A few days ago we had an impromptu thunderstorm in Southern California. It was beautiful! Not only did we get a light show, but it was warm enough to keep the windows open in the house while it was going on. The smell of rain waking up the earth is one of my favorite things. Though, I think that’s a product of growing up in Las Vegas where rain didn’t happen that often.
So, I woke up this morning at the crack of dawn like I normally do, and watched the sky go from black to dark blue, to a blue-ish gray. I watched as my neighbors got in their cars and went to work, and took their kids to school. The sky gradually lit up, and revealed a beautiful haze that made everything seem more still than it normally is. It was the symphony of birds chirping that stopped me in my tracks. It was still fairly dark outside, and the birds are chirp, chirp, chirping away. My two monitors are glowing, and my window is closed. It was then that I decided that I was just going to stop for a second, power down all my digitals, and open that window so I could hear that magick better.
It’s amazing how just stopping for a bit can alter the rest of your day. The birds are still singing their endless symphony as I type this, and I was even blessed by the booming hum of a hummingbird passing by! (they really are loud when they’re 3 feet away from you!) Spring is finally here! The birds are tending to their young, and flowers and trees are beginning their new cycle of life, and are gracious enough to let us witness the miracle of it all!
Meet Larry Cox. He is not only the owner of Lawrence Cox Farms, but is also the president of the Imperial County Farm Bureau, and the Vice President of Western Growers, both of which aim to protect and promote agricultural interests, and our produce as a nation. It is so important to be able to put fresh produce on the table for our families. I truly believe that fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables can heal the body, and that idea seems to be right in line with Western Growers motto, which is “We grow the best medicine in the world.®” I can definitely say with confidence that Larry truly cares not only about his own farm, but the state of affairs of produce in California and the rest of the United States.
This is a little watermelon plant, about 60 days old. Aren’t they TOTALLY CUTE?! These are male watermelon plants, which pollinate the female plants, and there’s about one male to every 3 female plants. This allows them to grow seedless watermelons! The males do produce fruit, though it’s not edible. Isn’t it crazy how nature works sometimes? The racks you see in the back there are holding hundreds of the same flats of these guys that Larry is holding.
Next we move onto the romaine fields, where the workers are harvesting heads of beautiful lettuce for Wendy’s. Have you seen that new commercial where the red-head is in a field of lettuce? I can’t help but think of this farm when that commercial comes on. So similar! They make it prettier for TV, of course, but this is the REAL DEAL! The lettuce gets harvested and straight into boxes, ready for shipment. The tractor is moving toward us, so the workers are essentially walking backwards as they harvest.
To me this is so absolutely magical. All of these live plants, all in a row, living, growing, and providing us with sustenance. This is absolutely gorgeous!
The workers trim the lettuce as they go down the rows. On our way up to the tractor harvester, we walked through a previously harvested section of the field , and there are extraneous leaves everywhere. These get turned back into the soil, enriching it for the next crop. They also have a hazard analysis program that tests the soil and water for over or under chlorination among other things. “That which can be measured, can be managed,” says Larry. I love that!
They also have processes in place to ensure our food safety. For instance, Larry mentioned the use of gloves in the field. When the workers go out in the field, they check out their gloves. Whenever they leave the field for any type of break, they check their gloves back in. This prevents any kind of contamination from any outside sources. It’s great to have that peace of mind when it comes to food you’re putting on the table.
What you see here is Burgundy leaf lettuce developed by Rutgers. It’s proprietary for the next several years, and has the same antioxidant levels as blueberries! Amazing! I can attest that it tastes absolutely delicious. We tasted the leaves off a fresh head picked right in front of us!
What’s really great about the Imperial Valley, is that most of their water is dispensed on a gravity system, which means that the farmers utilize gravity to move the water instead of pumps. All of their fields are on a gradient of 2 inches per 100 feet, so the water will run down-hill essentially. Everything is furrow-watered, which means that they don’t have tubes or piping delivering the water directly to the crops, they just let the water flow through the furrows to get everything watered. With that gradient, it all works out perfectly!
They also rotate their crops so they don’t get a monoculture. A monoculture is the practice of planting the same crop in the same ground year after year. It seems to be frowned upon because the spread of pathogens is more rapid in this scenario, and the soil can also become depleted of nutrients. Larry rotates the crops from alfalfa, to onions, to sugar beets, and finally to lettuce, and uses the scraps of harvesting to also replenish the soil.
The whole process of shipping and keeping these precious veggies fresh is of utmost concern also. I had no idea that they inject broccoli boxes with crushed ice to keep them as fresh as possible. You see here, that they have a backhoe dumping ice into a vessel that pumps it into the broccoli boxes. They’ve thought of everything!
Check out this forklift, here. When I saw this, I was really struck with wonder. This forklift is carrying 12 full sized pallets. Twelve. That’s insane! Larry is walking around like that’s nothing! The lift swayed with the weight, but held true.
