A cool microclimate in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains has allowed farmer James Light to grow broccoli in quantity enough to supply a small chain of supermarkets.
Along most of the East Coast, however, the broccoli piled up in produce crispers has traveled thousands of miles from the West Coast in refrigerated trucks, typically at a cost of $6,000 a tractor load.
A team of researchers and agricultural agents hopes to take a bite out of the West Coast's $1 billion broccoli monopoly with new strains of the vegetable designed to withstand the East Coast's heat and humidity. They've received a $3.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and $1.7 million in matching private contributions to create a broccoli corridor running from northern Florida to Maine.
Their work has been driven by the rising cost of fuel to ship crates of broccoli from California fields to East Coast grocery coolers, the "eat local" movement and concerns about creating a sustainable, diversified food network.
U.S. consumption of broccoli has nearly doubled in the past 25 years, with Americans now eating 8.5 pounds annually of the vegetable celebrated for its high levels of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants. Nearly all of that comes from California, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.