With the current COVID-19 crisis, food safety is more important than ever, and food safety begins with those growing our food. As part of its Desert Farming Initiative, the University of Nevada, Reno Experiment Station is working with local agriculture producers during the pandemic to deliver food-safety education and resources.
Jill Moe, education program coordinator with the Initiative, focuses on food safety, as well as the sustainability of local food systems. She explained these local food systems provide a safer resource for fresh produce for the community since local produce is typically handled less, reducing the potential for contamination and the spread of disease.
Although COVID-19 restrictions are currently preventing Moe from giving in-person workshops and trainings on food safety as she normally does, she’s been making sure that information is readily available to growers by answering questions through email and Facebook. In addition, as part of the Initiative’s Food Safety Program, she helped to create a short film about the steps being taken by Nevada farms to prevent food contamination and illness. These steps include identifying sources of pathogens, such as E. coli and salmonella; crop management; and worker health and hygiene. Moe is also creating a list of tips for producers to reinforce food-safety goals and reassure shoppers of current precautions in place.
Moe’s main focus is to provide food safety education to producers across the state. Typically, she offers produce safety training on the Food Safety Modernization Act requirements, a 2011 law that regulates how fresh produce is grown and harvested to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness.
“We are very pleased to have someone with Jill's background and expertise leading our food safety program,” said Chris Pritsos, associate dean of research for the College and director of the Experiment Station. “It’s particularly important at a time like this when food safety procedures are even more complicated than normal.”
As part of her work and that of the Experiment Station, which is a unit of the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources, Moe has also initiated sustainable agriculture projects, which center on testing techniques to support local food production in the high desert while protecting natural resources. In one of her current projects, she is propagating native plants and installing hedgerows that benefit pollinators and wildlife, as well as control wind-borne pathogens that affect vegetable crops.
“It’s really important, especially now, to focus on and support local food producers,” Moe said. “Making sure that farms and consumers understand food-safety practices helps to prevent public health crises and strengthens the regional food system.”
Moe completed her graduate studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, focusing on environmental policy, and at Washington State University, focusing on sustainable agriculture, and has worked in those fields for almost 20 years. She spent two years in West Africa as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, where she gained experience in agroforestry, a land-management system that uses trees for the cultivation of farmland. While there, she was inspired to focus on sustainable food systems. Moe also lived and worked in Germany for eight years, where she conducted a study on midscale markets and helped with year-round market farmers.
“One of the reasons I enjoy working at the University, and especially with the Experiment Station, is that we are in a unique position to connect farmers to the best available information,” Moe said. “I’m motivated every day to work toward strengthening local food systems and conservation practices here in Nevada.”
Growers or others wanting information on produce safety can contact Moe at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect on the Desert Farming Initiative Facebook page.