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Greenhouses: Balancing far and near

There’s no disputing the growth and opportunity of the greenhouse industry, but it has two distinct sides of the same coin: international and hyper-local.

For many years, North American greenhouse growing was strongly associated with Canada, then Mexico; the former used them to extend the growing season due to long and often inhospitable winters; the latter had some weather issues but was mostly to keep up with the rampant demand for exports.

In recent years, several Canada greenhouse operators have expanded growing operations into the Midwestern U.S. and along the East Coast, taking advantage of affordable space, reducing shipping time to existing customers, and accessing new markets.

These international partnerships allow Canadian growers to expand their reach, maximize returns, and ensure control over the entire supply chain.

On the other side of the coin, consumers have developed a taste for homegrown produce and are enthusiastic not just about the pride and enjoyment of shopping local, but also the reduced impact on the environment and the cost savings from shorter shipping runs.

“For many parts of the country, it’s difficult to get fresh local produce all year round,” said Viraj Puri, cofounder and CEO of greenhouse pioneer Gotham Greens, headquartered in New York. “Our national network of local greenhouses provides consumers with farm-fresh produce in more than 30 states.”

Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer for Pure Hothouse Foods Inc. BB #:170379 of Leamington, ON, points out that this combination of local and national scale provides other rewards, such as removing seasonality, creating more consistent supply, reducing carbon footprints, and creating the opportunity for niche markets of specific fruits and vegetables.

“Removing the seasonality of an item by having it grown inside a greenhouse has many benefits not only to the consumer, but to the retailer as well,” Veillon said.

“Food grown in controlled environments with sustainable agricultural practices and the ability to know where a product comes from—locally or internationally—tells a story and humanizes the brand.”

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