When you climb into a truck heading out to a produce field, be sure to have a jacket with you for the signature morning fog that covers the fields in Salinas, California, with the moisture leafy greens love. If it is Yuma, Arizona, you will still need that jacket to stay warm before the sun reaches its apex and warms the desert. It is also important to wear a good pair of boots and jeans; the tried-and-true standard to get dirty in because this is farming and you can’t be afraid of a little dirt. But when it comes to growing lettuce, there is one item you must wear that may be a little unexpected; a hairnet and gloves.
This is something I learned very quickly on my first trip to the romaine fields. When I returned home and showed friends and family the pictures, they were blown away. You may already know that these protective coverings are used on the processing side of produce, but what about in the fields harvesting? Any and every one going into a lettuce field, be it to harvest or visit, is required to cover their hands and hair. If you are a guy with facial hair, you are extra special and get to wear the coveted beard net!
The legislation that California growers are accustomed to is now being rolled out across the nation with the Food Safety Modernization Act. Requirements to keep crops safe, especially those with high vulnerability such as leafy greens, need this extra care and attention to detail. I have found my friends and family breathe a little easier when I show them pictures with people wearing those lovely hairnets. But you can’t help but think, if produce growers do this one little thing when the crop is in the ground, then maybe I can trust this grower when I put their product on my family’s plate.
When I get out of the truck at a romaine field, I wait for the stash of hairnets and gloves to be passed out. We sign in on the log, and then I’m off to take pictures. But in my pictures, I don’t shy away from anyone wearing hairnets, unsightly and unattractive as they may be. It shows the level of care and regulation in the produce industry for the safety and quality of the crop, right down to the follicle.
Amber Parrow is the marketing director for Fresh Avenue, a group that represents produce farms and producers with national sales and marketing. You’ll find her with a camera in a romaine field or behind the computer promoting brands that promote quality, safe, and nutritious food.
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