This is Part 2 of my Experience Earthbound (aka #tripofalifetime, #howilearnedhowtousehashtags, #organicfoodisrealfood) trip. Here’s a link if you missed the first half. Check it out.
The next day, we woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (yeah, right..it was 6:30am and dark outside) to head down to see some of the actual fields where the varieties of green leafy vegetables were grown. Being originally from Indiana, I expected flat land, giant boring fields that went on forever, and maybe a silo or something (*hangs head in shame*). I was wrong.
Take pretty much every type of landscape imaginable…mountains, ocean, fields…and you’ve got yourself a small glimpse of the heaven on earth that this company cultivates. And take several (ok, more like hundreds) of these fields scattered all throughout this landscape, some growing romaine, some growing cilantro, and some growing raddichio. We got off the shuttle bus, and we could literally smell the arugula in the air. We all were grabbing fresh greens from the field, and, to be honest with you, while I love the packaged product, nothing….absolutely NOTHING…beats the flavor intensity of these greens right out of the field. We gorged ourselves on romaine. Now, I would never just eat romaine by itself. Ick. I would need it grilled or salted or dressed. But I could eat a whole head of romaine here.
This is Stan Pura (he’s the conventional farmer gone organic). He led us around to each of the fields and answered our seemingly unending questions. We watched the special harvesters at work-men walking in front of the machine to visually inspect the field (if there’s anything amiss, like animal tracks or evidence of anything that would affect the integrity of the product), they mark that area with red flags and do not harvest. The machine comes along, clipping the leaves at a uniform height, and then the leaves go through a series of shaking over air shafts (in order to let heavy things-think little stones or sticks) fall back to the earth (letting gravity do its thing). Each small area of the field literally has its own lot number, so that if, during the food safety process, (a bacterial organism grows, for example), EB Farm can go back to the exact row in the exact field where the greens grew. It’s actually mind-boggling.
*I’m definitely not giggling at Stan giving Amie some romaine.*
I can only imagine the thrill these broclette harvesters had when we entered their field. Smile for the cameras, guys.
I have to say I actually like this picture of me frolicking with my broclette. (Thanks, Dre, for sending it to me.) Because it kind of sums up the warm fuzzies that I feel regarding life in general right now. Listen, if you open yourself up to the universe in a positive way, the universe will send back positive opportunities to you (like an Earthbound Experience). I’m suddenly on the receiving end of a lot of wonderful possibilities in my life, and I’m not going to try to control a single bit of it, either. I’m just really enjoying it right now. And I think that comes through in Dre’s picture.
And suddenly we were posing as “Broclette Bridesmaids.” I’m sure Stan really loved this.
Can you guess what that is? Oh just cute little
palm trees kale.
We headed back to the EB Farm Headquarters to meet with Will Daniels, SVP of Operations and Organic Integrity (he’s kind of a big deal. He’s the reason why your EB Farm spinach salad won’t make you sick later today.)
And here’s something that totally infuriates me.
I don’t talk a lot about my job on the blog-I like to have a fine division between work and play. But here’s the deal:
In medicine (especially in my field), we are held to incredibly high standards, with perfection being the standard rather than the norm. We have to comply with endless regulations, inspections, and audits. We are held to the highest integrity, as we should be. We are taking care of patients, of people’s grandmothers/fathers/nieces/etc. We have unnanounced inspections, where people show up and have a checklist of thousands of things to check off, assuring the safety of both ourselves and our patients. I know, because I have actually been an inspector coming to a place unnanounced. It can cause a little panic on the reciever side. And it should….because if a practice/lab isn’t up to par, then…it should NOT participate in patient care. And some places get shut down if they are not up to par (as they should be).
For the millions of us consumers who put mass-produced food into our bodies multiple times a day, we have endless exposure to potential pathogens, viruses, and contaminants. We are constantly putting our bodies at risk. This is a big deal to me. Kind of like making sure that your doctor is board-certified and knows what they are doing. You put your trust in them, right?
All right, so, at least from the tiny realm of mass production of leafy greens, the regulations that one would expect to be in place (for our own protection) is actually not the standard. Earthbound Farm actively seeks out an intense accreditation process, including unannounced site visits (including at their international farm sites) in order to maintain consistency, integrity, and to make sure that they aren’t going to (literally) kill their customers. They are one of the only companies (to my knowledge) that does this. And they do it because they care.
Earthbound Farm sets the farming standard in this country. Earthbound Farm sets the agricultural goods production standard in this country.
We then got all bundled up (sorry, no photos here) to actually go into the processing plant itself. We may have looked a little like Oompa Loompas (which actually made it more fun). We donned hard-hats, shoe covers, hair nets and gloves (by the way, every worker in the plant wears the same….no gum, food, or jewelry allowed, either.) I won’t go into incredible detail here about the way the greens are processed, but I will say that if you end up with a random bug in your clamshell (I saw a few readers say that they have), then that bug deserves a medal. They do triple wash the greens, they centrifuge, they scan the greens with chlorophyll-sensitive lasers, they shoot the greens over air shafts again (think-let gravity do it’s job). The greens are then, along the process, visually inspected/handled by workers again (depending on what product it is), whether it’s snapping on a lid, checking for a compromise in the plastic sealing, or layering the greens on a conveyor belt. These greens go through a hell of a lot of hoops to get in your grocery store. P.S. Yes, finding a bug in your clamshell is gross, but I would rather find a dead bug than consume something that is so toxic that bugs can’t even live on it. And, by the way, EB Farm customer service is so great that they will make it right for you in the odd chance that this happens. (Sometimes the plastic seal can get compromised and the improper ratio of carbon dioxide/oxygen can get in the clamshell over time and make the greens slimy. Your grocers should be on the look-out for this as well….and probably shouldn’t be selling you the product if they look bad anyway.)
It was a lot to digest (no pun intended.) But it was an incredibly eye-opening experience. But you know what? This was something that I had been dying to do for a really long time, as food is probably one of my biggest passions (besides my animals and laughing a lot).
We then headed to Pebble Beach (yes, THE Pebble Beach) for a fantastic dinner with the entire group. The food was great, but the company was even better. Discussions ranged from what we had learned to hashtags to bachelorette-party-ish-appropriate material. These women are all truly some of the most intelligent, innovative, and independent women I have ever met. We all come from different angles in the blogging world, I think, but we all share a common enthusiasm and passion for food integrity. I left feeling like I had a whole bunch of new best friends…seriously. I know it sounds cliche, but these women inspire and radiate positivity. Please, please visit their blogs to get to know them better, if you don’t already.
Amelia from Eating Made Easy
Sara from Go Gingham
Amie from The Healthy Apple
Pam and Maggy from Three Many Cooks
Ashleigh from Edible Perspective
In the end, it all works. It’s good clean food. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the workers, the consumers, and the industry. And to think, it all started just because a boy fell in love with the right girl. 🙂
From the bottom of my heart, thanks, Earthbound Farm. I miss you already.