Perennial perfection

02/01/2013 03:45:00 PM
Tom Burfield

The greenhouse industry is one of slow but constant change.

The newest facilities designed to grow fruits and vegetables indoors — oblivious to weather conditions outside — have the latest technology not only for feeding the plants just the right amount of nutrients but also for conserving energy and protecting the environment.

At the same time, lower-tech shade houses are proliferating in Mexico, where they now account for about half of the protected agriculture.

click image to zoomgreenhouse produce merchandisingPamela riemenschneiderGive your department that fresh-from-the-farm feel with ripe greenhouse tomatoes. The next step, says Merle Jensen, professor emeritus of plant science at the University of Arizona and partner in Tucson, Ariz.-based Greenhouse Vegetable Consultants LLC, will be smaller greenhouses popping up to draw on the locally grown movement.

You’ll see more greenhouses near big cities as well as plastic “high tunnels” where a new generation of growers will produce food for local farmers markets and supermarkets, he says. Meanwhile, retailers continue to rely on greenhouse growers to provide aesthetically pleasing, flavorful product year-round.


Variety of sources

New Seasons Market, a chain of 12 stores based in Portland, Ore., offers product grown in glass greenhouses, like those prevalent in Canada and the U.S., as well as in shade houses in Mexico, says produce director Jeff Fairchild.

Vine-ripe tomatoes, English cucumbers, colored peppers and some chili peppers account for most of the company’s greenhouse product, with bell peppers showing exceptional growth.

“I think the pepper deal has increased significantly, especially the colored pepper deal,” Fairchild says.

The stores merchandise greenhouse items with their conventional counterparts.

“They sell themselves because their consistency in quality is very, very good,” he says.

He features greenhouse product on ad about once a month.

The chain sources from Canada in the summer, the U.S. in fall and from Mexico in winter.

Fairchild says he doesn’t see a big difference between the quality of product grown in shade houses and that of product from glass greenhouses.

In his opinion, greenhouse tomatoes and bell peppers look great, but he’s not convinced that their flavor is better than field-grown product.

“There’s something about having stuff grown in soil, affected by weather, that is hard to beat the flavor of,” he says.


Sales jump

Greenhouse sales have jumped about 10% in recent years at the Seattle Promenade location of Seattle-based Red Apple Markets, a chain of about 30 independently owned stores, says Jim Prim, produce manager.

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