Home > Uncategorized > California’s Central Valley, Land of a Billion Vegetables – NYTimes.com

California’s Central Valley, Land of a Billion Vegetables – NYTimes.com

October 12, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I left Los Angeles at 4 in the morning, long before first light, and made it to Bakersfield — the land of oil derricks, lowriders and truck stops with Punjabi food — by 6. Ten minutes later, I was in the land of carrots.

You know that huge pile of cello-wrapped carrots in your supermarket? Now imagine that the pile filled the entire supermarket. That’s how many carrots I saw upon my arrival at Bolthouse Farms. Something like 50 industrial trucks were filled to the top with carrots, all ready for processing. Bolthouse, along with another large producer, supplies an estimated 85 percent of the carrots eaten by Americans. There are many ways to put this in perspective, and they’re all pretty mind-blowing: Bolthouse processes six million pounds of carrots a day. If you took its yield from one week and stacked each carrot from end to end, you could circle the earth. If you took all the carrots the company grows in a year, they would double the weight of the Empire State Building.

At Bolthouse’s complex, carrots whirl around on conveyor belts at up to 50 miles an hour en route to their future as juliennes, coins and stubs, or baby carrots, which the company popularized and which aren’t babies. Other carrots become freezer fare, concentrate, salad dressings and beverages. Fiber is separated for tomato sauce and hot dogs. Whatever’s left becomes cattle feed.

Bolthouse is just one of the many massive operations of California’s expansive Central Valley, which is really two valleys: the San Joaquin to the south and Sacramento to the north. All told, the Central Valley is about 450 miles long, from Bakersfield up to Redding, and is 60 miles at its widest, between the Sierra Nevada to the east and the Coast Ranges to the west. It’s larger than nine different states, but size is only one of its defining characteristics: the valley is the world’s largest patch of Class 1 soil, the best there is. The 25-degree (or so) temperature swing from day to night is an ideal growing range for plants. The sun shines nearly 300 days a year. The eastern half of the valley (and the western, to some extent) uses ice melt from the Sierra as its water source, which means it doesn’t have the same drought and flood problems as the Midwest. The winters are cool, which offers a whole different growing season for plants that cannot take the summer heat. There’s no snow.

The valley became widely known in the 1920s and 1930s, when farmers arrived from Virginia or Armenia or Italy or (like Tom Joad) Oklahoma and wrote home about the clean air, plentiful water and cheap land. Now the valley yields a third of all the produce grown in the United States. Unlike the Midwest, which concentrates (devastatingly) on corn and soybeans, more than 230 crops are grown in the valley, including those indigenous to South Asia, Southeast Asia and Mexico, some of which have no names in English. At another large farm, I saw melons, lettuce, asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, chard, collards, prickly pears, almonds, pistachios, grapes and more tomatoes than anyone could conceive of in one place. (The valley is the largest supplier of canned tomatoes in the world too.) Whether you’re in Modesto or Montpelier, there’s a good chance that the produce you’re eating came from the valley.

via California’s Central Valley, Land of a Billion Vegetables – NYTimes.com.

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