Behind us was the packing and cooling facility that’s seriously huge. It has stacks and stacks of veggies, and trucks back in to be filled with orders of celery, arugula, spinach, broccoli, lettuce, asparagus, onions, and countless other veggies. Their electric bill for this facility is a whopping 30-40 THOUSAND dollars a MONTH. What you see in the picture is probably 1/4 – 1/5 of the entire building. Larry stated that it’s not that much considering some other facilities that have even a larger bill. Can you imagine!? It was definitely cold everywhere we went in there.
Next, we were off to Sea View Ranch, Mesa West, where citrus and dates are grown in an unbelievably sandy, deserty environment.
This is a 2000 acre ranch that is a grower for Sunkist, and is about 30 miles from the Mexico border, but walking distance from the All American Canal.
Look at all that sand! Being the desert rat that I am, I felt right at home, and just wanted to kick that ultra-soft sand all around, and get messy. What a beautiful place!
These lemons below are actually past their harvest date. Don, the ranch manager explained that this was a bumper crop, and that supply exceeded the demand. The first choice for this crop was for the lemons to go to the “table,” which means lemons as we buy them at the grocery store that are good enough to eat as-is. They’re great for garnishing our iced teas and water with, and are picture perfect. These ones were past the “table” stage, and will go to juicing. This means less money for the farmer, but at least the crop doesn’t go completely to waste.
Next we went on to the date trees, which was my favorite – again, I really think it’s that desert rat in me that loves all things palm-y and desert-y. The canopies of the trees close you in, and seem to quiet the space by absorbing the sound. Simply magickal.
The date palms are pollinated by hand by palmeros, who tend to the date trees and range in age from 18 to 70 years old. Yes, seventy! The palmeros are in charge of many tasks, including de-thorning of the fronds, harvesting, and pollinating. They harvest date pollen from the male trees, and mix it with flour, a 1 to 1 ratio, and then go on to puff it into these pods shown below, which contain the little baby dates! I still can’t get over the fact that there is a 70 year old human doing this stuff. To get the workers up to the pods, they use forklifts. Genius!
The water for these guys is not on a gravity system like Lawrence Cox Ranches, but they have a pumping system that is completely monitored by computer. They even manage the fertilizer through the pumps too! These date palms get watered 4 hours a day. The pests here are coyotes and gophers that chew through the lines. It’s kind of hard to see in this photo, but there is a “pup,” or a little baby tree that is an off-shoot of the mother. They wrap it in twine to protect it, then remove it from the mother when it’s ready, and plant it in it’s own space. They keep it wrapped up until it’s established enough to be on it’s own. It takes about 5 years for a date tree to start producing, so it’s definitely a long-term investment!
One of the things that I’ve learned on these tours is that trees and orchards really seem to get hit with the drought. In the case of the date, it will take 5 years before you see any profit from a tree. If the water situation is so dire that you have to let a tree (or in an even sadder case, trees), you take a crazy serious hit. Some farmers liken losing a tree to losing a child. I totally get that, because you invest so much time into maintaining the health of that tree!
Below you can see the crazy spikes that are on the frond of this young tree. This is what the palmeros take off so that the tree is able to be pollinated and harvested. I imagine it’s a defense mechanism to protect the fruit of the tree. Mother nature, you’re sneaky! And smart.
We return to an orange harvest. These were picked this day, and will be shipped off the next day. I live in Moreno Valley, and work in Redlands. On my commute, I drive through orange groves in the San Timoteo canyon, and see these crates sometimes when they get ready to harvest those groves. They look like innocent little white boxes. They are anything but!
These guys hold up to ONE THOUSAND POUNDS of oranges. Talk about boggling the mind, eh? Don let us take a few home, and they were so sweet and juicy. Nothing beats a fresh picked anything!
This is the gorgeous All American Canal. This canal gets fed by the snow pack of the Rocky Mountains, which melts into the Colorado River, and then into this man-made canal built in the 1930’s. Because the Rockies got a good amount of snow pack this year, the Imperial Valley, though in the middle of the desert, hasn’t suffered as much as the Central Valley near Fresno. It’s nice to hear some not-so-discouraging news every once in awhile, eh?
Finally, we watered our thirst at the Coachella Valley Brewing Company!
Tons of great beers, both in draft and bottle form!
I’ll leave you with these beautiful spring-y pictures. I love trying to get the bee shots! They’re always just so busy!!!
I hope you enjoyed this post, and learned something. The California Farm Water Coalition paid for all travel costs and organized this tour. Their mission is simply to spread the word about farming, our food, and how it all takes water to grow it, and what the effects on the lack of water have on us, our lives, and the food we eat. I hope you found this post informative, and if you have any questions, just leave a comment below, and I’ll answer it to the best of my ability! I really am into where our food comes from, and I hope this sparked an interest for you too! Get out there and talk to your farmers at your local farmer’s markets! If you’re in Riverside, CA, I’ll see you out there tomorrow!
*Disclaimer: The California Farm Water Coalition paid for my transportation, food, and organized the tours we went on for this trip. All opinions expressed in this article are solely mine. I was not compensated in any other way.