Courtesy Legend DistributingGrower Willem Doleman (left) shows results of early trials at the Legend Produce greenhouse to the company’s food safety director Kristen Meisel and quality assurance director Jesus “Chuy” Lopez.Two trending topics on many produce growers’ marketing agendas this season — locally grown and food that has not been genetically modified — are being embraced by greenhouse vegetable growers across North America.
Greenhouse growers in particular have tuned into consumer concerns about genetically modified organisms and are increasingly pursuing certification through the Non-GMO Project, said Caroline Kinsman, communications manager for the Bellingham, Wash.-based nonprofit organization.
One of the most recent to earn certification is Del Fresco Produce, Kingsville, Ontario.
“This was a natural progression for us,” Ray Mastronardi, Del Fresco’s vice president, said when the company earned the certification in February. “The industry is heading this way now, and we feel it’s vital to be ahead of the curve.”
Another Canada-based greenhouse grower, Village Farms, Delta, British Columbia, is pursuing certification through the project, said Doug Kling, senior vice president and chief marketing officer.
Kling said all of the Village Farms produce, regardless where it’s grown, is GMO-free. In addition to its greenhouses in Delta, Village Farms owns greenhouses Tin exas and has greenhouse growing partners in New England, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
Kinsman said more than 1,200 fruit and vegetable products have been certified by the Non-GMO Project, including fresh, dried, canned and processed. Founded in 2003, the project has verified the non-GMO status of more than 14,800 food products.
Local greenhouse grown
Another greenhouse trend fueled by consumer demand is the locally grown movement.
Grants from the federal government are helping the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association court foodservice customers and U.S. consumers with the local/regional flavors from under the glass roofs along the northern shore of Lake Erie. (See related story on Page B6.)
In the Southwest U.S., a new source of greenhouse vegetables is up and running in Phoenix. Legend Distributing, Glendale, Ariz., is harvesting its first crop at a new 1-acre greenhouse this spring.
Rick Crispo, a partner in the operation, said the Four Peaks-brand tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and eggplants grown in the new greenhouse will help the company meet year-round demand for Arizona-grown produce in the area.
“Our intention is to keep all of the produce from the greenhouse in the Arizona market,” Crispo said. “When harvest is in full swing, we expect 35,000 to 45,000 pounds a week.”
Village Farms is participating in two locally grown programs: British Columbia Grown and Texas Grown.
“Retailers want it, and consumers want it,” Kling said. Labels on the Village Farms vegetables tell shoppers in the respective markets that they are buying produce from their home regions. In conjunction with the BC Grown program, Village Farms is participating in Veggie Day on March 20.