The loud buzzing sound at 4 a.m. was the cantankerous alarm clock; an early morning wakeup call for a day which would widely open the eyes to a real day in Western vegetable production.

An hour later, about 30 sleepy-eyed folks boarded a bus at a hotel in Yuma, Ariz., early this spring to head south about 20 miles to the U.S.-Mexico border to the San Luis Port of Entry in San Luis, Ariz.

It was an early start to a day-long adventure to gain a better understanding of agriculture and its work force in this rural-rich winter vegetable growing region which includes neighboring Imperial County, Calif.

The Yuma and Imperial low-desert areas are called the Winter Vegetable Capital of the Nation where about 90 percent of the nation’s supply of winter vegetables are grown from mid November through March.

During the rest of the year, California’s Central Coast and Central Valley regions are the ‘Salad Bowl of the World,’ where the vast majority of the nation’s vegetables are grown.

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The border excursion was a field trip for the 20 members of Project CENTRL Class XXI. Project CENTRL is the Center for Rural Leadership in Arizona which operates in partnership with the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

A handful of CENTRL program graduates led the day-long tour; giving back to the same program which opened their eyes about agriculture.

At 5 a.m., the border-bound bus left the hotel amid the booming voice of Class XII graduate Joseph “Sonny” Rodriguez.

“This area is the winter salad capital of the world,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and his brother Mark own and operate The Growers Company, a labor contracting service in Somerton, located between Yuma and the border. The company was started by their father Joe Senior in 1950.

As a young man, Sonny harvested winter vegetables in central Arizona.

Rodriguez told the group that every agricultural job in winter vegetable production creates three related jobs, ranging from farm fertilizers to manufacturing cardboard boxes to ship produce.

About 2,000 trucks travel in and out of the Yuma area daily with loads of vegetables. Lettuce harvested Monday will arrive by truck in Chicago Wednesday and in New York City Thursday.