Califonia Bountiful

Desert provides wealth of winter vegetables

The wealth of greenery on your dinner plate has a deeply rooted story behind it.

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The wealth of greenery on your dinner plate has a deeply rooted story behind it. Keeping a steady flow of salad staples to stores takes a collective effort that starts in the fields and more than 90 percent of America's winter produce comes from one area: the Southern California-Arizona desert.

Farming sprouted in the Imperial Valley after the 80-mile-long All-American Canal was built to divert Colorado River water, transforming this desert into a winter produce wonderland.

Jon Vessey and his son Jack are the latest members of a four-generation farming family in the valley. Their family history in the desert traces back to the 1920s. What's their secret to success? Jon Vessey said it's learning to adapt to change. "Back in the day, we grew nothing but iceberg lettuce, but these days we grow everything from frisee to arugula. Those are types of lettuce I didn't even know how to spell 10 years ago, much less grow."

Fields once filled with iceberg lettuce are now covered with more exotic greens, including colorful spring mix and Mizuna, a frizzy plant that provides a tender, peppery nuance. It's harvested by something akin to a high-tech lawnmower, which cuts the leaves off without damaging them. Many of these greens go into bagged salads and other convenient, ready-to-use products.

Growing America's second most popular vegetable, lettuce, is laborious work, but it's made a little easier by the fact the product is one this hard working family can be proud of. "We take great pride in the fact that the food we grow is a safe, quality produce that is good for you, too," Jack Vessey said.

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