The development of large-scale lettuce production in California’s Salinas Valley illustrates the tensions between technology and nature and provides a starting point for understanding the complexities of supplying vast quantities of quality fresh produce to consumers in distant markets. The case of iceberg lettuce shows that the industrialization of agriculture was largely idiosyncratic, and the level of industrialization possible for any specific crop varied, depending equally on the nature of the commodity and the willingness of consumers to purchase it. The emergence of lettuce cultivation in the Salinas Valley during the inter-war period highlights how early growers harnessed organizational techniques, transportation infrastructures, and technological and scientific knowledge to transcend both the ephemeral nature of lettuce and consumer taste. Yet, these very same factors also limited the success of valley growers after World War II, despite the best efforts of growers and agricultural researchers to improve lettuce quality.

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