Wholesum Harvest plans to break ground Dec. 5 in Amado, Ariz., on a 12-acre greenhouse, the first of five that size expected to be built.

About 30 miles south of Tucson, the greenhouse will focus on organic beefsteak and vine tomatoes, said Ricardo Crisantes, vice president of sales and marketing at Nogales, Ariz.-based Wholesum Harvest.

Wholesum Harvest to build Arizona greenhouses

“Our target date to finish construction is August,” Crisantes said. “Hopefully we’ll be planting by September and starting production in October.”

The company acquired the site off Interstate 19, exit 48, earlier this year. The land hasn’t been used for a decade or more, Crisantes said. Before, it was cattle pasture. At full build-out of a planned five-phase project, it would accommodate 60 acres of greenhouses.

Demand for organics is driving the growth.

“We saw an opportunity to bring more organic produce to the marketplace,” Crisantes said. “We wanted to come up with an expansion to help us offer enough product for the organic supply. We also think that for our company to be able to succeed, the need to have domestic supply during summer is critical.”

“We want to offer year-round availability to all our customers. Having a greenhouse in Arizona helps us with market access, especially in summer when domestic product is in high demand.”

Wholesum Harvest already grows and ships a wide variety of tomatoes and vegetables year-round throughout much of Mexico. Other partners include Mexican and Peruvian exporters of organic mangoes.

One benefit to the new project, at least for the near term, is inexpensive natural gas nearby.

“Prices on natural gas are at a 10-year low,” Crisantes said. “We will be able to tap into a gas pipeline less than 2 miles from the site.”

Even so, the company will incorporate energy-saving features into its greenhouse design.

“It’s a closed greenhouse concept,” Crisantes said. “We’ll cool it in summer and heat it in winter. Traditionally, the cooling process would pull air from one side, run it through the whole greenhouse and start with new air from outside. But then the air you’re throwing outside is cooler; by recirculating you keep that advantage in the house.”

When completed, the first greenhouse will employ 40, he said.