By: Beth Blevins

For the last 12 years, Jim Harvey has been “poking along the back roads” of Pennsylvania, visiting agricultural producers across the state. The visits are both friendly and educational. Harvey, the state’s Rural Health Farm Worker Protection Safety Specialist, is there to teach farmers about the safe storage and use of agricultural pesticides, and to help them comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) (WPS), which aims to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury.


The is the only state WPS program that is coordinated through a State Office of Rural Health.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) wanted to provide growers with a source of technical assistance to help them comply with the guidelines outlined in the WPS,” said Lisa Davis, director of the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (PORH). “The WPS is a big deal for the state’s agricultural producers. They want to be in full compliance to be sure their workers are safe and to pass regular reviews by the PDA regional inspectors.”

PDA approached the SORH to implement the program, Davis said, because the office had a prior relationship with the state agency. “We had coordinated training for them in the past and they liked our enthusiasm and our competence,” Davis said. “We were funded to coordinate this program by being an organization that took its work very seriously. We also had excellent relationships with other programs at Penn State that were focused on farm safety and pesticide education, and we partnered with them to develop and implement the program.”

WPS covers farms, greenhouses, orchards, and nurseries—even organic farms are included, Davis said, if they employ people outside of their families. Most dairy farms are family-owned and family-run, so they don’t fall under WPS, according to Davis. The Pennsylvania program addresses the needs of all eligible agricultural production sites and pays special attention to migrant and immigrant farm workers, and to Amish and Anabaptist communities.

In his work, Harvey drives more than 20,000 miles a year, making anywhere from 50 to 100 full compliance visits, and 250 or more “drop-by” visits. “I do not inspect, nor do I tell inspectors what I see—I’m there to educate,” Harvey said. “I answer questions that people might be afraid to ask of a government official.”

After the initial visit, Harvey does two or more follow-up visits when he is back in the area. “I drop by regularly to see if they have more questions or need more materials and information,” he said. Harvey serves as a resource on other state regulations and guidelines, and is a trusted source of referrals to other farm safety programs offered by Penn State, Penn State Extension, and other state and national groups.

Harvey’s university car is a “resource on wheels” for the growers and is stocked with WPS materials as well as any information the producers and their employees might need. This includes information on the ACA’s Health Insurance Marketplace, and information Harvey compiled on Lyme disease (the infection rate in the state, particularly in the eastern region, is among the highest in the nation.) Most of the materials have been translated into Spanish and developed to be culturally appropriate for the Anabaptist population.

This year, the EPA revised WPS for the first time since 1992. Although the new standards won’t be enforced until 2017, Harvey is busy “getting farmers up to speed on it.” PDA has provided PORH with additional funds to hire more staff to work with Harvey to provide training on the new regulations and to update training materials.

In addition to field visits, Harvey speaks at dozens of meetings across the state every year and works information booths at agricultural trade meetings. In collaboration with other university partners, PORH has produced a series of training DVDs called “Safety in the Field,” which are being updated to reflect the new WPS revisions.

Davis said that the most important lesson she has learned from the experience of running the program is that “you can never anticipate where your current efforts might lead. Even if it’s a grant that might not seem like it will have much impact, you just never know!” Verbringe gern zeit mit freunden und familie