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Adventures in Food and Farming

I’m back with a recap from the press trip I attended last week in California, hosted by The Alliance for Food and Farming!

A huge thank you to them for having me on the trip, for sponsoring this post-event blog recap, and for covering my travel expenses.

It had been awhile since I went on a press trip – I don’t accept many invitations these days due to not wanting to be away from the little one too often – but the combination of California + the topic of this one, “Facts not Fears”, sounded worth the trip.  

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. Their mission is to deliver credible information about the safety of produce, and this press trip was part of that! 

Here are some of the main takeaways of the trip, plus some of the food and fun excursions I had with the fellow dietitians in attendance.

  • Seeing ALL the farms.

 

One of the press trip days was pretty much entirely dedicated to touring farms!

First up, we visited the strawberry fields, and got to enjoy some strawberries fresh from the field! I went on a press trip with the California Strawberry Commission back in 2014, so it was fun to be back. :)

Fun fact: strawberries are all hand planted, hand weeded, and hand harvested. It’s incredibly hard work – they are grown on raised beds to prevent moisture issues, but it still requires a ton of bending over for the workers.

strawberry field in california

 

Strawberry plants continually produce new fruit throughout their season; during peak season the plants are harvested every three days.

Apparently the plants produce really large strawberries earlier in the season, and then as the plants get “tired”, as they put it, they produce smaller berries. So those extra-large berries are not genetically modified, they are just the early fruit. :)

A couple tips for enjoying strawberries at home:

  1. Don’t wash your strawberries until you are ready to eat them. Put them in the fridge when you get them, then just take out the amount you want to eat, wash them, and eat immediately. If you wash them and then put them back in the fridge they are likely to spoil more quickly!
  2. Berries are most flavorful when at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to eat to let them warm up a bit.

strawberry field in california

We also saw some gorgeous romaine fields!

romaine field in california

We were there when their harvesting machine was doing its thing (with workers ready to sort the produce once on board), which was cool to see because it cuts the romaine with jets of water. Neat, right?

romaine water cutting machine

Next up was a celery field, which I’d never seen before. 

The biggest takeaway here was how lovely it smelled, and how skilled the workers are. They hand harvest the celery with a special sort of machete that allows them to quickly dig it up from the ground with the end and then chop the celery with the main blade.

The farmer told us that the workers can basically do this blindfolded and produce the exact right size celery to fit into the boxes every single time.

celery field california

My favorite of the fields we got to tour, though, was the artichokes!

I’d never seen artichokes being grown before – beautiful.

artichoke field california

I have so much respect for the workers harvesting the artichokes – they walk through the fields tossing the artichokes into these packs, which can weigh up to 70 pounds when full.

They apparently walk up to 7 miles per day in peak harvest time – wow! Tough work.

artichoke farm california 

  • An interesting round table discussion.

On Wednesday morning, we had a 3 hour round table discussion with a collection of experts in the food and farming industries. It was really interesting and I appreciated the opportunity to learn from them!

One thing we learned was that food waste is much more of an issue in homes rather than in fields. I actually read an article in the Food and Nutrition Magazine recently about food waste that stated that an estimated 43% of food waste in the U.S. is in homes. One of my goals over the next month is actually to get a compost bin/system set up at our new house now that we are settled – it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for ages and am going to commit to here so you guys keep me accountable!

In farming, there’s a big incentive to use everything you possibly can to save money, so the food waste is generally a lot lower than in the homes.

A lot of unused food on farms will go towards animal feed, or simply be tilled back into the land to enrich the soil. That was the case at most of the farms we visited, like the celery farm – all of the leftover celery and leaves will get incorporated back into the soil, so it’s certainly not wasted.

celery field california

Often many packaged food innovations come out of not wanting to waste food, too – for example if the demand is lower, and the food is frozen instead of sold fresh. Or, cauliflower rice apparently started because there were a bunch of crumbs left over when processing/slicing cauliflower, and someone got smart and packaged it. 

Another thing we discussed during the round table was the importance of reminding consumers that eating conventional (non-organic) produce is better than eating none at all.

Studies have shown that fear-based produce safety messaging confuses consumers and may result in reduced purchasing of
any fruits and veggies – organic OR conventional. (sourceThis is not good, especially since only 1 in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. (source)

Dr. Carl Winter, who spent the past 30 years at the University of California at Davis researching the detection of pesticides and naturally-occurring toxins in foods (and who notably avoided ever taking any industry funding so as not to have any potential bias), talked to us more about pesticides, which was fascinating. (Here’s a link to one of his big studies/projects re: pesticides for more info.) 

