NatureFresh Farm uses technology such as closed-loop water systems, Integrated Pest Management, PRIVA climate control, and unique growing methods in their greenhouse. In their 45-acre greenhouse in Delta, OH, NatureFresh produces 12 varieties of non-GMO tomatoes which are shipped to millions of people across the US and Canada. The innovative greenhouse process design by NatureFresh Farms is helping to provide fresh food to millions of people, increase agricultural sustainability and productivity, improve water and energy efficiency, and build a sustainable business.
The University of Toledo
The growing process starts with the plants. NatureFresh uses verified non-GMO seeds for all of their produce. At their Leamington, Ontario location, NatureFresh grows tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers. The Delta, Ohio facilities specializes in 12 varieties of tomatoes including varieties of cherry, grape, beef steak, roma, and tomatoes on the vine. Tomato varieties are carefully selected for taste and go through a trial period at NatureFresh Farm Discovery Center. Each variety undergoes a variety of tests including flavor and quality analysis, production levels, and shelf life. The tomatoes are also taste tested by customers. Only the best quality tomatoes move on to production.
The tomato plants are grown in ground coconut husk which retains nutrients and enables excess water to drain. The plants are grown vertically, using a system of supports and braces to increase stability as the plant grows. This allows for a larger yield in a smaller area. The greenhouse runs on a closed-loop water system. Nutrient rich water is delivered directly to plant roots using drippers. Any excess water drains through the coconut husk and is collected and sterilized using ozone. Water samples are taken to determine if additional nutrients need to be added before the water is pumped back to the drippers to be fed to the plants. The irrigation system that is part of the closed-loop water system is controlled by a PRIVA Climate Control System. This system controls temperature, humidity, air flow, ventilation, carbon dioxide levels, and energy screens in the greenhouse as well as irrigation and fertilizer introduction in the water system. The system is automatic, once the desired settings are programmed, the computer monitors the climate and makes any necessary adjustments. The PRIVA Climate Control system increases energy and resource efficiency in the greenhouse.
To care for the plants, NatureFresh utilizes Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to combat both unwanted insects and diseases. Bug Brigade Scouts perform daily inspections of the plants to check for any pests or diseases. The goal of IPM is to “combat the bad bugs with the good bugs” as Greenhouse Operations Manager Cornelius Neufeld explained. There are 19 species of beneficial bugs that can be used to control unwanted pests. Sticky cards are also used to trap large amounts of the pests. Bug Brigade Scouts, along with company consultants, come up with the best plan of attack to eliminate and prevent bad bugs. With the implementation of IPM, NatureFresh has been able to reduce the amount of pesticides that are needed to maintain their plants. In addition to pest control, NatureFresh also employs good bugs for pollination. Bumble bees are used to pollinate all of the plants in the greenhouse.
NatureFresh Farms was founded in 1999 by Peter Quiring. Quiring did not set out to start what would become one of the largest independent greenhouse growers in North America. In 1993, Quiring was unemployed but had enough money to buy a welding machine, a torch, and a grinder. In 1994, South Essex Fabricating began as a builder of high-tech commercial greenhouses in Canada. Quiring's goal was to build a state of the art, operational greenhouse to sell. In 1999, an 18-acre greenhouse was built. After unsuccessful attempts to sell the greenhouse, Quiring decided to keep it and continue growing peppers. This greenhouse became the start of NatureFresh Farms.
Quiring has a few core values that have enabled him and his businesses to continue to grow. Quiring has a desire to inspire others. In his businesses, he has an open hiring policy with the goal to hire passionate people regardless of ethnicity, gender, education, or any other differentiating factors. Quiring also believes in respecting the environment. By utilizing energy and resource efficient practices in his every step of his businesses, Quiring has been able to reduce the environmental impact of the company.
Another key factor for Quiring is innovation. Research and development are important for NatureFresh Farm to reduce costs, produce high quality produce, and keep the company ahead of many others. Lastly, education is important to Quiring. South Essex Fabrication built NatureFresh Farm a model greenhouse on a trailer that enables the company to travel across the US and Canada and share their story with millions of people. Cornelius Neufeld shared his thoughts on what makes NatureFresh Farms a unique company. He shared, “We are extremely passionate and high on quality. I believe that’s what sets us apart from other companies. We focus on high end quality and not just production”.
