On this cold, clear blue day, the ground beneath my feet is damp, muddy, covered with bruised leaves and discarded cores, and I have to concentrate on each step to make sure my shoes don’t slip.
It’s morning, the time of day when this work is usually done, although it typically begins hours before the sun comes up, and Tim is just ahead of me, moving towards the low rumble of a wide, slowly rolling machine where workers are pulling green globes from the ground by hand, cutting out each individual core with a single swift stab, scraps falling to the field as fertilizer behind them, then washing the lettuce and placing it on a conveyor belt that takes them to boxes bound for processing.
We’re in California, about an hour outside Monterey, standing, along with a dozen or so other bloggers, in the middle of one of Dole’s iceberg lettuce fields.
A tall man in blue jeans, Mark Pisoni, tells us he’s a third-generation farmer providing produce for Dole. Another man, from Dole, demonstrates, corer in hand, how lettuce harvesting is done, pulling one head after another into his arms.
Dole’s already told us at their Monterey headquarters that they work with over 9,000 small growers, many of whom they’ve had decades-long relationships with, and now they’re showing us. Pisoni’s family farms 500 acres of iceberg lettuce, romaine, celery, broccoli and cauliflower in the Salinas Valley, working on land that’s been in his family for close to 100 years.
They take us to a Dole processing plant, where we see the same kinds of lettuce that was just harvested get washed, chopped and packaged.
We brush up on our salad knowledge through a “name that lettuce” quiz I was sure Tim was going to win (who knows the difference between red tango lettuce and Salanova? Turns out my husband does!). We are briefed on Dole’s Salad’tude campaign—a new marketing approach that centers on finding your own personal salad style, and we’re asked for our thoughts on salad/vegetable trends and what we see happening in the industry.
All of this happens in and around Monterey, California, a beautiful oceanside city with the feel of a rich, temperate beach town. And now that I’m seeing all the natural beauty (and bounty!) northern California offers, I’m totally understanding why everyone wants to live here.