5 questions with Corrie Larsen

Published on June 01, 2017

corrie larsen

Corrie Larsen is one of our senior agriculture and standards inspectors. Most of her work is a perpetual hunt, looking for invasive pests that could harm the county’s agricultural industry. Recently, Corrie’s astute eye caught three different insects lurking in one tropical cut-flower bouquet from Ecuador. Just as there are innumerable varieties of fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants, there are innumerable pests that attack those plants. While some are just a nuisance, others are far more dangerous. And that’s what Corrie looks for.

What does your job entail?
There are three overall programs: agricultural services, pesticides and weights and measures.
Where I do most of my work is in agricultural services. I do inspections at UPS, certified farmers markets and nurseries.
For the pesticide part, when I’m out and see crews doing applications, I stop and make sure they’re doing everything right. Are they following the label? Wearing the right protective clothing Do they have information about where to go in an emergency? Then there is restricted material. Certain pesticides in California have to have additional permitting and they need to notify us before applying. There are more health and environmental effects if they’re used improperly, like spraying on windy days.
There’s also the weights and measures program, although I don’t do much of this. But we check the scales and other measuring devices, gas pumps and retail scanners. When we do scanner inspections, we go into a retail business, check the price of random items on the shelf and then compare that to what they’re charging at the scanner. They’re frequently mismarked. It’s hard keeping up with the sale tags. It’s kind of a consumer protection thing.  
How do you go about your job of inspecting agriculture?
I go to FedEx and UPS every day. They hold the packages for us that have plant material. First we look to see that they’re marked correctly. We have a lot of paperwork to look at before we get to the point of inspecting. We open the packages and look around and try to find stuff. We look for evidence of feeding damage and, on live plants, we look for weeds and potential diseases and symptoms. We look to see where the plant material was grown. We inspect at nurseries. Any time something passes through a California border station on the way to Placer County, they put a hold on it and call our office and notify us. And anything from Southern California gets inspected because of the glassy winged sharpshooter [an insect that damages vineyards]. Most places are good about notifying us. For those who don’t but know better, there is some kind of administrative action, usually a fine.  
How did you recently discover the insects in the bouquet of flowers?
This bouquet had six or seven types of plants. I pulled the ti leaves out and one had bugs. They were pretty big ti leaves. There were little dots on them and when I looked through a magnifier, I could see they were insects. They were scale insects so they just attach themselves and don’t move. When I saw it, it was a red flag. It’s something we don’t have in California. I collected the leaves there at UPS and sealed them in plastic. I brought them back to the office and we sent samples to the state lab [California Department of Food and Agriculture] in Sacramento. There are a lot of entomologists there. Then we put the leaves in a freezer. Every few months we empty the freezer and take everything to the dump for a deep burial.
Does it get busier any particular time of the year?
We get cut flowers and roses year round. Flowers come in from Central and South America, Florida and Hawaii. The broker’s contract with the farms and what comes in depends on what’s in season. There’s always a huge rush on roses for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. And people order trees through the mail. We also get a lot of nursery stock.  
What brought you to Placer County?
I’ve been here seven or eight months. I came from Orange County. We were looking for a different place to live, more space to raise our kids. There are less crowds and traffic. In Orange County, I lived 20 miles from my office and it was an hour-and-a-half commute most days if I was lucky. My husband and I had been up here to visit and when this job came up, I went for it.