From Lisa Ousley, After the Harvest Executive Director: Do you like cabbage? How about coleslaw? New England boiled dinner? Green cabbage, red cabbage and Savoy cabbage – all packed with nutrition and flavor. On Jan. 4, I was treated to a tour of Cabbage Inc., in central Florida, the largest cabbage grower and producer east of California, and I came away with fabulous photos and a much greater appreciation of cabbage than ever before.
The tour was part of day-long opportunity to meet and get to know our new sourcing partner, Gail Starratt, and the rest of the team at Farmers’ Choice. That team also includes Sharon Cobb, Steve Mecca and Emily Starratt, an amazing group that represents a combined 95 years of experience in the produce industry, as well as thorough understanding of how produce is grown all across our country.
Farmer’s Choice connects commercial growers with organizations like After the Harvest to distribute produce that might otherwise go to waste to feed hungry people.
I really appreciate the whole team for spending the day with me to help me better understand produce on a commercial scale.
We met near Ft. Lauderdale and headed inland, stopping in Indian Town for a restroom break and an opportunity to pick up donuts for the folks at Cabbage Inc. Central Florida is a vast, flat expanse of farmland. The average tourist associates palm trees, beaches, the ocean and Disney World with Florida, not even thinking of it in terms of agriculture and food production. The only characteristic that central Florida seems to share with its touristy image is sand. Who would have known that sand is great for growing produce? Sandy farmland stretches for hundreds of flat miles in the interior of Florida. And nestled in the middle of it is Cabbage Inc.
The first thing you see upon approaching Cabbage Inc. is cabbage, of course. Cabbage fields stretching out beyond the horizon.
Perfectly shaped, round green and reddish purple heads. It’s an amazing sight. And then you see the massive equipment used to plant and harvest the cabbage. Huge tractors that drive themselves, followed by strange-looking implements uniquely designed to serve very specific functions, all of which were yet to be revealed.
The huge packing and refrigeration facilities of Cabbage Inc. are surrounded by out buildings, including three giant self-contained chambers. We were greeted by Garry Zehe, grower and customer relations guru for Cabbage Inc., who outfitted us all with hair nets and took us on a three-hour, guided tour of the farm and facilities.
As we stepped out to begin our tour, an 18-wheeler drove up with an open bed of bagged cabbage fresh from the field. Garry explained that we were in luck because the cabbage harvest was just beginning. We would get to see the first loads of harvested cabbage on a relatively “slow” day. A truck pulling two open beds filled with cabbage came in right behind the first truck.
These trailers were unloaded in the warehouse by hand, with crews slinging 50-pound bags of cabbage around like they were filled with cotton. The warehouse included two giant refrigeration rooms with temperatures kept at a cool 35 degrees. One room was already nearly full of pallets and bins of cabbage – green and red.
This concludes Part One of Lisa’s trip to cabbage land. Go here for Part Two.