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Arizona Specialty Crops Blog

Mon, 06/20/2016
Contributed by: R. Davis, M. Conway

5-min video ‘Yuma Days Annual Lettuce Festival’


An Arizona Agricultural Star

Yuma County provides up to 90% of America’s winter vegetables. Irrigated by the lower Colorado River, enormous fields of fertile soil produce broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cantaloupe, spinach, watermelon, and other crops that are shipped across the nation from November-March. But by far, lettuce is king among produce. In 2011, Romaine lettuce alone earned $387 million in revenue. 23,226 acres of Romaine were harvested across the state in 2012. In fact, the Yuma area is home to nine salad plants that collectively process up to two million pounds of lettuce every day in peak season, supplying the bagged salad mixes available at grocery stores.

Vegetable Vacations

The Yuma Visitors Bureau works with the agriculture industry and local agencies to make Yuma’s largest industry accessible to locals. Special events with Medjool Dates are gaining popularity. One of the oldest and most enticing activities is the Field to Feast tour, given in partnership with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. Visitors board a coach at the historic Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park to get crash course in commercial agriculture and a mission to pick produce from neatly planted rows of bok choy, beets, carrots, parsley, cilantro, and other goodies that will become their lunch in a few short hours, courtesy of culinary students at Arizona Western College.

Chef Stephanie Green.

In early spring, Yuma celebrates the last harvest of winter crops with Yuma Lettuce Days, a community-wide festival featuring food, family, and fun. Farm tours, poetry readings, kid-friendly competitions and events (some involving life-size dancing fruit) and gardening lectures are just a few activities that take place. Of course, food plays a major role. Celebrity chefs give cooking demonstrations, high schools hold cook-offs, and the curious can sample everything from green lemonade to purple salsa.

A highlight of the festival are the shared recipes by local culinary talent, such as Stephanie Green. Local farmers turn out with produce in hand, so local and tourists alike to go home with the makings of a wholly Arizona salad. Celebrity chefs draw on colored cauliflower, lettuce, lollipop kale, and other produce to make delicious one-of-a-kind salads.

Lettuce for Locals

Arizona’s warm climate means that lettuce thrives during winter in home gardens throughout the low desert. Lettuce is a good beginner crop because of the short growing time required (some varieties are ready for harvest in as little as three weeks, though most take 6–10 weeks to fully mature) and the fact that one plant of A loose-headed variety can provide a “cut and come again” harvest several times during its growth cycle. Some gardeners recommend planting several varieties that can be harvested at different times.

Seeds can be sewn as early as August and as late as mid- February. Lettuce benefits from light, frequent waterings and judicious mulching.

Recipe

This recipe was created by CJ Jacobson (Top Chef Seasons 3 & 10) at the 2014 Yuma Lettuce Days. CJ demonstrates how to grill Romaine lettuce in the video below. 

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Find facts about history, cultivation, uses, and even recipes for specialty crops featured on the U Pick Farm Map in our specialty crops blog.

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Funding for the U-Pick Farm Map and Arizona Wine Trails Map provided by the Arizona Department of Agriculture under the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program: Farm Bill, number 10.170 Grant Award Agreement #SCBGP-FB13-01.