By Brandie Piper
The wide availability of carrots has resulted in more people enjoying the vegetable as a part of a balanced meal. Its light taste and hard crunch make it suitable for eating raw or cooked in savory or sweet meals. But it was the invention of the baby carrot in the 1980s that made nutritious snacking mobile and easier than ever.
In 1986 Mike Yurosek, a California carrot farmer, came up with the idea to cut up and peel carrots that were too ugly or broken to be sold. Normally, the ugly carrots were sorted from the pretty carrots and discarded. Yurosek told USA Today in 2004 he would sometimes discard up to 400 tons of carrots each day. That’s 800,000 pounds of carrots.
Using a green bean cutter he bought from a local company that was going out of business, Yurosek cut the carrots into two-inch pieces and peeled them with an industrial potato peeler. The results were tiny carrots that the public adored. And, now, baby carrots are a great nutritious snack for parents to give their children.
In 1997, carrots reached their all-time popularity in the United States, with each person eating an average of 18.2 pounds, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AMRC) at the University of California, Davis. The availability for fresh carrots is the main reason for their continued fame, though demand has waned since their height. Americans now eat 9.8 pounds per person, according to the AMRC.
Using Yurosek’s estimates for daily discarded carrots, he was throwing away the equivalent of the yearly carrot consumption of 81,632 people. But thankfully, he invented the baby carrot.
Monsanto has a vegetable seeds division, which is represented by two seed brands: Seminis (open-field seeds) and DeRuiter (protected-culture, which means they are grown indoors). Seminis carrot breeder Laura Maupin says the majority of the baby carrots produced in the United States comes from California and are produced in different regions of the state as the seasons change. Right now, farmers are harvesting carrots around Bakersfield, which is where almost all of the baby carrots in the country are produced and packaged. Farmers in far southern California and the Imperial Valley harvest carrots in February. Maupin said carrots are usually fresh in stores because they’re harvested almost every day of the year, which can mean improved accessibility to a balanced plate for consumers.
The University of California reports more than 2.3 billion pounds of carrots were harvested in the United States in 2012. Fresh carrots are mainly grown in California and Washington while carrots for processing are grown in Wisconsin, Washington, Michigan and California.
At Monsanto’s Seminis facility in Filer, Idaho, the facility produces carrots seeds for farmers via traditional breeding. They are shipped to farmers around the world and are grown in all shapes, sizes and colors.
Maupin says the environment in Idaho is great for seed production; diseases that can affect the carrots aren’t as prevalent there. The state is so good for seed production that Seminis established a carrot breeding program about 200 miles northwest of Filer in Payette, Idaho. Maupin’s focus is on managing the program, which focuses on improving disease resistance in carrots, helping carrot farmers have the opportunity to bring more carrots to harvest and, ultimately, to our plates.
June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends most adults eat at least 2 cups of vegetables each day. For more information about the recommended daily intake of fruits and veggies, check out ChooseMyPlate.gov.