Feeding a population of over 37 million is a big job. Greenhouse growing is on the rise in Canada and with what we know about climate change and sustainability, greenhouse farming will only increase in importance in the coming years!
Editor's Note: This article is sponsored by Half Your Plate. Filling half your plate with fruit and veggies at every meal or snack is an oh so easy way to help ensure a healthy diet!
Now more than ever before, we as a society understand the importance of getting enough fresh produce. Between the Half Your Plate program and Canada's new Food Guide, getting fruits and vegetables into every meal is a must-do.
Thankfully between traditional farming and a rise in greenhouse farming, we have ample produce at our fingertips. However, with what we know about climate change and sustainable efforts, greenhouse farming will only increase in importance over the coming years.
We're living in an incredible time of accessibility when it comes to fresh produce. In Canada we certainly don’t have the climate for growing all the fruits and vegetables we’d like to enjoy all-year round. But, virtually anything we need or want is within our grasp and can be shipped from anywhere on the globe. In fact, it's easy to take it for granted how readily available everything is regardless of which season we're in!
Tomatoes in December, no problem. Strawberries in March, here you go. Heck, jackfruit anytime you want, voila!
Access to fresh produce is a good thing. But it’s now easier than ever to find ripe, tasty, juicy, LOCAL produce grown in Canada every single day of the year, thanks to greenhouse farming.
Having access to fresh produce, especially in the winter months is crucial but over the years, it’s also been at the expense of thousands of miles of gas being spent to drive or ship from the US, Mexico, or Asia.
After attending the 2019 Canadian Produce and Marketing Association's annual show, thanks to Half Your Plate, one of the things that stood out was that the number of companies farming via greenhouse seems to be at an all-time high.
What The Heck Is Greenhouse Farming?
We thought it would be good to learn more about what the heck greenhouse farming is all about and why we will likely see it grow even more in the years to come. Sustainable agriculture is something we all need to think about. And in the process let's find out more about some of the greenhouse growers doing some awesome things in Canada.
Greenhouses Harness the Weather For Smarter Energy Consumption
Let it shine! One thing that is common amongst all greenhouses is there is a lot of light! Allowing as much light as possible and harnessing it all allows them all to significantly reduce their use of electricity.
Not only are greenhouse growers able to control the temperature to exactly what's needed for optimal growing conditions but they’re also able to retain heat using thermal screens - which means they use less overall energy!
This year is a good example - there was snow in April in parts of the country! Cold weather from September to March already cuts the traditional outdoor growing season in half but greenhouse farming makes for a year-round growing season. While the initial start-up costs are significant, greenhouse agriculture lets you grow during the months of the year that would typically be impossible.
Greenhouse Growing Focuses on Sustainability
We had the chance to visit Windset Farms, a greenhouse grower in British Columbia a few years ago and a number of things really blew us away when it game to sustainable farming. At the top of the list was how much thought went into making sure nothing goes to waste.
We saw how rain water is collected, filtered, treated and finally used to water crops. And definitely no shortage of rain water to collect in British Columbia! Overall, just another way to reduce the reliance on Mother Nature’s resources.
Using Good Bugs to Do the Work!
Bees are an important part of greenhouse growing - many greenhouses have their own little hives inside with bees doing a lot of the pollination work.
We’ve all seen the news when a season of crops have been destroyed by insects or even a pesky rabbit that likes to chew on the lettuce in your backyard garden.
In greenhouse farming, they’re able to invite (i.e. introduce) good bugs inside to protect the crops from bad bugs that want to damage whatever is growing. Some good predatory pests like lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps (harmless to humans) all help to control a number of other insects wanting to stop you from eating your veggies! For more information about pest management, check out this useful resource and explanation from BC Greenhouse.
In fact, with global warming, studies have shown that pests will be eating more crops around the world. A 2018 article in the Guardian went on to quote the researchers from the journal Science to say that “Warmer temperatures increase insect metabolic rates exponentially [and] increase the reproductive rates. You have more insects, and they’re eating more.”
One more little observation from our visit a while back to Windset Farms was how easy it was to pick the produce. All I could think of was how different this was from crouching down and picking fresh strawberries or tomatoes with my grandfather back in the day. I can only assume the staff head home after a day of picking feeling pretty good without pain.
