Tacos, Longshoremen, and Beetles

Posted by Michael on January 23, 2013

By Angela Records

Most Americans know very little about agriculture and absolutely nothing about agricultural science. I suppose this is reasonable. We enjoy a safe, bountiful food supply in the United States. Unless you work in agriculture, you have little reason to think about it. You know that the lettuce on your taco was grown on a farm somewhere and that the grower must have given it water, soil, and sunlight. But, you probably do not know that in addition to growers, a team of agronomists, plant breeders, molecular biologists, plant pathologists and other scientists worked behind the scenes to ensure that the lettuce was nutritious, available, and inexpensive.

In our TTTWTP essay, Roberta Chevrette and I will share the story of a particular group of agricultural scientists and their collective role in protecting American agriculture. Were you aware that a cadre of agricultural inspectors and scientists work at our borders and ports to prevent entry of foreign pests that would otherwise attack our fields and forests? These efforts protect our natural resources and they facilitate world trade.

Roberta and I prepared for our writing project by meeting with experts at two major ports of entry—Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The experiences were eye opening. We learned all about the inspection process, and we encountered a colorful cast of characters (both human and non-human). We met ship captains, longshoremen, agricultural inspectors, border patrol officers, entomologists, plant pathologists, bugs, fungi, butterfly pupae, corn, and pineapples. We heard stories about run-away beetles and infected Christmas ornaments.

We are now tasked with transforming our notes into narrative. We have the characters. We have the science. We’re working on the story.