Connecticut’s greenhouse sector is flourishing, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. The industry has a big, positive impact – both economically and ecologically. Local growers are cultivating climate-controlled flowers, bedding plants, perennials, food crops and more in an estimated 180 acres of production space under cover. In fact, in 2015, state farmers had $306.3 million in horticulture sales alone.
To Market We Grow
Specializing in wholesale bedding plants and hardy mums, among others, Grower Direct Farms (GDF) is a family-owned commercial greenhouse business that is booming. The successful company, established by Leonard Van Wingerden in 1981, has around 32 acres of crop protection structures, as well as space dedicated to support buildings and a 20-acre outdoor growing area.
GDF sells and ships its products to all six New England states, and its major customers include Home Depot and Walmart.
“The biggest advantage we have is our access to several affluent New England markets,” says CEO Sam Smith, also co-owner.
In addition to growing the best possible products for its customers, GDF is passionate about environmental conservation and sustainability. For example, the company practices ebb-and-flow watering, during which a bay is flooded with 1.5 to 2 inches of water. After plants absorb what they need, the remaining water returns to holding tanks through a filter system.
GDF also reduces its footprint by using biomass fuel in the form of green wood chips to heat its 35-acre plot of greenhouses.
“A big concern for New England growers is the energy used to heat large greenhouses to grow product,” Smith says. “We use a very minimal amount of fossil fuels, and we’ve found that the green wood chips are a great choice because they’re a renewable energy source. They are completely carbon-neutral. Plus, once the initial capital investments are made, they pay for themselves rather quickly.”
Wallingford-based Geremia Greenhouse is also a large-scale operation, comprising 10 acres and growing a wide range of products such as orchids, cyclamen, Easter flowers, bedding plants, mums and poinsettias in greenhouses covering about 7 acres.
Third-generation farmer Joe Geremia, who co-owns Geremia Greenhouse with business partner, Phil Banning, says the land the company operates has been in his family for about 100 years.
After emigrating to the U.S. from Italy, Geremia’s grandfather established a dairy and vegetable farm on the land, with his father eventually adding a large orchard. Geremia started running the business around 1990, and that was when the indoor production element took off. Since then, he says, Geremia Greenhouse has grown nearly every year.
The company, primarily serving independent garden centers and farm markets in Connecticut, works to remain environmentally friendly as it expands. Some of its greenhouses feature flood floors that partially saturate pots, while others are equipped with trough watering benches and ebb-and-flow bench systems that recycle water.
In addition, Geremia Greenhouse’s indoor facilities are kept warm throughout the year by a sustainable wood-fired heating system that includes two wood broilers from Bio-Fuel Technologies. The temperature in the greenhouses is also regulated by environmental controls and irrigation equipment.
With its innovative greenhouses and growers, it is no wonder the industry is a boon to Connecticut.
Growing Connecticut’s Food
Connecticut is poised to become a leader in producing fresh, local food in an indoor, climate-controlled environment year round.
According to Connecticut Greenhouse Growers Association, Connecticut already has an estimated 300 commercial greenhouse businesses with more than 180 acres of production space under cover.
This infrastructure can enable greenhouse and indoor farmers to greatly increase their produce and seafood production.
Overall, the state itself is well suited to fruit and vegetable growers, as well as dairy and livestock farmers looking to diversify their operations.
Connecticut takes its lead from other countries that have put in place technology to grow high-quality food in a cost-effective way.
Additionally, the state has heavily invested in developing skilled growers through its 19 agricultural science and technology centers, which educate experts by teaching practical courses like ag mechanics, aquaculture and agribusiness.
By providing fresh, local food for the state, the nation and the world, Connecticut’s enhancement of greenhouse food production would help make it self-sustaining – relying significantly less on imported food.
To learn more, visit the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.