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PMA Produce Show Recap

Sep 06, 2023

PMA Produce Show Recap

Tim Graham, Corporate Chef, Davidson Restaurant Group

The PMA show is a chance for growers and buyers to connect with each other. We were hosted by NPC/FoodBuy. NPC serves as a ‘GPO’ (Group Purchasing Organization) in the produce space. Basically, they are able to form partnerships with companies like Davidson and others, to increase our buying power. This allows NPC to contract pricing for commodity produce, that is normally driven through the often volatile market. One of the key takeaways is how many types of produce are a commodity . . . AM radio always lists pork belly, and beef middles, but never lettuce, berries, etc.

NPC is critical to us as business drivers to forecast and budget our costs. If we did not have partners such as NPC or FoodBuy, we would suffer from price spikes that would make forecasting and running our businesses much more difficult. Okay, on to the cool stuff. Food! First stop was a Cal-Giant strawberry farm at 6:30 am. Farmer hours, sheesh! Couple of great revelations here.


• The scale of the operation. There are acres and acres of Strawberry fields.
• How much micro-climates determine what gets planted where. It was a bit cold and misty at the strawberry fields, as you can see in the photo. Not a 10 minute drive away, over a hill, we were at raspberry fields. It was already a full 15 degrees hotter in this micro-climate and much more sunny. So micro-climates are a real thing! And, our farmers and legacy of farming the Salinas valley has allowed us to know what is best to plant where.
• How many human hands are still involved with the food supply. There were over 20 pickers in the fields, and man what a hard job. Strawberry pickers are paid by the box, they are literally running up and down the fields with full boxes, to increase their day rate. Good ones can make up to $30/hour.
• Quality control happens right at the field. A full box is checked over by an employee, and if all is well, the picker’s badge gets scanned to give them credit for the box.
• Pickers are ‘facing’ the plastic containers of berries, so that all red is upwards. This is the last time someone touches this product until it ends up on my shelves in Chicago. That was a bit mind-blowing. They then also are in charge of ‘pruning’ their rows, you can see in top photo how many strawberries are laying in the rows, this was done on purpose to remove already bad strawberries, or those that will not ripen, to allow the plant to focus its energy on the new good strawberries.
• Even given the scale of the operations, the freshness of our food supply really stood out. From moment of pick, there is a two week shelf life on that produce. That two weeks naturally involves transport to the east coast . . . so the clock is ticking.
• Very little spraying of the plants with chemicals or pesticides. Not only do these cost money, there is no residue allowed on fruit when it is harvested. They combat pests mainly by crop rotation. The strawberries are in ground for about 8 months, by the end of this cycle, strawberry pests have found out about the field, and are starting to apply pressure. Two rounds of lettuce planted in the same ground, and the strawberry bugs forget all about the fact there were strawberries here and move on or perish.


• All indoor grown product.
• Really is a product that uses near 90% recycled material. Hay from horse barns is used to begin the growing medium (which has all of the associated organic waste on it). Dried Chicken poop is used to provide nitrogen in the fertilizer. They have these huge rows on top of the hill with compost in different stages of fermentation. When it hits the right color, it is then inoculated with the mushrooms, and put into the growing rooms.
• They get three different products harvested out of one bed. In the picture below they have harvested the cremini mushrooms. As mushroom double in size overnight (!!!), they’ve strategically harvested the beds to leave room for each cap to become a ‘bellini’ mushroom, the kind of cap you might stuff. Then those are harvested strategically to allow the remaining mushrooms to become ‘portobello’. Kind of amazing they’re able to get three different salable products from one bed (although equally amazing they’ve created this demand in the market, as portobello mushrooms, many of us in the late 80’s had to be taught how to cook/eat).
• This one bed will go through this cycle three times before it is discarded (back into compost pile), and a fresh bed is inoculated.


• Okay, big cool tractor/harvester time. You can see in the photo how gnarly this thing is. And we got to ride it like a Mad Max vehicle!
• Again, big takeaway is just how naturally grown the carrots were. Everyone of them is planted in dirt just like I do in my backyard garden.
• The logistics to organize the large harvest bins along side the harvester, and then get to the processing facility within 4 hours is a logistical feat they are performing multiple times a day. The field captains will be relayed three times a day what type/age of carrot to harvest, based on the larger markets demands. Three times a day! That’s some real agility in a space that can seem slow.
• Each acre of carrots can produce 600,000-650,000 pounds of carrots. Wow. Those left behind are tilled under to provide organic matter for next go around, and keep soil healthy. Speaking of soil health, this truly is some of the most fertile soil in the work in the Salinas valley. It’s amazing after decades of rather intensive farming it is still so healthy, which is again a testament to the growers knowledge, and how un-chemical the farming is.

Brussel Sprouts

• Very clean and efficient processing facility.
• The volume/scale again of the production was amazing. These are the exact same vegetables that end up in little purple bags at my local grocery store. The amount of our food supply coming from the Salinas valley and environs cannot be understated.


  1. The number of human hands that are involved with our produce production in general was startling. Not nearly as automated as I would have thought.
  2. The freshness of our food supply and the logistics it takes to achieve that.
  3. The scale of the valley’s production, and the amazing quality and diversity of it’s soil types and micro-climates