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Yuma Lettuce Days to sprout down on the farm

Yuma Lettuce Days will sprout up "down on the farm" in 2015. The annual feastival that celebrates the area's agricultural abundance will take place Feb. 28 and March 1 at the University of Arizona's Yuma Agricultural Center, a working research farm in the Yuma Valley just west of town.

The venue change is part of an expanded partnership between Yuma Visitors Bureau and the University of Arizona, according to YVB Executive Director Linda Morgan and YAC Director Kurt Nolte.lettucesseij

"Holding Lettuce Days in the middle of a real farm will make it even more authentic and unique," Morgan said in a press release. "We are excited about the new interactive experiences we can offer on site and are delighted to forge a stronger partnership with our friends at UA."

For several years the farm has grown a special field of assorted produce where participants in YVB's "Field to Feast" agricultural tours get a chance to harvest vegetables that go into their lunch and more to take home.

The idea to transplant Lettuce Days grew from that seed, Morgan and Nolte said.

"With ongoing riverfront and downtown development, Lettuce Days was outgrowing its location at the Quartermaster Depot," Morgan said in the release. "I reached out to Kurt, and the more we talked the more excited we both got about all the fun things we could do there, from farm equipment demonstrations to hay rides, to a petting zoo with farm animals."

"Hosting Lettuce Days is a great opportunity to show what we do at the Ag Center to a larger audience," Nolte added in the release. "We're first of all teachers, so any time we can help educate the public about the importance of agriculture and the hard work and hard science that goes into healthy food, it's a win for us and the ag community."

There are still plenty of details to be worked out, but Nolte said YAC staff is already preparing to plant five to 10 acres of grass as a green footprint for the festival, with adjoining fields to be graded and prepped for parking. An outdoor kitchen for cooking demos is in the works, and Lettuce Days will be able to utilize existing buildings and infrastructure: walk-in coolers, labs and conference rooms.

The move is all about offering more to festivalgoers, Morgan said.

"We'll still have everything you always loved about Lettuce Days, like celebrity chefs and cooking demonstrations, great entertainment, the giant salad bar, and the farmers market," she said. "But we'll have more room, more parking and more real farm stuff to see and do because we're bringing folks to the farm instead of bringing the farm to town."

She pointed out that the actual move is only a bit more than seven miles, or less than 15 minutes by car.

"Folks who come to Lettuce Days will still be close to historic downtown, the beautiful riverfront and great shopping, dining and hotels," Morgan said. "But now Lettuce Days will also give them a taste of country down on the farm."

Major Lettuce Days sponsors are on board with the venue change, Morgan said.

"We met yesterday with local representatives of Dole, Tanimura & Antle, JV Smith Cos. and Reichman Ag Products, and all of them indicated that they are excited about the change and are looking forward to continuing to give back to the Yuma community through this event," Morgan said June 17.

Lettuce Days wraps up a week of local ag-tivities that begins with the Southwest Ag Summit, an industry conference slated for Feb. 24-26, 2015. The Quartermaster Depot will continue to serve as the venue for YVB's gala Harvest Dinner celebrating Yuma's ag community Feb. 26.