San Joaquin Valley, Calif. — “We have the greatest factory anywhere on earth,” Harris Farms’ executive vice president, William Bourdeau, tells me, as our car bumps rapidly along the dirty, uneven track. “These are pistachio trees,” he says, sweeping his hand across the horizon. “Over there, we have asparagus.” He points through the windshield. “And in that facility, we process garlic.”
Around the corner and away from the freeway, I see almonds, broccoli, onions, watermelons, and tomatoes. Lettuce, which in the grand scale of things is a mere afterthought for Harris, is produced nevertheless on an astonishing scale, with 3 million cartons — 72 million head — being shipped out each year, the fruit of 700,000 man hours. On neighboring Harris Ranch, the largest in the West, there are 100,000 cattle, most of which will eventually end up at In-N-Out burger joints along the Pacific Coast and throughout the Southwest. The smell of the cattle permeates the air for a good mile around, announcing the farm to travelers before any signs come into view. In the distance, the mountains loom large.