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When I was a kid, I had a bulletin board above my desk with all the mementos that were important to an 11-year-old. I distinctly remember two postcards from my dad that he sent to me when he was away for months before our family moved to another state.  It was the only time there was that length of absence for our family, and once we moved it was over.  However, this is something that happens to families regularly in the produce industry when the growing regions change from California and Arizona and vice versa causing some families to travel together and other families to be separated until the next time.  These major moves happen not just once in a career, as the case for my family, but twice every single year.

This is what we call the transition; when the growing season for lettuce, spinach, tender greens, and other fresh produce crops shift from California for the spring and summer to Arizona for fall and winter. There is always buzz in the industry about the weather and what impact it will have on crops during this time or the tactical and logistic challenges of disassembling and re-assembling an entire plant’s worth of equipment, loading it into tractor-trailers (which takes 50 loads), and moving it all 575 miles from one building to another. This is done with long, rotating work shifts over an 80-hour window. This year we are looking at adding supply chain shortages to an already stressful week.  But what about the families in the industry and what do they do to stay together when the wife, husband, mother, or father is following the lettuce?

I’ve talked to a few of these families and learned more about their dedication to the industry and job, but more importantly to each other. The other spouse may have a non-produce job and need to stay in one location. The growing seasons also don’t line up with school calendars so families with school-aged kids stay put while the parent in produce is away.

One industry veteran explained that technology makes things easier than when he was raising his kids.  He told me about a dad who would have dinner with his family each night with Skype and an iPad. They would even coordinate their menu so they were eating the same meal each night.

Richard and his wife stay together throughout the year. They own a home in Salinas, California, and rent during the Yuma season.

Julio, told me a little bit about how he and his family handles the long absence.

“While being away from family I personally keep busy due to not having my mind wonder off, prepping finances to physical isolation from family. I’m not bothered being away for so long simply because I am accustomed to the nomad lifestyle (prior service USMC) and I get to visit with family once a month. While working away from home, I get to focus on my job 100 percent without distractions and hone my skills within my department and overall with the company. My wife currently does not work and lives close to immediate family, so the children are well taken care of while I am away. I Face Time them, take pictures, keep up on social media, just to stay in contact with the kids. It is difficult, but like I mentioned before, my job keeps me plenty busy. Needless to say, it is a self-rewarding job.”

Those of us that buy lettuce at the grocery store or sit down at our favorite restaurant to eat a salad probably have not thought about what goes on behind the scenes to keep greens on our plate the entire year. As with any industry, there is much that happens behind the scenes that goes unnoticed and this is certainly the case in the produce industry with the rotation of growing regions for lettuce and other fresh crops. As we approach another transition period, remember all the moving pieces; weather, logistics, equipment, supply chain shortages, and the time crunch to not lose any production time. Most importantly, remember the families that follow the lettuce.

Follow the Lettuce

How would you like stopping your operations, packing everything up, and relocating to another state? It’s a lot o work, but to keep a year-round supply of lettuce, operations must move twice each year to where the growing conditions are ideal for leafy greens!  Learn more about the annual transition growers and processors make each year in the produce industry from Salinas, CA to Yuma, AZ and vice versa!