CAMARILLO — Soon after the Medfly-inspired agricultural quarantine in Ventura County was lifted Tuesday, the plastic sheets hanging over the entrances at the Underwood Farm Market came down.
The clear plastic strips, about six inches wide, were required to keep Medflies out of the Somis fruit stand. They also posed an obstacle to shoppers, who had to part them to get in, said James Barker, a partner in the business.
Barker was glad to see the end of both the quarantine and the Medfly eradication efforts, including aerial spraying of the pesticide malathion. But even though the fight against the fly had cut into his business, he said the measures were necessary to stop such a dangerous pest.
"It did scare some people," he said, "but agriculture is such a huge industry, an important industry to this county . . . it could have put this whole county in a tailspin."
Merchants and residents of the quarantine area, covering 86 square miles of Ventura County, greeted the quarantine's end with relief.
The move will allow local growers of fruits considered Medfly hosts--including avocados, oranges and lemons--to stop taking such measures as fumigating their produce before shipping. They may also resume exports to such countries as Japan that had refused to accept fruit from the quarantine zone.
The quarantine was imposed Oct. 5 after two female Mediterranean fruit flies were discovered in a fig tree at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo. None of the crop-destroying flies have been found since Nov. 21.
Although most of the 66 flies discovered in traps throughout the quarantine zone were found at the seminary, one showed up in an orchard of peaches, plums and nectarines next to the Underwood produce stand, Barker said.
At first, the quarantine cut the stand's business almost in half, Barker said, because customers were afraid that the produce might be loaded with pesticides. "It was the perception that everything on our shelves was bombarded with malathion," he said.
At Pati's Farm Fresh Produce on Somis Road, Pati Cobian noticed a similar drop in sales. "A lot of people were kind of apprehensive about taking fruit," she said. "When the spraying was going on, that was the worst. People didn't want to buy."
Both Cobian and Barker said business returned as customers realized that the fruit was still good.
Fears about the health effects of malathion, sprayed by helicopter over a 16-square-mile area within the quarantine zone, lingered with some area residents Tuesday.
Myra Cole, whose Leisure Village home was within the spray zone, said some of her neighbors had coughing fits after the helicopter flights.
"It's affected a lot of them," she said. "Everybody was complaining."
The flights, which occurred at two-week intervals between Oct. 12 and May 23, often on Tuesday evenings after 9, also changed her own social schedule.
"We play cards on Tuesday--or we did," she said. But with the spraying, "we didn't want to be out after 9."
But to others who lived or worked under the helicopter flight paths, the pesticide spraying was, at worst, a minor inconvenience.
"You would see droplets on the ground and you would wonder how it would even kill Medflies," said Greg Julius, facilities manager for the seminary.
Although students at the seminary were concerned about the spraying at first, Julius said, they soon realized that the flights would have little effect on their lives.
Insect traps are still scattered around the seminary grounds--as well as the rest of the quarantine area.
Officials with the Cooperative Medfly Project will continue checking them weekly to make sure that the flies don't reappear, said Doug Hendrix, the project's media officer.
"We're not entirely out of the woods yet," he said. "We'll feel much better if we make it through the late fall without any flies."
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Medfly Quarantine Area The Medfly quarantine that ended Tuesday had begun almost 10 months before, on Oct. 5.Spraying ended May 23, but until now, affected growers had to take strict precautions in handling and marketing their fruit. Source: State Department of Food and Agriculture