Dole Salad Summit: Monterey & in the Fields.

A few nights ago I returned home from the Dole Salad Summit in Monterey California. And so for the past three days I have been a very happy food blogger. Why so blissful? The answer is quite simple: salads!

OK, it's a bit more complex than that. I'm sure the playful seals, crystal blue bay and sunny breezes of Monterey helped too. But truly, I will never look at "a salad" the same way again. When I look at a piece of produce -- lettuce, carrots, broccoli - I will see more than delicious food, I will see faces, stories, people. Just one trip and I am forever changed. This is part 1 of 3 posts I will be featuring on the Salad Summit (parts 2 & 3: Salads 101 and the food) - so much to share with you all!!.. (many photos ahead!)

Part One (reading)
Part Two
Part Three (live soon)

5/16 - Just added: Part one Facebook photo gallery (70 photos) And more to come.

The Adventure: Surrounded by talented food bloggers, passionate, salad-adoring Dole employees - and more delicious vegan food than I could've imagined, I was treated to a salad adventure like no other. I was able to get a rare and intimate look inside the world of Dole Fresh Vegetables - and the entire field-to-plant-to-table process. Imagine, an entire summit devoted to my favorite thing: salads.

Monterey. As many of you know, I grew up in Santa Cruz California which is just an hour north of Monterey. So visiting the bay area always feels like going home. Although I'm quite familiar with the salty sea breezes, playful sun bathing seals, clear blue tide pool swells, curious sea gulls and winding beach paths of Monterey and the surrounding fertile Salinas Valley - I was not familiar with the real life story of the food I eat, crave and thrive off of everyday. This Dole adventure showed me that.

Part 1 of 3. I couldn't possibly jam this summit into one post. So I'm doing three. Actually, I've never split an event wrap-up into three posts - but this trip was exceptional, and deserves a wide spread voice.

Inside Look. I wish we could all step onto the fields where our food is grown - then explore the factory. In this case, you'd see first-hand the intense triple washing process of bagged salad veggies - the dedicated workers shuffling gallons of crisp radishes, lettuce heads, carrots, spinach and more. The produce fresh and vibrant because it was harvested just a few miles away from thriving farmland. Those farm fields speckled with broccoli, lettuces, artichokes, brussel sprouts - and maybe an occasional rogue tomato plant - like the one we found sprouted up in the iceberg lettuce field.

To begin, I want to share a few photos from Monterey - an area where so much of the USA's produce comes from. And later in this post, you'll get a glimpse of what it's like to stand in a Dole iceberg lettuce field - actively being harvested.

Let me set the scene, check out Monterey - and the a few of the summit scenes..

Sunrise over the bay..

Steamy Kitchen's Jaden and I..

My Fave Everything's Shanna and I...

California Poppy Fleurs..

Lovely ladies...

Iceberg Lettuce Fields. I will never look at a head of iceberg lettuce again - after standing in those fields of green - shiny, buttery leaves glistening in the spring sun.

On the Farm. It all starts in the fields. With the farmers. You may be surprised to hear that Dole - what you probably see as a huge, powerful, worldwide company - is actually much more intimate in regards to how it operates and the relationships it makes with its growers and employees. Dole could easily own their own farms - but they don't. They curate a wide variety of smaller family owned farms to carry out the field-to-harvest process.

We met one of these farmers. Big smile, hearty handshake, generous with his words when describing his farm. His passion for his family-passed-down land was inspiring. He said "I love living on my farms, if there is a water leak at 2am, I'm there." Amazing. I now love to think that there are passionate produce farmers all over the world sleeping each night, rising early each morning watching and making sure our food grows with care. Produce doesn't simply grow - it is nurtured, watched, cared for. Each crisp leaf and each sturdy stalk - once just a tiny seed. And as a vegan, I must say, produce farmers are the only reason I thrive.

Meeting the Workers - in the field. The most amazing part of this entire adventure for me was meeting the harvesters. These men (and women) work in teams - they stick together as a group. I always thought that they may float around quite frequently and solo workers. But their harvesting team seems no different than the office you may work in - co-workers, bosses, goals and deadlines - only these men and women forgo a cubicle for a sunny, windy, dirt-lined field.

Standing just a few feet from the iceberg lettuce harvesting field team was amazing. One man in front kept waving to our blogger cameras - a giant grin on his face. These are good jobs - and that is proven by the loyalty of these workers.

And guess what, these workers do have the ability to move up in their field - no pun intended. From a base employee, to a team manager, to a higher manager and beyond. These jobs bring us back to what this country is all about: hard work and the rewards, growth and pride that comes with it. Now I can't speak for all labor industries - obviously. But seeing Dole's fields firsthand, showed me that the awe-inspiring process that brings our food to us each and every day is indeed a human process.

Fun Fact from the Field:
Did you know that iceberg lettuce is literally bagged seconds after it is cut from the field? The only person who touches it is the one worker in the field. He or she cuts it, removes outer leaves, wraps it in a plastic bag and packs it in a box - it will then be sent to a chilled area - to be immediately shipped to the customers. If you live near a farm you may be eating a head of lettuce that was cut just days before. Amazing.

Photos from the field..

Cheeky Kitchen's Brooke chatting with the farmer..

Visiting the Dole Fields is something I will never forget. I hope those men and women know how much they are appreciated - and the impact they have on our world - one bite at a time. Thank you workers.

My takeaway lesson from this Dole summit: respect. I gained an enormous amount of respect for the tireless workers in the field, the enthusiastic and knowledgeable employees of Dole, and for the land and produce itself. So much about "where our food comes from" is taken for granted in this country. We may read produce stickers - or even go so far as to visit Farmer's Markets and buy directly from the growers. But to really understand that our food doesn't come from a produce truck or fruit crate - and that it comes from the earth, the soil, the dirt - is a thing of magic. And even more inspiring is to understand that our food comes from people.

To Be Continued... In Part Two of my Dole Salad Summit adventure - well, you'll be drooling. I'll share with you the glorious vegan meals I was served during this adventure. Mind you, this includes TWO three-course, chef-prepared and presented meals in one day. You don't want to miss this. And then in Part Three I'll compile a few facts and tidbits on salads - salad 101 Dole called it. Funny, I thought I was already at Salad 102 - but it turns out, 101 was more than I could handle! Stay tuned..

Meet the other Food Bloggers in Attendance at the Dole Salad Summit!..

Steamy Kitchen
Romy Raves
Cheeky Kitchen
My Fave Everything
Fit Celeb
Food for My Family
Tidy Mom
Three Many Cooks
Dine and Dish
Smith Bites

More from Dole Salad Guide:
twitter: @DoleSaladGuide
Facebook: Dole Salad Guide
Also follow @DoleNutrition

Full Disclosure: Dole took care of my transportation, accommodations and meals for this 3-day trip.

More Photos from Part One..

happy food blogger...

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