Locally grown produce ranked No. 2 in a recent survey of 1,300 professional chefs (National Restaurant Association’s 2014 What’s Hot survey), and in March, USDA released the report “Why Local Food Matters: The rising importance of locally grown food in the U.S. food system.” Those are just two of several similar reports of the growing importance of edible crops.
Find out how growers are taking advantage of the rising demand for locally-grown food from an increasingly diverse mix of customers.
Altman Plants Adjusts To A Different Market
Altman Plants, headquartered in Vista, Calif., is venturing into greenhouse vegetables with a new company called GardenHouse Farm in Peyton, Colo. In January, Altman Plants purchased a 32-acre greenhouse facility that had previously been operated by Color Star.
“Color Star began looking into doing greenhouse vegetables last year before we purchased the greenhouses,” said Matt Altman, chief operating officer. “We thought it was a great idea as well. We have been involved in growing other food crops, including leafy greens and tree crops of avocado and persimmon.”
Of the 32 acres of greenhouses, a 12-acre range is allocated to vegetables. Ornamental plants and flowers are being grown in the other 20-acre range. The business is looking at which crops have the highest return.
The first crop of cucumbers and tomatoes were planted this spring. Cucumbers are already being harvested and the picking of tomatoes began in June.
“We were fortunate to get these greenhouses,” Altman says. “The greenhouses have an extensive curtain system, conveyors and irrigation booms. This is great for ornamental plant production, but we had to make some changes to the infrastructure to accommodate the tomato production.”
The business is producing in gutters and on high wire. The biggest investment was installing a new pipe rail system that allows employees to move down the rows on adjustable rolling platforms to maintain the plants and harvest the fruit.
Vegetable Learning Curve
Even though Altman Plants was already shipping ornamental plants into Colorado, Altman said there are major differences in marketing vegetables. He said most of the produce grown by GardenHouse Farm is sold in the Mountain States region, primarily in Colorado. He also said there is a lot of interest in Colorado to buy local product.
“The market is really different for greenhouse vegetables,” he says. “It’s not as seasonal as ornamentals, but there are definitely seasonality impacts. During the summer there is lower pricing. There is imported produce from Mexico and Canada, which has some very large, efficient growers.”
Altman says growing and selling vegetables requires understanding the pricing and costs associated with a whole new market as well as understanding the changes in supply and demand.
“Commodity prices change on a weekly basis,” he says. “Generally for ornamentals, prices are set for the season along with some ads and promotions. The prices for the produce can change quite rapidly.”
The company is selling primarily to supermarkets and larger chains. The supermarkets and other retailers that are selling produce work with a separate group of suppliers, distributors and brokers that has to be navigated.
Altman said one of the differences between growing ornamentals and vegetables are the harvesting of the crops and the need to consider the end product.
“With ornamentals, you’re finishing the plants to their pot size and shipping them at their peak,” Altman says. “With vegetables, you’re growing them for quite a few months while harvesting the fruit. It’s a different mentality in the way you treat the plants.”
Altman said with edible crops there are a lot of food safety issues and regulations. GardenHouse has been certified by Primus, a third party certification agency.
“Certification is required by major supermarkets and it’s not an easy process,” he says. “It’s very vigorous, very strict. There are a lot of processes, laws and procedures that have to be put in place to avoid any kind of potential contamination and food safety concerns. You have to implement a recall process and be able to react to anything that does happen.”
For more information on GardenHouse Farm, contact 760-744-8191 or eMail [email protected]