From Lisa Ousley, After the Harvest Executive Director (Part 2 of Lisa’s visit to Cabbage Inc. in central Florida, the largest cabbage grower and producer east of California. The visit was arranged by Farmers’ Choice, which connects commercial growers with organizations like After the Harvest to distribute produce that might otherwise go to waste to feed hungry people.): Just outside the packing and refrigeration buildings, we watched as a tractor with a strange loading device drove up to a trailer and lifted 14 palletized bins of cabbage into the air.
Garry from Cabbage Inc. explained that this cabbage had been cored and washed in the field and was destined for processing. He said almost all of the cabbage grown at Cabbage Inc. is processed. Meanwhile, the tractor carrying the bins of cabbage headed toward one of the three giant, enclosed chambers – specially designed to take the field heat out of the cabbage. Garry said that these million-dollar contraptions could bring the temperature of the freshly harvested cabbage to 35 degrees in one hour. He grabbed a head of cabbage out of one of the bins and pulled out his pocket knife, cutting off a section and handing some of the leaves to me while he popped others in his mouth. The fresh cabbage was delicious.
We climbed into vehicles and headed out to the fields. Again, green and red cabbage stretched out to the horizon. Garry said Cabbage Inc. farms 11,000 acres. 11,000 ACRES OF CABBAGE!!!
As we drove along, we saw some fields had already been harvested. We came upon a strange-looking contraption pulled by a giant green tractor that had stopped at the edge of a field.
Here, we got out of our car and stepped onto sand. As Garry explained the process, he first mentioned this: the cabbage is actually harvested by hand. Garry said he fully appreciates the work of his team. They move quickly and precisely to cut each head of cabbage from its stem and outer leaves and place it on the conveyor belt of the harvester. Depending on the final product, some cabbage is cored before being placed on the belt. The cabbage is then washed – right out in the field – and put into bags or bins. The wheels of the giant harvester roll slowly down the field between the rows of cabbage, its tractor, driverless. Garry explained that many of the massive tractors used at Cabbage Inc. operate driverless – using GPS tracking systems.
We passed fields that were being prepared for planting – flat, sandy rows cut deep and even.
Precision is everything when your equipment is automated! And everything is BIG. Giant tractors, giant equipment. Remember, 11,000 acres! On we drove, past fields in different stages of the cabbage-growing cycle.
We ended our tour where it all begins – in fields of newly planted cabbage seedlings. At one point, we got out of the car in the road next to a field being planted, and Steve from Farmers’ Choice squatted down and pressed at the base of one of the cabbage seedlings.
Over one row and several hundred yards away, a tractor was inching its way down the newly plowed rows toward us, pulling another strange-looking contraption that seemed to be shrouded in white. As it approached and passed, we got a better view of the planting process.
The tractor pulled a tank and system that watered the sandy field and then planted the seedlings. Behind the watering tank, vertical trays of seedlings stood ready for planting, and behind that sat a row of women who worked quickly, plucking seedlings from the trays and dropping them into round orange cups, from which they were mechanically planted into the ground.
The planting operation was shrouded from the sun by white canvas, and followed by two women who picked up and replanted seedlings that needed a little extra help.
Our trip to Cabbage Inc. was an incredible glimpse into the world of commercial farming. Hailing from the Midwest, where commercial agriculture is generally limited to commodities and livestock, I found this experience very interesting and enlightening. A lot of science, math, engineering and technology goes into growing produce on a large scale. And about 20 percent of the cabbage grown at Cabbage Inc. goes to food banks across the nation, providing nourishing food for hungry people.
After the Harvest is glad to count Cabbage Inc. as one of its partner farms, through Farmers’ Choice. I’m so glad we’re working with Farmers’ Choice to increase both the volume and variety of produce we provide for Harvesters, the Community Food Network, and other food banks in Missouri and Kansas. Thank you, Gail, for a terrific experience with your farms in Florida, and thank you in advance, for a bright future full of fresh produce for hungry people!