Lettuce Production Goes South for the Winter
Fall marks a change of seasons. On the East Coast this change is evidenced by the famous “Fall Foliage.” But for the California leafy greens community, the change from summer to fall is means production is moving south.
California produces the majority of leafy greens grown in the U.S., including 77 percent of the romaine, 86 percent of the leaf lettuce, 71 percent of the iceberg lettuce and 66 percent of the spinach. These items and other leafy greens are primarily grown in three major growing regions of the state. During the spring and summer months, leafy greens are grown in the central coast region which includes the growing cities of Salinas, Santa Maria and Ventura. Some production also comes from the San Joaquin Valley during this time of year. But for about 4 to 5 months during the winter, leafy greens are grown in the southern desert growing areas in Imperial and Coachella valleys and near Yuma, Arizona.
This means that each year at this time, there is a migration of farms, people and even processing plants that literally pick up and move south for the winter. The process can be daunting and often difficult for the people who work at these companies. Recently the Salinas Californian, the local newspaper in Salinas (aka the Nation’s Salad Bowl), produced a few short videos explaining how the move of leafy greens production works. More importantly, these videos provide insight into how this transition impacts those who work in the fields and plants. These are great videos and we highly suggest you give them a look.
When it comes to food safety, of course, not much changes when operations move south. The LGMA metrics are consistent and remain in place no matter where your farm is located. The Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement is also in effect for those who move to the Yuma area. The two programs were created to be nearly identically in structure and content to provide consistency when it comes to the required food safety practices for leafy greens.
Most people who go the grocery store to buy salads have no idea about where they lettuce comes from. They see no change in the variety available on their store shelves. They know nothing about this migration, nor do they realize all that is entailed and how people’s lives that are impacted in the effort to provide high quality, safe leafy greens year-round. What they should know is that there a real people involved in the leafy greens community who love what they do and take great pains to bring food to our tables. Even those of us who work in produce industry sometimes take for granted how this amazing food system works. So, as the rest of us enjoy the change of seasons, watch the leaves turn colors and plan our Thanksgiving dinners – let us remember all of the hard work that goes on in the fields and farms and give thanks to those who make this possible.