"World's Produce Capital and Home of John Steinbeck" Top 5 Page for this destination Salinas by atufft

Salinas Travel Guide: 36 reviews and 133 photos

Salinas

I own and drive a refrigerator tractor trailer combo around the continental 48 states of the USA, but one of the most common deliveries I make with my huge 53' trailer is from Salinas to New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore--and other destinations on the east coast. These loads are among my highest paying cargo because there is almost always a shortage of trucks in Salinas willing to drive east.

Just within Salinas, there are more than 130 cooler warehouses, some with as few as four truck docks, but many with having as many as 50 docks that load produce 52 weeks of the year. The nearby communities of Watsonville, Castroville, Marina, Gonzales, San Juan Bautista, Soledad, and others also have many active produce packing sheds, but Salinas is the center and king of produce. All combined, the Salinas Valley is easily the world's leader in production of many crops, including lettuce, broccoli, artichokes, strawberries, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, just to name a few. The packers at Salinas are so powerful, that produce from Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico are often trucked to Salinas for packaging, prior to export elsewhere. Farmers in New Jersey, Ohio, and up state New York, trying to supply New York and Boston in summer, struggle to match the price and quality of Salinas produce that is trucked from nearly 3,000 miles away. Salinas Valley is a year-round operation that exports not only to the New York and the East Coast, but also to Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and elsewhere in the Pacific Basin.

Why is Salinas so powerful? First, the Salinas Valley is a very unique 90 mile long agricultural region. It's a pancake flat alluvial soiled river valley that opens onto the Monterey Bay, but while ample in water supply, has practically no rainfall from May through November. Frost is infrequent in winter, so the growing season is long, and most importantly, there's a unique cool fog that rolls into the value during summer nights to keep vegetables from "cooking" when photosynthesis isn't happening. This is the same coast fog San Francisco is famous for. Most farming in Salinas is trench irrigated, which means that lettuce and other crops that benefit from this don't get rain on their leaves--a cause for a variety of spoilage and pest related problems in other farming areas.

Second, because Salinas focuses upon export, there has evolved a complex array of University refined farming methods. Throughout most of the 20th century, Salinas produced large and beautiful hybrid produce that was chemically fertilized, sprayed with pesticides, and mechanically harvested. The pale compact head of Iceberg Lettuce was king during this epoch. However, in a trend with California consumer demands for pesticide free organic produce, and the greater market value of these products, farmers have recently vigorously researched and tested new ways to produce organically grown products that still look good but also have richer flavor. The variety of types of more leafy green and purple lettuce greens and herbs has exploded, and Salinas has come to also dominate production of high value berries too, including black berries, raspberries, and blueberries, products traditionally grown in climates further north. Rather than using pesticides, special narrow wheeled tractor vehicles with vacuum cleaners drive down the furrows, sucking up caterpillars mechanically.

Third, Salinas cooler warehouses pay attention to detail in packaging. Virtually all produce packaging innovation begins in Salinas--clam shell boxed individual deli salads and berry boxes, ventilated bags of pre-cut and mixed greens, fresh tubs of pesto-sauce, and just a few marketing innovations invented in Salinas. Plus, Salinas warehouse standard are second to none--temperature precise pallets of produce are loaded more quickly and safely than any other produce region where I have loaded. Salinas forklift loaders are mostly grey haired Hispanic workers who don't make time consuming mistakes for the driver.

Home of John Steinbeck

Labor--that's the fourth major advantage of Salinas, and the focus of John Steinbeck's writing. Things have evolved since his time of course. Salinas has an ample supply of very capable Mexican-American labor, rather than Oklahoma dustbowl immigrants. I've seen farming operations on the east coast, where African-American labor predominates, and I would have to say that as a generality--perhaps an unfair stereotype--Mexican-American labor is better organized and harder working. Part of this is because the labor doesn't have to follow the seasonal crops. Along the east coast, laborers begin in Florida and then end up picking and packing produce in Canada by summer's end. Labor is often divided between picking and warehouse work. Packing facilities are make shift and temporary. In contrast, Salinas farm laborers work hand in glove year around with counterparts in the warehouse, a division of labor that is much more efficient.

Steinbeck, author of Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men and numerous other novels found early on the important cultural impact that farming has on small towns like Salinas. Downtown is a major museum devoted to Steinbeck and celebrating the city's status as agricultural leader. His early 20th century Victorian home is a restaurant and gift shop.

Downtown Salinas is worth visiting

For those who want to get away from the tourist traps of Monterey, Carmel, and Santa Cruz, quiet Old Town Salinas is just the antidote. The tree lined Main Street has many restaurants, coffee shops, theaters, and gift shops. The early 20th century commercial architecture is all preserved.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Produce Capitol is Gritty Truck Town with Pleasant Small Downtown
  • Cons:Produce Capitol is Gritty Truck Town with Pleasant Small Downtown
  • Intro Updated Dec 15, 2011
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Reviews (8)

Comments (3)

  • Dec 13, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    Great article. I learned a lot about produce packaging. I haven't had a lot of experience in the field, but my brother just invited me over to his orange packing plant in south Florida. Fascinating.

  • TooTallFinn24's Profile Photo
    Oct 26, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    Alan-- Without a doubt your discussion of the produce industry in the Salinas Valley was fascinating. I spent much time growing up in Watsonville and Castroville. Wife has a sister in Salinas as well! Great job!

  • Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
    Sep 10, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    Alan - good job with this page. While Salinas has a bad reputation due to some crime problems, we always enjoyed exploring the area when we lived in Monterey. Downtown is very nice, and the surrounding countryside is also interesting.

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