Fresh produce business plans include sustainable structures

01/19/2012 05:20:00 PM
Susie Cable

Some produce companies are building new structures with the specific goal of operating more sustainably.

Chicago-based Testa Produce in December achieved LEED  (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification at its new food distribution facility. The U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C., granted the certification.

“It’s a huge thing — major,” said Peter Testa, president. “It’s what we worked for. It was my intention to get LEED Platinum status.”

LEED certification means that a building meets criteria for effects on human and environmental health. The five categories assessed are site sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. Additional credits can be awarded for design innovation and regional priority status.

The approximately $24 million, 91,000-square-foot distribution facility, which opened in May, boasts a wind turbine and solar panels in the parking lot.

The facility uses 60% to 70% less water than it would without its water-efficient technologies, Testa said.

Storm water retention also is important to avoid city runoff fees, and Testa said nearly 90% of rainwater is controlled.

Testa said he expects a great payback over time, but not all of it will be monetary. The building was designed and positioned on the property so as to provide more natural lighting. It was constructed with employee comfort in mind, with features such as higher ceilings and bigger, more private workstations.

Delta, British Columbia-based Village Farms International uses its proprietary Greenhouse Advanced Technology Environment System (GATES) in its new greenhouse in Monahans, Texas.

The facility is modeled after the company’s 5-acre research and development GATES greenhouse in Marfa, Texas, said Helen Aquino, marketing manager.

Traditional greenhouses are vented to the outside, but this one is fully enclosed.

“We’re controlling the temperature, the amount of water, everything the plant gets,” she said. “We’re able to give the plant just what it needs, exactly when it needs it.”

The closed environment means production is consistent and safe, she said. Food safety is part of Village Farms’ Barefoot Plan, which outlines its stewardship principles.

About 40% of the greenhouse’s electricity is expected to be generated by wind power, Aquino said.

The greenhouse conserves water by recycling it up to five times.


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