Of course, where would any of this be without massive technological advancements? Greenhouse farming is definitely not what you think of when you think traditional farming. There are lab coats, booties to put on your shoes and it sort of feels like you stepped into a futuristic movie about tomatoes!
Organizations like Vineland Research in Ontario are a good example of how both farming methods can exist together and compliment one another. Vineland has a number of ongoing projects, including automation in farming, maximizing flavour, studying how to increase the growth rate of trees, etc. All in an effort to feed as many people as possible.
Tomatoes are usually the first thing that come to mind when you mention greenhouse farming and just like their outdoor counterparts, there is no shortage when it comes to varietals. In British Columbia, companies like Windset Farms and Houweling’s allow folks in Western Canada to enjoy fresh produce all-year round.
Speaking of light and harnessing its power, I like that Houweling’s has that right in their logo, “Mastery under Glass,” which it really is!
There is nothing like a plate of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. I wouldn’t turn down any tomato with all these accoutrements but in the middle of winter, it’s great to be able to find some heirloom tomatoes like the ones Houweling’s grows to make that dish a bit more special. Not to mention their beautiful live basil that you can enjoy whenever you need.
Windset Farms actually grows all the ingredients needed for a BIG SALAD, tons of tomatoes, mini and regular-sized cucumbers, sweet peppers in all shapes and sizes, lettuce and even the cutest little baby eggplants you’ve ever seen. In fact, we hosted a food styling workshop in April and had beautiful produce from Windset Farms to play with and of course, eat!
In Ontario, there is also no shortage of greenhouse produce with companies like Pure Flavor, Mucci Farms, and Sunset. They each carry a line of similar offerings, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants but what separates each of them are the varietals, their sizes and the fun names they all comes with.
Pure Flavor will soon be introducing their Aurora Sweet Long Peppers. We had the opportunity to taste this at the CPMA show and they are indeed sweet and perfect for the upcoming BBQ season.
I’ll forever go on record that there is nothing like the taste of growing your own heirloom tomatoes but a close second is someone growing them for you. Just like Houweling’s, Pure Flavor also grows heirloom tomatoes in their greenhouse which not only makes for a great tasting tomato, it’s a sight to behold before you take a bite.
Mucci Farms has lots of tomatoes too, like their pink Curio that is begging to be layered in a toasted sandwich with crispy lettuce, red onion, your favourite Canadian cheese, mayo, and honey mustard. But what we have really enjoyed seeing over the years is how cute and fun their stuff is, in fact, they are aptly named “Cute cumbers.” I don’t remember begging for cucumbers in my lunch as a kid (I opted for peanut butter on celery) but I might have been persuaded with these little crispy treats.
And speaking of cute, how about some Smuccies? Smuccies (yes, like a big smooch!) are the strawberries that are greenhouse-grown all-year round by Mucci Farms. They are sweet, juicy and a joy to have a taste of Summer anytime you feel like it. And with 36 acres of strawberries to grow, it is the largest indoor strawberry farm in North America. This is a great video from Mucci Farms explaining how they do it with their head strawberry grower.
Sunset has lots of tomatoes like everyone else but we thought their Eco-Flavor Bowl was a really great idea! The container itself is made with recycled materials and is 100% recyclable. The top is sealed shut using a film rather than more hard plastic which reduces packaging by 20%.
One of the other products that I’ve gravitated towards every year at the CPMA Show is Sunset’s Aloha Peppers. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for anything Hawaiian, or maybe it’s because the yellow and red colours of the pepper fascinate me or maybe it’s because Roger Mooking is always cooking up something deelish at their booth and the smells just whisk me in. Whatever the reasons, the Aloha pepper is another great example of being able to enjoy something fresh and sweet all-year round.
For more stories and inspiration taken from the CPMA2019 show, be sure to check out...
- This beautiful Grilled Salad from The Lemon Apron
- How to Reduce Plastic Waste When Grocery Shopping from Green Healthy Cooking
- 15+ Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste (and Save Money) from Girl Heart Food
- A Look at Canada's New Food Guide from Cinq Fourchettes