Yuma County, Arizona, is famous for its leafy green vegetable production. The county produces up to 90 percent of leafy greens grown in the U.S. and is dubbed the “lettuce capital of the world.” However, the county is also becoming well-known for a trend of increased Mexican migrants illegally crossing the southern border, and concerns have spread for crop safety.
While Yuma’s blistering heat poses a humanitarian concern for migrants, human excrement is also a threat to crops raised along the borders.
Farmers began voicing these concerns after they found that their fields had become a popular bathroom area. Crops that are contaminated by human feces are immediately tested. The crops then have to be destroyed, or other measures taken to ensure that any food produced is safe for consumption.
Last year, farmers reported over $500,000 in losses due to food safety concerns, Jonathan Lines, Yuma County supervisor, told TV station KYMA. And nobody wants to risk a repeat of 2018, when a food safety outbreak affected romaine lettuce grown near Yuma.
So Yuma County took matters into its own hands, addressing the problem with portable toilets and hand washing stations. According to new outlet Arizona’s Family, the county currently has 17 toilets and two wash stations available for migrants along the border fence in Yuma, San Luis, and Morales Dam.
So far, the county has spent about $80,000 to place the toilets along the border. Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency has promised to pay back $120,000 over three years to cover the cost of the restrooms, the county says they have not received any payment as yet.
Last year, 850 asylum seekers crossed the border into Yuma County each day. Many come to work in Yuma’s vibrant agricultural industry and in neighboring California, where the lush Salinas Valley is known as “America’s Salad Bowl” for it’s leafy crop production. The number of daily migrants has decreased this year, Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls has noted that the number is still at about 700 migrants per day.
Needless to say, Yuma County plans to keep the toilets in place in a humanitarian effort to provide humane restroom options while providing some added security for farmers in the area.
»Related: The invisible dance of agriculture in the Salinas Valley