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Greenhouses: The world of protected growing

As the desire for year-round availability climbs, suppliers and others look to greenhouses to augment demand. Given the explosive growth of greenhouses in Canada, Mexico, and the United States over the last decade, most would consider this surge a recent phenomenon.

After all, indoor growing and hydroponic space has increased fivefold since 2010 according to global consultancy Agritecture, with as much as $700 million invested in new construction.

Yet greenhouse growing has existed in one form or another since Roman times. Korean farmers pioneered innovative indoor growing techniques as early as the 1400s, and great leaps forward occurred in France and Italy over 300 years ago.

It was in the nineteenth century, with technological developments and scientific research during the Victorian Era, that greenhouses truly came into their own.

The Dutch were among the earliest nations of the modern era to take advantage of this type of protected growing, and they continue to be innovators. This is one reason the Netherlands is the world’s second-largest food exporter, despite being only half the size of South Carolina.

It’s North America, however, where some of the most exciting developments in greenhouse growing are taking place, not only in Leamington, ON—the mecca of greenhouses—but in the United States as well.

And not necessarily for the reasons one might expect: this year alone will herald major developments tied to several well-known companies including Mastronardi, AeroFarms, and Amazon.

For its part, Mastronardi Produce Ltd. BB #:115453 of Kingsville, ON, is building Green Empire Farms, a 64-acre complex in New York that will be the largest-ever greenhouse facility on the continent.

Newark, NJ-based AeroFarms is making strides of its own by looking skyward, and aims to operate the nation’s largest vertical farm at its Cane Creek Centre facility in Virginia.

And Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and a team of investors are sinking $200 million into San Francisco-based vertical grower Plenty Unlimited, Inc., reportedly the largest investment in agricultural technology in history.

So what’s behind this swell of activity? What problems do greenhouses solve, what issues do they create, and how will they impact the future of growing? This Blueprints series asked a few industry leaders to break it down for us.

This is a multi-part feature adapted from the cover story of the May/June 2020 issue of Produce Blueprints.