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Meet the Farming Community: Dr. Charles Gerba

Meet the Farming Community: Dr. Charles Gerba, Microbiologist and Professor of Environmental Science at University of Arizona

How did you become interested in agriculture and environmental science?

My interest in agriculture and environmental science started when I was studying recycled water for use on crop land. My first project was in Lubbock, Texas which has one of the longest operational recycled water systems to farmland in the United States. I experienced the worst dust storm in my life working at Lubbock. It made the ones in Arizona mild by comparison. I wanted to be an environmental scientist because I like to get out of the laboratory. I love field work; wish I could do more of it.

What brought you to the University of Arizona?

I was raised in Arizona but working in Florida and Texas. I decided that Arizona was the best place to live in the U.S. just form a climate standpoint. In east Texas and Florida, you never dry out.

I’ve seen you called “Dr. Germ,” how do you feel about that moniker?

I really do not think about that. I got it from studying the microbiology of homes and other indoor environments. I was able to point out that there are fewer germs on a toilet seat than a cutting board in the average home. Maybe that is how I got that nickname.

How do you work with Arizona LGMA and how does it impact food safety?

In the work I do with Arizona LGMA, one of our major goals is to understand irrigation water quality. We have learned the artificial irrigation systems used in Arizona are unique in terms of factors which control the microbiology of the water. We have been working on a better understanding of what controls the presence of E. coli in the irrigation water. We also have developed predict tools (Apps) for producers to better predict the quality of the irrigation water and ensure no risk exists from the water.

What is the biggest challenge you face every day?

My biggest challenge is keeping up with all the things I would love to do. There are so many interesting problems to solve.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding aspect of my job is working with my colleagues and people in the industry. In my work at University of Arizona, I am not limited to who I work with or where we work. We have done work on every continent in the world (yes, that includes Antarctica, where had to chase down penguins and seals to get fecal samples). I also worked in outer space (worked with NASA on sewage space – to go where none had gone before!)

Also, working with many industries (disinfectants, water treatment microbial ecology, water treatment, cleaning products, military, agriculture) provided me with a lot of insights on how one development in one industry can be used to gain insight on potential solutions for another.

What is the one thing you wished everyone knew about your job?

I wish people knew how much fun my job is. Every day is different. I constantly meet new people and encounter challenging problems. It’s never boring.

What is your family’s favorite leafy green?

My favorite leafy green is Swiss Chard!

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