I own a small farm in New Hampshire where I grow a variety of vegetables for sale at local farmers’ markets and restaurants. And out of all the produce I grow, lettuce is my favorite.
I find lettuce appealing in every way. I like looking at it, I like working with it. I like thinking about working with it. I like transplanting lettuce when it’s vulnerable and I like harvesting lettuce when it’s mature. I like tending to it. Cultivating lettuce with a long-handled hoe is a day’s finest moment. Reviewing 200 just-hoed lettuces is another of the finest moments. And then there are the many colors of lettuce, the many varieties, the art of reading a lettuces’ standing in the world by passing the hand over the tops of their heads, the pleasure of 8 reds and 8 greens and 8 romaines in a tub at market and all the happy people lining up and reaching in.
Lettuce is finicky, quirky. I like that. It’s fragile. I like that. When friends stop by and I go and select lettuce best suited for the occasion, and then when I serve that lettuce in hand-turned wooden bowls–know that I like that, too.
And I have to say, I like to eat lettuce. A simple salad of baby lettuces and greens easily surpasses the most extravagant uptown fiascos.
When I harvest lettuce for sale, I cut it, rinse it, box it, chill it. I do each of these steps with my own hands. When I harvest lettuce for Susty’s Restaurant in Northwood, the total time including harvest and delivery (of fifty heads, say) is about 80 minutes. When people show up at my farm for a few lettuces, the total time from field to their hands is maybe six minutes. I like that. I like it local. I like it small. Three lettuces in hand are worth ten trillion in a packing factory.
Which leads directly to my point. Look again at the photo above. Look at the people with shovels. Look at the people wearing hard hats and white coats. Look at all this and look, too, at the conveyers.
Fie! on it. Fie on every industrial inch of it. Fie for the simple reason that lettuce should never ever be scooped with shovels and neither should it go riding up and down on conveyers. Lettuce should never be trapped in large buildings. The fact that scooping lettuce and trapping lettuce and sending it up and down on conveyers is the norm these days and that that practice makes for more lettuce for more people at cheaper and cheaper prices–this in no way tempts me to change my mind. Not even.
In my mind the only rides lettuce should ever take are short ones: the ride out of the field and the subsequent short ride from local farm to local point of sale. As for scoop shovels and lettuce…if there’s room for shovels it might be that the entire system as pictured here be lurched into reverse and all its tainted fodder shoveled for compost.