Bottom line: purchasing organic produce does slightly reduce your exposure to pesticides (although there are still some organic-approved pesticides that are used), but it does not result in any appreciable reduction of consumer risk because even with conventional produce our typical exposure amount is still FAR less than the amount needed to cause any adverse effects. (source/more info)

If you’re worried, the FDA says washing produce under running tap water reduces and often eliminates pesticide residues if they are present on fresh produce. So wash away! (source

I purchase organic food as often as I can because it’s important to me to support the organic farming industry for a number of reasons (especially when related to dairy and meat due to how the animals are treated and the land is managed, but I often purchase organic produce when available as well). But sometimes organic isn’t available, or it’s cost-prohibitive, and it’s far more important to still eat those fruits and veggies, rather than skip them altogether because they are conventionally grown. 

The Alliance for Food and Farming has a pesticide calculator on their website that may be useful for those of you looking to learn more about this. 

  • Spending time with fellow dietitians.

Okay, enough science and research talk – let’s get into some of the other adventures from the trip! 

One of the highlights for me on press trips is always getting to spend some time with fellow bloggers and/or dietitians. This trip was all Registered Dietitians; some of us work in the blogging arena, while others focus more on traditional media, or on podcasting, etc. It was fun to get to know the others and to learn from them!

Here’s the whole crew:

From left: me, Alexis, Carrie, Keri, Liz, Melissa, SharonHeather  

We had a couple hours of free time both afternoons before dinner so it was nice to get out and explore the area a bit.

One of the afternoons, I led the others on another fun bike ride – the same one I did on Sunday with my friend Lauren – and it was such a treat to get to do it twice!

These views… insane.

biking monterey california

Like before, we biked from our hotel in Monterey south along the coast towards Asilomar State Beach. We didn’t make it quite as far as I did the other day because we had to get back for dinner, but it was really fun.

Another big highlight was dinner in the Monterey Bay Aquarium! Everyone raves about this aquarium and it did not disappoint.

We ate dinner in the “Kelp Forest” – cool!

The views from the outside were gorgeous, too.

With my friend Alexis – so fun to get to spend some time with her this week!

The whole group of us also headed over to Carmel By the Sea for a late lunch on Wednesday – we went to La Bicyclette, which was lovely.

Prosecco, salad and pizza hit the spot!

la bicyclette carmel

la bicyclette carmel

It was a busy but really informative trip. :)

Have a nice day, and I’ll see you guys back here on Friday with some eats + exercise from the week!

Comments

  1. 1

    I thought the pesticide information was really interesting! Obviously some of the fears out there are overblown and it was a good reminder that it’s OK to eat fruits and veggies that aren’t organic.
    It was also interesting how little waste there is on the big farms. I guess it’s on us to do better at home!
    Thanks for the informative post (scenery was pretty nice, too)!

    • 2

      I was coming here to write the exact same thing! Thanks for the information

    • 4

      I agree! I would like to buy all organic but it really doesn’t fit our budget. Many organic items are twice as much, which really adds up over time if you are paying attention. I have a daughter now and we’ve been trying to buy organic for her but it’s reasauring to hear more information about the actual risk levels. Thank you!

    • 6

      Glad you found this post interesting! We actually talked some about how consumers who are nervous about exposure to chemicals would be better off a) not using pesticides on their own lawns, and b) taking a look at their beauty/self care products (like perfume!). I definitely agreed with that – I feel like that stuff makes more of a difference than the food does in terms of exposure amount…

  2. 7

    What an interesting trip! I grew up in a farming community but they grew things like corn, soy beans, wheat, etc. So I’ve never seen things like a field of romaine, strawberries, or artichokes. Super cool to learn more about how they are grown/harvested and how to reduce waste. In Minneapolis, our city provides “organic recycling” bins so we do that instead of composting. I think it’s an awesome program. I am not 100% clear on what the city does with the organic recycling but I imagine they re-purpose it somehow? If they didn’t have this organic recycling program I would definitely look into setting up a compost system in our backyard. We only produce one medium kitchen trash bag of trash each week which I feel pretty good about! But having organic recycling definitely helps!

