Bonnie Wheeler is an Agricultural Standards Inspector who started with the County of San Diego’s Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures (AWM) fresh out of college with her major in Biology. She initially began her career working in AWM’s plant pathology and entomology laboratory and has continued with her love of Biology as an inspector with the Agricultural Standards Program.
Wheeler currently serves as one of three Agricultural Standards Inspectors tasked with performing the inspections for the following programs: Shell Egg Quality, Direct Marketing, Standardization and Organics. For the Shell Egg Quality program, inspectors go to production, wholesale and retail locations to ensure that eggs meet quality standards, are labeled properly, and are free from defects such as cracks, mold and blood spots. Direct Marketing is a program that certifies farmer’s markets and the farmers that sell there. All the certified farmers’ markets in the San Diego County are inspected twice a year to make sure farmers are selling only what they produce themselves. The Standardization program includes fresh produce inspections at packing houses, wholesalers, roadside stands and grocery stores. Inspectors check for quality and maturity of the produce, as well as container labeling and proof of ownership. If there are 25 pounds or more of produce, companies need to provide an invoice showing the source of the produce. These measures are important for preventing agricultural theft and ensuring produce is of the highest quality when it reaches consumers. The Organic program inspections are conducted withproducers, handlers and retailers of organic produce to make sure they are in compliance with the federal and state organic laws. Inspectors also collect samples of organic produce for pesticide residue testing to ensure the products truly meet organic standards.
When describing her passion for her work, Wheeler can’t help but mention that she is motivated in part by her love of healthy food:
“I feel so much better when I eat healthy and I want other people to have access to healthy food. Fresh ingredients are most important to eating healthy. I have lived in areas where there are not always healthy eating options or high quality produce, which is why I like my job. I get to protect the safety of the food and increase consumer access to healthy produce. This also extends to farmer’s markets and farm stands which allow people to access healthy foods.”
One of the biggest benefits of Wheeler’s job is helping customers feel confident in what they are buying.
“There are so many laws in place and measures for safety to make sure that the produce is of high quality and not falsely advertised. For instance, if a product says it is organic and local, it is checked to make sure that it is actually organic and local.”
The same goes with farmer’s markets. Consumers can feel confident that a farmer is selling what he grew because that’s part of an inspector’s job at the County.
One of Wheeler’s favorite things is learning about the changes in agriculture that are happening right now. She enjoys talking with farmers about their challenges and learning how they are discovering solutions. She also enjoys hearing about the hundreds of years of farming history passed down through generations and visiting farms located in the most beautiful areas of San Diego County. Providing outreach to the public gives Wheeler the opportunity to tell people about the laws and regulations in place and how they protect consumers and the agricultural industry.
When asked about her recommendations for the holiday season, Wheeler said, “Knowing when fruits and vegetables are in season is a bonus since they will more likely be fresh and local.” Figs, persimmons, pomegranates and guava are in season, so be sure to look for them at your local farmer’s market.