about 50 football fields! The place is designed to capture the sun while keeping out things like inclement weather, wind that can bring contaminants, bugs, animals and any other unwanted elements. Inside, rows upon rows of lush, leafy tomato plants stretch to the ceiling, laden with plump, hearty tomatoes in various tages of ripeness. The oxygen-rich place smells fertile and fragrant, and it’s busy with bees that are brought into the greenhouse to pollinate the plants. But this definitely is not your grand- parents’ greenhouse. Instead of soil, the tomato plants grow in a special medium ade of coconut fiber. They’re fed a perfect, nutritious diet of water and nutrients— directly to the roots so that nothing is wasted. And thanks to some modern touches, com- puters can precisely control the temperature and carbon dioxide levels in the greenhouse to create the best setting for plants to grow in. It’s modern, but a green thumb is still needed here. Farmers such as Martin Gurney constantly monitor the plants, determining everything from whether they need pruning to when they’re ripe and ready to pick. All pruning and picking is done by hand. “Every day I’ll be looking at the crop to see if any changes must be made to keep everything as healthy as possible,” says Gurney. He also coordinates with the farm- workers on which sections are ready for har- vest, and overall tenderly cares for the crops. “It’s still the green thumbs who make the decisions,” adds Steve.
AUGUST 2012 ;e Costco Connection 91
From seed to crate (top right to bottom):
Windset Farms uses the same science-meets-green-thumb approach for their
grape, beefsteak and Roma tomatoes.
out the year, so that ripe fruit is available
year-round. “Everything we do is for efficiency and for sustainability,” remarks John.
It’s also worth noting that the greenhouse
environment is friendly for workers, as well as
for plants. They prune and harvest the tomatoes out of the rain and heat, and thanks to special equipment, this can all be done at eye level.
Local produce for Costco The Newells started Windset Farms in 1996 with a single, 4-acre greenhouse near their home outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. Their father was a doctor, and their mother a chicken farmer. After attending college—John studied microbiology, Steve commerce—the two brothers decided they wanted to start a business, and greenhouses held great promise. Today, Windset has operations in Delta, British Columbia, the Santa Maria plant, and a greenhouse in North Las Vegas, Nevada. In all, the company has 400 acres of greenhouse space, growing tomatoes, peppers, cucum- bers, eggplant, endive and lettuce. Depending on the time of year, Windset supplies vegetables to Costco locations in the western United States and Canada. A number of similar local growers provide produce to ther regions. The goal, explains Costco pro- duce buyer Keith Neal, is to provide Costco warehouses with local products for freshness and minimal transportation costs. “Costco’s goal is to provide our members with the highest-quality produce at the best possible price,” says Keith. “Our greenhouse growers are key partners in meeting that goal.
They can supply truly top-notch produce that
our members have come to expect, and
they’re committed to sustainability, which is
important as demand grows.”
Inside the greenhouse, crops are pro-
tected from the vagaries of nature that have
traditionally challenged farmers, such as
storms and droughts. That leads to more con-
sistent quality and supplies—and more stabil-
ity in pricing.
And there’s room for growth, which will
be important as demand for healthy, fresh
foods rises. Windset, for example, plans to
double its Santa Maria operation soon.
And it all begins with the tastiest little
Clean, consistent and sustainable
The Santa Maria greenhouse is surrounded by fields growing strawberries, broccoli and other crops. So why have a greenhouse
instead of a traditional farm?
The first reason is yield. In the case of
grape tomatoes, a greenhouse can produce
about 20 times more crop than a traditional
field, the Newells say. In short, a lot less land
is needed to grow a lot more produce.
Then there’s the issue of water—a precious
resource in warm areas, where plants grow so
well. A greenhouse uses 25 to 30 times less
water than a traditional field, and it goes right
to the roots, not into dirt, and there’s no evaporation. Also, the nutritious drink of water
and fertilizer that feeds the plants in a greenhouse is recycled to use again.
Since packing and shipping are done on-site, everything is kept within the clean confines of the facility. Even the carts, containers
and packing room floors are diligently
cleaned on a regular basis.
“It’s a clean, protected environment in the
greenhouse,” says Steve. “That also affords you
the ability to not have to use herbicides.”
Also, the greenhouse crops are sustain-
able. Crops can be grown in cycles through-
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