering Santa Monica. Avery said the majority of farmers supplying local markets are not located in those zones, ensuring a safe supply.
Those who do purchase produce and find that their goods are compromised are instructed to seal the fruit or vegetables in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash. Do not use it for compost.
Fruit flies were detected in the eastern section of Santa Monica near the I-10 Freeway on Oct. 28 and the department imposed the quarantine Monday. County, state and federal officials are working to combat the infestation by releasing sterile male fruit flies, and are confident they can beat the bug.
Produce covered by the quarantine includes major fruit crops: citrus, apples, pears, stone fruit, grapes, blueberries, avocados, guavas, cherimoyas and kiwis. Some vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants are included. Flowers and most veggies, such as lettuce, carrots and cucumbers, are not affected.