Another enjoyable post from our guest blogger Jay Martini:
From Jay:

It had been awhile since I had done some face-to-face with my longtime tomato shippers in the San Joaquin & Salinas valleys in California, so last week I tried to beam myself from Chicago to the Budget Rent-A-Car center at the Oakland airport. But seeing that I’m teleport-challenged, I resorted to Southwest Air, home of the candied peanut bags that require teeth to open.

Each trip to the coast, I’m just amazed at the climate changes within a relatively small geographic area. In Oakland, it was 80 & sunny. After I made the logistical mistake of traversing a winding Highway 92 to Half Moon Bay at an engine-choking 5 mph atop brown foothills dry as toast, I drove down coastal Highway 1 to Carmel through a 60 degree mist, peering at surfers between clouds of fog while trying to stay on the road. Next day at Firebaugh in the Central Valley, it was a kiln-like 101.

And because I knew that the Ken Burns PBS series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” was starting this week, a brief two-hour side trip from the valley floor in Merced to Yosemite at an elevation of 8000 feet was in order. What scenery! Totally breathtaking, and not only from the very-real prospect of mindlessly driving off a cliff, never to be heard from again. The coolest thing that I’ve found out from watching the Burns series was that as pristine & untouched as the Yosemite landscape seems now, that’s how garbaged-up & huckstered-out the park was way back around 1890, when there were no laws protecting these wonderful vistas. In the past 100-plus years, it’s come full circle. The parks are truly treasures.

But really, there’s plenty of neat stuff to see just driving around in Ag California. Berry fields, artichoke fields, brussel sprout fields, lettuce fields. The almonds were in full harvest last week around Manteca, and the dust around the trees & machinery was incredible, evoking images of Tom Joad and The Grapes of Wrath.

Then there were the tomatoes. Always the tomatoes! It’s interesting how the tomato packing lines at these sheds have their share of 21st Century computerization, but the most important aspect of it—taking bad/cull tomatoes out of the equation—is done by human eye & hand. Another difference since my last trip, no doubt brought on by the faux salmonella fiasco last year, is the absolute fixation on food safety. Where the sales staff & shed managers used to discuss maximizing production, they now strategize over the next visit by the Davis Fresh auditors. It’s a very real, pervasive part of the business now. The risk is too great to do anything less.