Casey Houweling’s ambition extends beyond growing premium-quality tomatoes. He’s equally concerned about how he grows them.
In 2011, Delta, British Columbia-based Houweling’s Nurseries, which also operates an expansive facility in Camarillo, Calif., was honored with the California Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for its greenhouse program that incorporates renewable energy, water and fuel conservation, efficient land use and an extensive recycling program — the company recycles more than 90% of its waste.
This August, Houweling, president and chief executive officer of Houweling’s Tomatoes, switched on an 8.8-megawatt heat-and-power cogeneration plant in Camarillo that is the first of its kind in the U.S.
The system captures heat, water and carbon dioxide that otherwise would be wasted and uses it to help run the greenhouses. Since the plant produces more power than the facility needs, the company is able to supply electricity to the local power grid.
Houweling, 54, didn’t stumble into the greenhouse industry by accident.
The company began as a small floral greenhouse and berry farm that his father, Cornelius Houweling, a Dutch horticulturalist, started in Langley, British Columbia, in 1956.
Houweling, the youngest son in a family that had three sons and five daughters, enjoyed spending time in the vegetable garden with his father from the time he first learned to walk.
He took an active role in the company starting in 1976, when the firm expanded to a 6-acre greenhouse in Delta that grew beefsteak tomatoes.
The facility grew to 50 acres within 10 years, and Houweling, eager to ship year-round, expanded once again in 1996, this time into Camarillo, near the Oxnard, Calif., growing area.
Today, Houweling’s grows eight kinds of tomatoes, ranging from large tomatoes-on-the-vine to strawberry tomatoes and some cucumbers on a 50-acre site encompassing two greenhouses in Delta and on 125 acres with six greenhouses in Camarillo.
The company ships primarily to the West Coast.
Houweling’s concern for the ecosystem emerged about 15 years ago.
“Awareness of the environment comes with age,” he said. “As you grow older, it becomes clear that our time on earth is limited, and you think about what you will leave behind for the next generation.”
Growing in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way isn’t easy, Houweling said. Sustainability must become a companywide mindset.
“My biggest job is creating a culture,” he said.
Houweling is a hands-on boss as he works to create that culture.
He strives to learn all of the jobs he has to fill, even those of a technical nature.
“It’s my management style,” he said.
That approach can be all-consuming, he said, “but if you love your job, it makes it easier.”
Houweling has a firm grasp of the company’s priorities: No. 1 is growing tomatoes. No. 2 is making money to grow tomatoes.
“Some companies have that backwards,” he said, and focus more on making money.
“I don’t find that kind of a model very rewarding,” he said. “It’s not good for the long-term health of the business.”
While growing sustainably is important to Houweling, he emphasizes that sustainability must be economically viable.
The biggest challenge to implementing sustainable agriculture has been over-regulation, he said.
“The regulatory environment is devastating to American business,” Houweling said.
Government regulation should be the No. 1 issue in the presidential campaign, he added.
Regulations that “hamper business and are of no value to anybody” can discourage growers from implementing sustainable growing programs, he said.
Despite his accomplishments in the field of agriculture and environmentalism, Houweling said what he is most proud of is his family.
He and his wife, Linda, have three daughters, Rebecca, Monica and April.
Although Rebecca is embarking on a nursing career, and April, the youngest, remains undecided about her career path, Monica works at the company and has expressed an interest in continuing the legacy her father and grandfather have established.