The short answer is all kinds. Industrial farms grow all of the most popular vegetables you’ll find in restaurants and grocery stores.
If there’s a large market for the product, as is the case with any of the primary vegetables eaten here in the U.S., then there’s an industrial farm producing it somewhere. In the U.S., the primary agricultural states are concentrated in the South and on the West Coast. California and Florida dominate the vegetable industry, and other major players include states like Washington, Arizona, and Georgia.
Here’s a super helpful chart from the U.S. Census Bureau (with data from 2010) that shows you the breakdown of acreage devoted to the major vegetable crops here in the U.S., as well as the dominant states for each crop. Each of these crops has tens or hundreds of thousands of acres devoted to its production, which is indicative of the fact that they’re largely produced at industrial farms.
This is not to say that all of the farming in these states is industrial – quite the contrary. California also dominates organic agriculture, and organic farmers and more responsible conventional farms can be found in any of these states. These states just have the best climates for growing crops year-round so it’s where most of the vegetables are grown here in the U.S.
So what do we mean by industrial farming exactly? As we’ve written about previously, industrial farms are characterized by:
- Large scale
- Use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
- Heavy synthetic fertilizer and pesticide use (required by monocropping and the use of GMOs, most of which only produce increased yields in the presence of fertilizers and pesticides)
- Large scale irrigation
- High mechanization (i.e. big tractors and other large machinery)
As we pointed out in our “rise of industrial farming” post referenced above, these practices do damage both to the environment and to our health (because the vegetables produced are of a lower nutritional quality and contain some amount of harmful chemicals), which is why we favor produce coming from sustainable, organic, and more responsible conventional farms over that which comes from industrial farms.
And that’s a key thing for us to point out because here at Dig Inn, we differentiate between industrial farms and conventional farms, whereas many people may consider them to be one and the same. In our view, it’s a matter of scale – large scale necessitates the use of more industrial practices, whereas if you keep the farm smaller, you can grow your crops in more responsible, organic, and sustainable ways, even if you’re not Certified Organic.
And this is why we choose to support smaller, local farms with more responsible growing practices. We would describe these farms as conventional (because they’re not Certified Organic and therefore cannot call themselves organic farms), but we would never describe them as industrial. We reserve the term “industrial” for the really big conventional farms who rely on industrial methods to produce huge volumes of crops, as well as for the MASSIVE farms that produce industrial crops like corn, soybeans, hay, wheat, and cotton (these crops have millions of acres devoted to their production).
When you’re shopping for vegetables yourself, it always pays to do your homework and do your best to purchase produce from more responsible farms. The way to do this is to buy your veggies at higher quality grocery markets like Whole Foods (who make it their mission to work with better farms) and, whenever possible, from actual farmers at farmers’ markets (where you can learn about their growing practices firsthand).
This isn’t easy, but it’s worth putting in the time – the quality of the food you put in your body is really important to your long-term health. And if you don’t have time to do this, you can seek out places like Whole Foods and Dig Inn who do the homework for you.