A common sight in suburban California is the landscape maintenance gardener, who mows the lawn, cleans up with a backpack leaf blower and, occasionally, applies pesticides to control infestations of weeds, ants, aphids or other pests.
Unfortunately, those gardening businesses are often not properly certified for pesticide application, a concern for the Department of Pesticide Regulation and county agriculture departments. Unlicensed gardeners usually are not trained in safe application and disposal of pesticides - which could result in exposure of the workers, other people (including children), and the environment to unsafe chemicals. In addition, urban use of pesticides is a major contributor to water quality problems in the state.
"We estimate there are about 15,000 maintenance gardeners in the state, with at least half of them using pesticides," said Mary Louise Flint, the University of California's associate director of urban and community integrated pest management. "Only about 1,000 are currently certified or licensed by DPR to apply pesticides."
The University of California Statewide IPM Program teamed up with DPR on an initiative aimed at making pesticide application training understandable and easily accessible. Flint coordinated the development of a training curriculum that prepares professional gardeners to get a qualified applicator certificate in the maintenance gardener category - known as category Q - which is the first step maintenance gardeners must take to legally use pesticides or supervise the use of pesticides as part of their jobs.
The new pesticide safety training program - designed specifically for category Q maintenance gardeners - covers rules and laws that apply to pesticides, pest identification, pesticide application safety, how to read pesticide labels, accident prevention, how to handle emergencies and how to offer safety training for employees. This is the first of DPR's pesticide applicator certificates where training materials and exams are offered in Spanish as well as English.
The curriculum was proven successful in helping workers pass the DPR exam when it was pilot-tested in 2009 by the San Luis Obispo County Agricultural Commissioner's office. The county presented the UC IPM curriculum at 8 four-hour workshops - four in English and four in Spanish. In all, 137 maintenance gardeners attended training sessions; about half in Spanish and half in English. At the end, 131 participants took the category Q exam and nearly 90 percent of them passed.
"The training materials are really great," said Janice Campbell, the deputy agricultural commissioner in San Luis Obispo County. "We've been gaining success in getting maintenance gardeners into compliance."
The county will repeat the training workshops this year - two in English and two in Spanish. While other counties have expressed an interest, Stanislaus County is the only other place where the agricultural commissioner's office is actively planning to provide the pesticide safety maintenance gardener training. Even though, residents of other counties are not being left out.
The training is also available free online in Spanish and English to maintenance gardeners interested in preparing for the certification exam. In addition to the six-chapter online training course, the website provides information on obtaining a study guide and workbook, complete with exercises and practice test questions.
The online training and links to the printed materials may be found on the IPM website, http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/categoryq/