Westmont Magazine From Field Work to Fraud
Heidi Wong ’91 gets calls when gasoline prices soar. Irate customers want to make sure that pumps are fully inspected and working properly. Anytime Homeland Security raises its alert level, she takes note; protecting food safety is also her responsibility. Meanwhile, she plots strategies to defeat the tiniest terrorists threatening her region: exotic interlopers and established insects that decimate crops and timber.
It’s all in a day’s work as agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures for Humboldt county. The youngest of 55 commissioners in California, Heidi is only the ninth woman statewide to achieve this position in the past 125 years.
“I like the diversity and challenge of what I do, and I enjoy working with the public,” she says. Living in Humboldt County, with its rugged redwood coastline, also appeals to her. She spends as much time outdoors as she can.
Much of her job focuses on agriculture: major crops in Humboldt include timber, dairy, nursery plants and livestock. But she also protects consumers by testing commercial measuring devices and packaged commodities to make sure county residents consistently get their money’s worth.
Heidi has to keep up with the latest legislation as it changes constantly. She helps farmers comply with a range of regulations, such as restrictions on the use of pesticides. “We often serve as a liaison between farmers and other agencies dealing with air and water resources,” she says.
Enforcing the law gets her out into the field, which she enjoys. “California is the only state that regulates agriculture on the local level,” she says. “That means we are more in touch with the industry and there is much greater accountability.”
Heidi concedes that California has the strictest agricultural regulations in the nation. “We know it’s not a level playing field; compliance with California law can cause difficulties for growers,” she says. “But production has never suffered — we are the No. 1 agricultural state, and we have a great reputation and some of the safest products in the world.”
Environmentally, California is far ahead of other states, Heidi says. “In addition to stricter regulations, we have better enforcement. We are definitely ahead of the game.”
Although she grew up in Ventura, where agriculture is a big industry, Heidi never considered a career in this field. Her interest in public sector work centered on public works and environmental impact studies. But after graduating from Westmont with a degree in natural science, she found jobs in these areas scarce. She ended up taking a clerical position in the agriculture department — and found it fascinating. She rose through the ranks, becoming an agricultural biologist and eventually a senior biologist before accepting a position as deputy agriculture commissioner in Merced county. Over the years, she has secured 13 separate licenses relating to weights and measures, pesticides and environmental monitoring; commissioners must hold all 13.
“Agriculture is an important industry,” Heidi says. “We are feeding a lot of people. I enjoy doing something that I hope makes a difference.”