Lessons on Food and Farming in Monterey, California

Lettuce recap my “Facts Not Fears” trip to Monterey last month with the The Alliance of Food and Farming! Thank you to this awesome group for inviting me on this trip and sponsoring this post.

The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) is a non-profit formed in 1989 which represents organic and conventional farmers of fruits and vegetables and farms of all sizes.

One of my favorite aspects of being a media dietitian is having the opportunity to travel and learn about the latest and greatest in food trends, nutrition, and how food is grown.

There are few initiatives I’d support more than that of eating more fruits and veggies. The antioxidant, fiber, and overall nutrient profile of fruits and vegetables is unparalleled!

Produce is the only food group health experts agree we should all eat more of every day for better health and a longer life.

Learning how much hard work goes into growing the fruits and veggies we eat every day creates a whole new level of appreciation for these foods. Did you know 86% of Cambodians grow their own food? Insane.

Now let’s dig into my biggest takeaways from the trip!

The benefits of eating produce, organic or conventional, dramatically outweigh any theoretical health risk from pesticides.

One of the craziest things I learned on this trip was that people think organic produce doesn’t carry any food born illness (pathogen) risk.

The reality is that pathogens are found on all kinds of produce; and one out of seven people experience food born illness. Washing produce is what’s helpful in reducing risk, not eating 100% organic.

Studies suggest that fear based produce safety messaging confuses consumers and may result in reduced purchasing of any fruits and veggies—organic or conventional.

Considering only one in ten Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables each day, we have some serious work to do!

When it comes to pesticide residues, it’s the dose, not the presence, that makes the poison. I learned much of what I know about pesticides from our three-hour roundtable discussion with experts in the field including Dr. Carl Winter, a renowned toxicologist with a 30-year career at the University of California at Davis.

While purchasing organic slightly reduces pesticide consumption (there are organic pesticides used), there isn’t reduced risk as the pesticide exposure for both conventional and organic produce is so exponentially less than what would be needed to cause any adverse effects.

Many of the farms on our tour had both conventional and organic farms, and there are plenty of reasons to support organic farming beyond pesticides. I purchase certain items organic because I know in some cases the people and land are treated better, for example.

Always wash your produce under running water to help eliminate any residues. Check out The Alliance’s pesticide calculator for more information!

Tired of plastic strawberry cartons and English cucumbers wrapped in plastic? It was so neat to see that more sustainable, plant-based material packaging is on its way. It will cost about 90 cents more per strawberry carton for the farmer.

We also saw with our own eyes the skilled labor it takes to pack a carton of strawberries just right. Not at all easy!

A big concern these days is food waste, and for good reason. We waste at the grocery store and we waste in our own homes. On the farms, there’s leftover/unused produce all over the ground.

Upon first glance, one might assume that some pretty massive food waste is happening. Not the case!

The unused produce gets tilled back into the soil and is really important for the future of the crops. Food waste is actually a far bigger issue in the home versus on the fields, where farmers have to use everything they can in order to save money.

The invention of cauliflower rice actually came from a farmer looking for a way to decrease waste of the cauliflower stalk. Now it’s the perfect value-added convenience product!

Looking for a good way to reduce waste in your home and give back to the planet? Try composting!

Those huge strawberries you see at the store aren’t GMO, they’re just the beginning of the strawberry season. There are about 24 varieties of strawberries grown today but unlike apples, they’re all marketed as one.

Strawberries are all hand-planted, dependent on 50,000 workers. There’s no machinery used. They grow in the ground for nine months. Farmers see yield boosts on the crops that follow strawberries thanks to the rich soil.

Packaged strawberries are put in flats in the field and go to cooler within four hours of picking. The trucks that transport them are 32 degrees. They go from harvest to truck in 24 hours.

Heat and moisture ruin strawberries. Keep them in the fruit drawer in your refrigerator and don’t rinse them until right before you’re eating them. Strawberries actually taste best at room temperature, so let them sit out for a bit.

The romaine fields were absolutely stunning. Sixth-five percent of lettuce demand is romaine!

A super cool machine cuts the romaine with jets of water. This was developed to prevent workers from bending down.

Celery is hand-harvested by skilled workers who use a machete to chop the tops off just right so they fit in the box.

Artichokes are actually a flower—an unbloomed bud. The first artichokes in spring are bigger, like the strawberries.

Artichoke workers walk around seven miles a day carrying packs of artichokes weighing up to 70 pounds. Talk about hard work!

Interestingly enough, when I asked what proportion of artichokes go to canning, I was told that these artichokes are only sold fresh. Canning artichokes are grown in Peru, where there’s the highest artichoke consumption.

Fun times with my fellow Registered Dietitians!

I love seeing my friends on trips like this and meeting new to me RDs, too. It’s always a fantastic networking experience!

I was joined by a few other wonderful ladies including Carrie, Anne, Keri, Heather, Sharon, Liz, and Melissa.

Luckily we had some down time on the trip to explore the area. Below are a few of the fun activities we did!

A divine pizza lunch at La Bicyclette and strolling around Carmel by the Sea

A bike ride along the coast with the most stunning ocean views

A relaxing day at Refuge spa with Anne before the trip (no photos!)

Dinner at The Monterey Bay Aquarium

Next week I’m headed back to California (Lodi this time) for a press trip with California Walnuts. Keep your eyes peeled!