NatureFresh™ Farms

Cornelius Neufeld (left) and Jason Guenther (right) of NatureFresh™ Farms. Photo by Michael D. Tedesco/Farm Flavor Media

Delicious, ripe tomatoes in the winter? Thanks to innovative greenhouse technology pioneered by companies with locations in Ohio, a defining taste of summer is available all year.

Technology, coupled with sustainable practices, enable Ohio’s greenhouses to supply consumers with fresh and locally grown produce, even during the winter months.

“A greenhouse allows production year round with use of the sun for growing as well as solar radiation for heating,” says Nick Chaney, Ohio native and head grower for one of BrightFarms’ greenhouse locations. “Our local produce is considered fresher and tastier, since it reduces the time, distance and cost typically associated with long-distance produce. Think about it: taste and freshness go hand in hand. Fresher will taste better.”

BrightFarms broke ground in 2017 on a 160,000-square-foot greenhouse in Wilmington, expected to produce a million pounds of fresh salad greens, herbs and tomatoes each year.

“Because we grow in controlled greenhouses within the communities we serve, our operations use 80 percent less water, 90 percent less land and 95 percent less shipping fuel than conventional farming,” Chaney says. “Since we’re using fewer resources and growing locally, we’re able to pass those savings on to the consumer and meet the pricing of other products that you’d find on grocery store shelves.”

Ohio Greenhouses Focus on Quality and Consistency

Ontario-based NatureFresh Farms invested $200 million to build a 45-acre greenhouse on more than 180 acres in Delta. The greenhouse, which will become the largest in the country after it completes its seven-year expansion, produces a dozen varieties of tomatoes under its TOMZ and OhioRed brands.

Consumers have high expectations when it comes to fresh produce. Today’s greenhouse growing practices guarantee consumers a consistently high- quality product, says Chris Veillon, director of marketing, NatureFresh Farms.

“Greenhouse agriculture, or ‘protected agriculture’ as some like to call it, ensures consistency in the product grown,” he says. “The growing environment is 100 percent controlled from irrigation to heating to venting to plant nutrition, as well as implementing and monitoring our Integrated Pest Management program. By controlling the growing environment, we ensure that all plants get the appropriate care they need to produce the best they can.”

Historic Leadership in the Ohio Greenhouse Industry

Ohio’s greenhouse industry can trace its roots back to the late 1800s when Martin Luther Ruetenik, nicknamed the Celery King, built his first greenhouse in Cleveland. Ruetenik pioneered scientific growing methods that were emulated by growers across the country, and the industry continued to thrive throughout the next century, cementing the state’s status as the Greenhouse Capital of America.

Today, there are more than 50 greenhouses in the state, and the greenhouse industry continues to play an important role in Ohio’s agriculture economy, accounting for some 11 percent of total ag receipts. Much of the industry’s current success can be attributed to investments in large-scale, state- of-the-art facilities by companies like NatureFresh, Golden Fresh, Red Sun and BrightFarms. These companies were attracted to Ohio’s agricultural excellence and geographic location.

NatureFresh Farms

Photo by Michael D. Tedesco/Farm Flavor Media

Location, Location, Location

One of the reasons NatureFresh chose Ohio as its step into the American market was the state’s central location. Delta offers easy access to U.S. Interstates 80 and 90 from Indiana through Ohio and into New York, and the greenhouse is a mere two miles from the Ohio Turnpike.

“The location of our Delta greenhouse is key. We have the ability to reach more than 20 million people in a five-hour drive,” Veillon says. “The vast land that was available will allow us to expand as the business needs in the years to come. The facility is also centrally located to our retail partner distribution centers, which allows us to reduce food miles.”

Logistics also played a role in the location decisions of Canadian companies Golden Fresh Farms and Red Sun Farms, which built a $22.5 million, 20-acre greenhouse and 26,000-square-foot distribution center in Wapakoneta, just off Interstate 75. The strategic location allows Red Sun Farms to deliver hydroponically and organically grown tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers to retailers where nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population resides.

Focusing on High-Tech Sustainability

Red Sun Farms has invested in a fully compostable base made from wood pulp for its organic grape tomato packaging, reducing the use of plastic by 90 percent. The greenhouse also uses sterilized rainwater for 75 to 85 percent of its water usage and recycles 100 percent of any unconsumed water or nutrients back into production.

“High-tech greenhouses like ours feature water recycling systems, which reduce waste and the environmental impact. The carbon dioxide produced by these watering systems, which also heat the greenhouses, is then pumped back into the greenhouse to feed the plants,” says Leona Neill, marketing and packaging manager for Red Sun Farms. “This not only reduces our carbon footprint, but it also reuses renewable resources.”