The success of the innovative greenhouse technology at NatureFresh Farm is undeniable. Starting as an 18-acre greenhouse in 2000 growing bell peppers, the company quickly expanded with the addition of 36-acres in 2001. Another 31-acres of glass greenhouses was built in 2005. NatureFresh Farms has since expanded its Leamington facility to 130-acres of greenhouses growing bell peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. In 2015, NatureFresh expanded their operations to the US, deciding on Delta, Ohio for their newest facility. Phase I in Delta was 15.3 acres completed in 2015. Phase II was an additional 15.3 acres in 2016. Phase III was a final 15.3 acres which was finished in late 2016. There are plans to expand the Delta facility beginning in 2020 with the goal to add another 45 acres which may be used for tomatoes, pepper, cucumbers, or organics. The master plan for Delta is a total of 180 acres.
The Delta facility was strategically chosen due to its proximity to major roadways and distribution centers for major customers. With over 20 million people within a 5-hour radius of Delta, NatureFresh can provide fresh, high quality produce at competitive costs.
The Delta, Ohio facility will cost over $200 million dollars once completed. Once the last phase of building is complete, NatureFresh will have over 300 employees and will be paying close to $12 million in wages annually. In early 2019, there were 175 people employed in Delta. This includes 55 seasonal workers from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras all working on a H-2A Visa. The growing number of seasonal workers, along with the increasing revenue from the greenhouse, has led NatureFresh to propose onsite housing. The proposal is to build 2 housing complexes valued at $1-1.25 million each as well as a soccer field and a rec center. Each complex could house 75 foreign employees. Currently, NatureFresh houses the workers in two houses onsite as well as a rented property nearby. NatureFresh also provides English classes for their workers, transportation to local stores, appointments, and events, and assistance organizing other activities, including soccer teams.
With a focus on tomatoes, the Delta greenhouse features 12 varieties of tomatoes and produces over 28.6 million pounds annually. Some of these varieties, NatureFresh Farms has exclusive rights to. One of these is the Tomberry which is the world’s smallest tomato. Cornelius Neufeld strongly believes these exclusive varieties are an important factor in what sets NatureFresh apart from other companies. In addition to innovations in produce, NatureFresh also tries to stay at the forefront of greenhouse technology. Robotics are being integrated into both packaging facilities as well as the growing process. New technologies being tested include robotics for tomato harvesting and an automated pest scouting cart which can detect pests not visible to the human eye.
The innovative greenhouse process at NatureFresh Farms provides transparency in the food chain and promotes buying locally produced foods. The building of the Delta, Ohio facility created many new jobs and brought additional revenue to the area. By growing year-round, fresh produce is available even in the worst weather. This provides access to high-quality, cost-competitive produce to millions of people.
As NatureFresh continues to expand, they are moving forward with plans to provide on-site housing for their foreign works. The proposal includes two housing complexes that could house 150 workers, a soccer field, and a recreation center. This plan has been met with opposition from the local community but NatureFresh has worked hard to advocate for their employees and provide them with suitable housing, transportation, and activities.
In addition to advocating for their employees, NatureFresh also takes an active role in their community. NatureFresh regularly donates monetary funds and fresh produce to local nonprofit organizations. Cornelius Neufeld illustrated NatureFresh Farms’ commitment to their community well by stating “We really want to be involved in making the community a better place.”
Additionally, the core functions of the greenhouse promote environmental sustainability. The closed-loop water system conserves water by recycling runoff back through the system to be used again. The Integrated Pest Management system reduces the need for pesticides, resulting in less chemicals being applied to the tomatoes. Additionally, the PRIVA climate control system aids in reducing energy and water usage and maintains optimal greenhouse conditions to increase plant productivity. Moving forward, NatureFresh Farms in Delta, Ohio is hoping to partner with North Star BlueScope Steel to capture heat and carbon dioxide from the steel making process to use in the greenhouse. Conveniently located across the road from NatureFresh, North Star BlueScope Steel would also benefit from this partnership.
Cornelius Neufeld, Greenhouse Operations Manager
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Delta, Ohio, US
Business Website: https://www.naturefresh.ca/
Year Founded: 2015
Number of Employees: 51 to 200
NatureFresh Farms is a large independent greenhouse produce grower. Founded in 1999 in Leamington, Ontario, Canada, NatureFresh has an expanding location in Delta, Ohio, USA which focuses on growing a variety of non-GMO tomatoes. With a focus on quality, NatureFresh Farm’s innovate greenhouse practices produce flavorful, nutritious vegetables that feed millions of people in the US and Canada.