SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Fruit and vegetable growers and others in the Midwest have a direct voice to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington through Molly Gleason of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

She is one of 25 members of the USDA’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee, and she’s currently collecting comments from growers or others in the industry about what are their top concerns.

“There’s been a lot of discussion and the committee will be working on finalized recommendations to share with Secretary (Sonny) Perdue in August,” Gleason said.

She explained that 21 of the committee’s members are new appointments like her, but most of them are from giant companies out of California or Florida or from huge orchards. Steve Smith of Red Gold Inc. of Indiana also is on the committee.

Raised on a grain farm with a big garden in Elkhart, Gleason, 31, is a beginning farmer herself, as well as the communications director for the alliance, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable farming.

Gleason said her USDA committee work dedicated to helping represent “small scale farmers and producers from the Midwest.”

Gleason’s committee was created in 2001 and has offered such recommendations as developing a review plan for grade standards for perishable agricultural commodities and the addition of fruits and vegetables to Women, Infants and Children program.

Gleason’s voice from a non-profit farming organization is new to the committee

For the recommendation project, Gleason said the committee is focusing on four areas: production, farm safety, labor and trade.

While many of her committee colleagues are concerned over labor issues, she said her committee work has included produce safety and water rules. Gleason particularly mentioned growing issues by specialty crop growers with pesticide drift.

“Right now, there’s no recourse for when specialty crops are affected,” she said. “These issues are becoming more prevalent.”

That’s why she wants to hear from specialty growers regarding drift problems or other issues that the USDA may help address through actionable recommendations for Perdue’s approval.

She also stressed that work on recommendation is underway and “there’s an urgency to hear from producers the sooner the better.”

Here’s how to reach Gleason: molly@ilstewards.org.

For more information about the USDA committee, go to https://bit.ly/30UG6Lv.

Karen Binder can be reached at 618-534-0614 or kbinder@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Binder.

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