Have you ever wondered where your food really comes from? I thought about it, but in truth, I didn’t think it all the way through. I know that lettuce comes from the ground, but the lettuce that I buy in a bag? How does it get in there? Well, after a wonderful trip to Monterey to visit Dole and attend their Blog Summit, I now know. I was blown away by how simple the process is. We started the day at Dole headquarters where we had a roundtable discussion with various members of the Dole team. It truly was a discussion, and one that was incredibly informative. I learned that Dole is the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world; they work with 9,000 growers, employ 76,00 people, and their products can be found in 90 countries. I will never again question myself for buying lettuce from a bag. I was truly impressed with the clean practices that Dole uses. 85% of Dole lettuces have 0% pesticide traceability. The packaging is also made from recyclable plastic that is made from 70% previously recycled materials. Add in their non-use of GMO’s, and now I am a Dole consumer for life.
After our trip to headquarters, we headed to Carmel, which happens to be the cutest town on Earth. We had an unforgettable meal at La Bicyclette. Truly, I cannot stop thinking about the carrot risotto we had. Everything was served family-style and it was a spectacular lunch.
We hopped on the bus, and headed to Salinas Valley to visit the farm. We met the adorable Mark, who is a 5th generation rancher. Not only is his family committed to working with Dole, but some of some of the farmers that we met have worked for 45 years on Dole ranches. He explained how the whole thing works. What they grow, how they grow it, how they harvest, how they package. It was mind-blowing to see it in action. I guess that I assumed that it would be automated, but people were pulling Iceberg out of the ground. The lettuce went from the ground, to a conveyor belt of sorts where it was washed. It was then loaded into a truck to be made into salad mix. When the lettuce is going to be sold as a head of lettuce, it is bagged on the farm and sent to the plant and then sent to the store. So simple.
We then went to the processing plant down the road, and began the tour in the lab. We walked in and found 28 different varieties of lettuce on tables with numbers. It was up to us to identify the type of lettuce that it was. I used to think that I knew about lettuce; let’s just say this was a humbling experience. I got about half right. I will never look at my bag of mixed greens the same way again, that’s for sure. We then saw the lettuce go from whole heads of Iceberg to a bag of American Blend. We watched it go through a triple wash, and have the extra vegetables added in. My son’s favorite show is Unwrapped, so he was incredibly jealous.
That evening, we returned to the modern and gorgeous Clement Monterey. There we were lucky to have a beautiful cocktail party overlooking Monterey Bay. There were various themed salad stations with wine pairings at each. I have to say, the food on this trip was incredible! A lot of times when you go on a trip you can feel weighed down by food, but this trip was nothing but fresh and healthy meals that were truly innovative and creative. It was a delight. I am excited to share more Dole-inspired recipes in the next few days. I literally got home from California and went straight to the store to buy ingredients to recreate some of the amazing things that we enjoyed. That is how much I liked them. Just like this salad, I could not stop thinking about it all day.
While were were at Dole headquarters, we were sampling some of the salad mixes. When you purchase a bag of Dole lettuce, there is a suggested pairing printed on the bag. The arugula with mangoes, avocados, and macadamia nuts was a stand out pairing for everyone. I ended up making my own recipe for the dressing when I recreated it at home. I was rifling through the bags of arugula in my grocery store looking for this particular pairing, but my store only had bags with a different pairing printed on the bag, (the dressing recipe is also included on each bag), so I came home and made my own. I must have looked nuts to passersby…crazy woman rummaging through bags of salad. This salad will be making many appearances on my table, I can guarantee.