The next time you eat a crisp lettuce leaf, think of Yuma. This town known for its sand dunes and territorial prison produces 3.6 billion heads of lettuce between November and March.
“We’re the winter lettuce capital of the world,” says Dorothy Young, an event coordinator for Heritage Festivals.
Yuma’s agricultural claim to fame will be celebrated this weekend during Yuma’s Lettuce Days celebration. Almost 40,000 people (most of them winter visitors) are expected to mob this small town in honor of lactuca sativa.
“People really enjoy coming down to see the farm equipment,” says Young. “It’s just become a thing to do.”
Agriculture is Yuma’s primary industry, representing one-third of the total agricultural base for the state, says Kurt Nolte, agricultural agent for Yuma County.
“Everything that you have seen in the grocery store, we produced,” says Nolte. That includes romaine, green leaf, red leaf and iceberg lettuce.
From Interstate 8 Yuma doesn’t look like the agricultural mecca it is. Rolling sand dunes dominate the landscape. But beyond the freeway, the waters of the Colorado River and Yuma’s mild winter temperatures make it an ideal place to grow lettuce. Yuma produces 95 percent of the country’s winter vegetable supply.
“It’s one of the jewels of Arizona,” says Nolte. “Yuma is the only place in the United States besides the southern tip of Florida and a small part of Texas with the optimum growing conditions (in the winter).”
Visitors will have an opportunity to see other staples of Lettuce Days such as the boxcar derby, show off their knowledge of fruits and vegetables in the Think You Know Your Fruits and Vegetables? matching game, and buy seed packets and produce from all over the region.
Ninth annual Yuma Lettuce Days
What: Three-day festival honoring America’s winter lettuce capital When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday Where: Downtown Yuma Cost: Free Information: (928) 782-5712 or www.yumalettucedays.com
Take Interstate 10 east to Interstate 8 toward San Diego. Yuma is approximately 180 miles southwest of the Valley.