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What's It Like to Run a Vegetable Farm?

In the first segment of our Faces of Farming miniseries, we meet vegetable farmer and VP of Artichoke Production Dale Huss. Dale explains what it takes to get all of those vegetables from the fields to our front door

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
Episode #501
image of an artichoke farmer working the field

A few weeks ago, I happened to be standing in a huge celery field in Salinas, California, right before the celery was about to be harvested. I tweeted a picture of the field and asked if people could identify the vegetable. Some guessed parsley. Others thought it might be cilantro or lovage. Although celery is one of the most commonly consumed vegetables, I'd never actually seen it growing in a field—where it looks a lot different than it does in those little plastic sleeves! 

Despite the huge growth of farmer's markets, community gardens, and CSAs in recent years, the vast majority of the food we eat is produced by large-scale growers: the fruit and vegetable growers, cattle ranchers, dairy farmers, and others who fill up the bins and shelves at our local grocery stores with an unbelievable abundance and variety of fresh food, week after week, year round.

Over the past couple of years, I've had the opportunity to visit many of these operations and to meet the people who dedicate their lives to feeding us. And I want you to meet them too and to learn more about this vital link in our food chain. In the next several weeks leading up to the American Thanksgiving holiday, I'm going to be talking to some of the people who are helping to bring that feast (as well as every other day's meals) to our table. 

This week, I spoke with Dale Huss, the VP of  Artichoke Production for Ocean Mist Farms. Headquartered in Castroville, California, Ocean Mist Farms is the largest grower of fresh artichokes in the United States. 

For many of us, fresh artichokes are a bit of a novelty—not something we buy and prepare on a weekly basis. But maybe we should be! One medium artichoke provides 3.5 grams of protein and almost 7 grams of fiber, all for just 60 calories. In particular, artichokes are high in inulin, a type of insoluble fiber that acts as a prebiotic, providing food for the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Artichokes are also high in antioxidant activity. 

In addition to artichokes, Ocean Mist Farms grows beets, broccoli, lettuce, and many other vegetables (including celery!) in California, Arizona, and Mexico. Interestingly, Ocean Mist grows both organic and conventional produce.

In our conversation—which you can listen to in this article's audio player or read an excerpt from below—Dale explains what it takes to get all of those vegetables from the fields to our front door, some of the chemical-free techniques that they use to control pests in both their organic and conventional crops, and the challenges that our farmers are facing. 

I hope you enjoy this opportunity to learn a bit more about the people who bring the food to our tables.

Next week, I’ll be continuing my Faces of Farming series with a conversation with Tera Barnhardt, a doctor of veterinarian medicine and cattle rancher in Kansas. I hope you’ll join me.

If you have comments or questions about today’s show I’d love to hear from you. You can post your thoughts below or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.

What's It Like to Run a Vegetable Farm?

Nutrition Diva: So, tell us a little bit about what's going on at the farm this time of year. We're sort of deep into the harvest season. What's happening out there in California?

Dale Huss: Well, you know, when you're in the vegetable industry in California at this time of year, you're going even faster than you were a month ago.

We purposely ramp up our volumes. We know that America likes to have fresh vegetables for Thanksgiving, and so we've essentially doubled the volume of some of our key commodities. And trying to get all that harvested, trying to get all that cooled, and trying to get that all to our customers really takes a tremendous amount of effort. At the same time, we're ramping things up to start in our desert areas, which includes Mexico, so there's just a tremendous amount going on. A lot of people moving, a lot of folks harvesting, a lot of folks working ground getting ready for winter. It really is an exciting time to be in the Salinas Valley in California.

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