National Geographic : 1939 Jan
THE TEXAS DELTA OF AN AMERICAN NILE product called "naringen," the bitter prin ciple in grapefruit. Some of these have not advanced beyond the laboratory stage; others have. One continuing waste that struck me forcibly is that of oil. In one room of the Weslaco plant, where peel is being ground and squeezed before it passes into the driers, the air is filled with the pleasant, aromatic odor of grapefruit oil as scores of gallons of the liquid are allowed each day to run off into the sewers. The world, it seems, is well supplied with orange and lemon oils, and as yet there is little demand for oil from grapefruit. WINTER VEGETABLES GROW WHILE SNOW FLIES IN THE NORTH Less spectacular than the growing of citrus fruit, but almost as valuable, is the Delta's winter vegetable industry. Nine million dollars' worth of climate is what this region really sells when it ships its vegetable harvest northward. Because it lies so far south, most vegetables wanted on the dinner tables of the United States can grow in its soil while much of the rest of the country is in the grip of winter. When leaves are turning yellow and brown in the Northern States and fields are being left to stubble or cover crops, seeds are going into the still-warm ground down here to provide such fresh winter vegetables as radishes, broccoli, peas, spinach, and a dozen others. And when crowds in college stadiums in the North are drawing blankets about them, Mexican laborers in sunny fields here are beginning to harvest fall tomatoes and beans and squash. By the time Christmas festivities are in the air, the Valley's vegetable harvest is getting into its stride and 200 carloads a week are rolling into the frosty North. By the middle of January the movement has grown to 700 cars a week: and in the period from February through April the average is close to 1,000. The peak of the shipments, about 1,200 cars a week, is reached in mid-April when such short season specialties as new potatoes, onions, and beans are added to the winter-long staples, cabbage, carrots, and beets. Kansas City and St. Louis are important diversion points. From both centers the laden cars scatter to reach all sections of the northern portion of the United States. In its ability to produce the earliest out door vegetables, the area has only a few important competitors in the United States: notably southern Florida and the Imperial Valley of California. With some vegetables one competitor makes the goal first; with others, it is beaten. The industry depends on the most accu rate timing in getting seed into the ground, harvesting and packing crops, and rushing them off to market. One day near the end of a season may mark the difference be tween a handsome profit on a shipment and a loss. By the end of June the vegetable move ment is about over; and seldom does a single carload move out after the first week in July. The huge acreages of out-of-the-way vegetables astound visitors to the Valley. I visited a 200-acre field of dandelions, and across an irrigation ditch was nearly a hundred acres of parsley. Near by were escarole, chicory, and endive in 75- and 80-acre "plots." Many fields of the more usual broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and pota toes are several hundred acres in extent (Plates X and XIII). When I followed loaded trucks from the fields, I came to a vast packing building where men and machinery were handling mountains of vegetables, preparing them for their long journey northward. Auto matic washing machines sent the vegetables bobbing through tank after tank of water. Then they were dumped on conveyer belts which moved them between rows of work ers, for grading and packing (Plate XII and pages 57, 58). SHIPPING TIME TO MARKETS CUT TO ONE-THIRD In his office in Brownsville, I talked with a man who sent the first carloads of win ter vegetables rolling out of the lower Rio Grande Valley, in 1905. "When I started my business, it took 9 or 10 days for cars to reach St. Louis, 14 days to reach Chicago, and 16 to reach New York City," he told me. "Now, thanks to greatly improved railroad facilities and to better refrigerating procedure, the time has been cut to a third or less all along the line; the food specials arrive in St. Louis on the third morning, in Chicago on the fourth, and in New York on the sixth." The solid trains of vegetables actually have the right of way over some passenger trains, which must wait on sidings while the freights go thundering by.