December 2018 Produce Parable
By Adam Calder, Produce Department Manager
December 11, 2019
The past couple of weeks have been trying ones for fans of romaine lettuce. Due to a multi-state outbreak of e-coli the Center for Disease Control (CDC) advised all consumers to stop eating field-grown romaine and advised all stores and restaurants to stop serving romaine until the source of the outbreak could be identified.
The CDC is still trying to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, but has issued a voluntary labeling recommendation for all growers and shippers of romaine products so romaine can begin to flow through the system again. The labeling program asks that all romaine products be labeled with the harvest region and date. Larger growers, such as Taylor Farms and California Organic, have already begun using these labels. Smaller growers may not have the resources to quickly attain and affix region labels to their products immediately, but the distribution warehouses that Wheatsfield does business with will only carry products with the region label. Lettuce growers who grow their lettuce in greenhouses or hydroponic facilities will not have to adhere to the labeling recommendations.
This romaine e-coli situation highlights the incredible complexity of food systems. When the romaine was pulled from shelves all across the country, consumers then turned to baby spinach and other salad greens. The increased demand wiped these products off the shelf, so consumers then turned to head and leaf lettuces. These too were quickly gone and then consumers began buying dark leafy greens such as kale, collards and even cabbage. Subsequently, we have had a hard time getting reliable supplies of those products the first couple of weeks in December.
On top of this romaine debacle there were heavy rains in the Yuma the second weekend of December. Desert soil does not drain well, so when heavy rains fall it causes chaos in fields. Deep, muddy furrows prevent farm equipment from driving into the fields and also prevent farmhands from harvesting crops. These rains may cause shortages in the supplies of broccoli, cabbage, bock choy, kale and romaine.
These hiccups in the supply chain highlight the need for local farmers and the need to support local farmers by buying their produce whenever you can. The more local sources we have for food, the better our options will be when the kinks in these huge industrial systems are exposed through the constant and growing demands on them. We do our best at Wheatsfield to offer local produce every month of the year, and as such we are doing our part to hedge our food systems and offer our customers a consistent supply of fresh, healthy organic food regardless of what may be happening in California, Arizona or Mexico.