Row upon row, tomato plants stand in formation inside a greenhouse in Willcox, Arizona. Green stems poke from coconut-fiber blocks, reaching toward the glass-paned sky. Lab-coated technicians on elevated electric carts meticulously prune the crop. Eurofresh Farms harvests 130 million pounds of tomatoes a year from these perfect plants, grown on 311 acres in buildings outfitted with miles of pipe to ferry water and a network of steel wire above to capture the climbing vines. The ripening fruit smells faintly artificial, all sweetness and no soil.
But there is a natural presence here too. It reveals itself as a low hum that settles deep inside the ears: a thousand bumblebees hard at work.
To reproduce, most flowering plants depend on a third party to transfer pollen between their male and female parts. Some require extra encouragement to give up that golden dust. The tomato flower, for example, needs a violent shake, a vibration roughly equivalent to 30 times the pull of Earth's gravity, explains Arizona entomologist Stephen Buchmann, international coordinator of the Pollinator Partnership. "The scale is different," he says, "but consider that fighter pilots usually black out after half a minute at four to six g's."