  3. 9

    Hi Anne! Jackie’s Mom here! Love your blog! We did the drive from San Fran to LA this spring! Loved Monterey Big Sur and Carmel! I enjoy watching your little girl grow! Wish we could visit sometime! Cathy Laplante

    • 10

      Hi Cathy – thanks for reading and so glad to hear you’re enjoying the blog! :) I miss Jackie – I hope she’s doing well! Been way too long since we had a reunion!

  4. 11
    Roadrunner says

    Great that you could enjoy such an informative and interesting trip, Anne. Well done! Thanks for sharing the insights. Very helpful!

  5. 13

    Really interesting! Thanks for sharing the findings! Lots to keep in mind when shopping!
    Also I’m so jealous you went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium!!

  6. 15

    I so appreciate your recap, and it was very well written! I will buy organic if it’s on sale or the only option available, but generally speaking, we buy conventional produce as it suits our budget. It’s upsetting that the fear and wrongful messaging has turned people away from eating produce at all. Thank you for clarifying the risk and that it is far lower than we perceive! You are right that our own personal products should be looked at more closely than our food. I didn’t know that the larger strawberries were from the earlier harvest. I feel rather ashamed to admit that I thought it was from GMO, which I have read on and am no longer concerned. Once again, thank you for your post!

    • 16

      Thanks Kori – I’m glad you found this post interesting and informative! I didn’t know the big strawberry thing either until this trip… very cool! I love that the plants get “tired” just like we do ;)

  7. 17

    These recap posts are always my favorite! Loved seeing the artichoke plants (I know a lot of veggie plants but had not been introduced to this one).

    Thanks for all the great info!

  8. 19

    I really liked this post. We do buy a lot of organic produce and generally prioritize organic dairy and meat when it’s available. But I’ve noticed that the fear of pesticides may have gotten to me a bit much? We were chatting the other day about going apple picking this Fall in the DMV with our son and then I almost nixed the idea because I don’t think there’s organic orchards in the area and apples are on the Dirty Dozen. I’ve provably gone way too much on the other side?! Side question – do you guys go apple picking nearby and where? Thanks!

    • 20

      It’s hard when there’s so much fear-based messaging out there! I found what we learned about the Dirty Dozen on the trip very interesting — basically yes there are slightly less pesticides on organic versions of those foods, but the difference is pretty negligible, and buying organic instead does not result in any appreciable reduction in risk because the amounts of the pesticides are so small in the first place. Like I said, I still do love organic and I try to support the organic industry when I can for many reasons, but I think it’s important to not miss out on fun stuff (like eating out, or going to an apple orchard!) because of fears about pesticides or not being able to get an organic option. Matt and I were just talking about taking Riese apple picking this year – she LOVES apples and I think she’d love running around, too! I need to ask around to see which ones are the most fun… I know there are a ton. Let me know if you find a good one. :)

      • 21

        Super informative post, Anne! I’m glad to hear what you had to say about organic and conventional produce. We really like shopping at farmers markets, and I think that organic certification can be cost prohibitive for some smaller farmers, so I’m glad to hear that my “wash and don’t worry too much” is fine. I think obsessive behavior would be worse for my health than whatever trace elements are there!

        I went picking at Stribling Orchards and loved it. Tons of kids and there’s snacks (popcorn, cider, other apple based products as well). Go earlier in the season than you think – I associated October with apple picking and it was really the end of many of varieties. There’s also a place across from Bluemont Vineyards as well :)

    • 22

      If you want more info, here’s the study re: the Dirty Dozen you might find interesting (done by the UC Davis researcher we talked to): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135239/

  9. 23

    Very cool! Next time someone asks me about organic produce in my class, i’ll certainly include “any produce is better than no produce” because it is NUTS that only 1 in 10 Americans gets enough fruits and veggies. Thanks for the info!

  10. 25

    Wow! I loved reading about your trip. I am a huge produce lover and really enjoyed seeing the farming side of the process. Another informative and interesting post. It looks like you enjoyed some great food and fun times too. Thanks for sharing!

  11. 27

    Oooh the pesticide calculator is super interesting! Kind of crazy that the produce from the dirty dozen would still take thousands of servings to see an effect. And if you find a good home compost system, let me know! I’ve been saying I want to do it for a while and just never taken the leap.

Trackbacks

  1. […] enjoyed their wit, intellect, and zest for adventure. From the left there’s Anne from fANNEtastic Food, Alexis from Hummusapien, Carrie from Nutrition by Carrie, Keri Gans, RDN, Melissa, host of the […]

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