The popularity and volume of greenhouse grown products on the market are on the rise, says Joseph Sbrocchi, General Manager of Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers. This not-for-profit organization, which was formed in 1967, represents approximately 220 members who grow greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers on over 3,000 acres in Ontario, Canada.
“Of the three products grown by our members, tomatoes would rank first, followed by cucumbers and then peppers. But all of our commodities see growth every year and with the increased use of supplemental lighting during the winter months, we expect to see steady growth for years to come. This year, we are expecting a near 7.5% increase in acreage before the year’s end,” Sbrocchi says, adding: “We truly believe that the possibilities are endless for greenhouse fruits and vegetables. With the smaller land footprint and a much longer growing season, we see greenhouses as a solution to meet the increasing demand for food and to combat potential food security issues.”
Consumer awareness of ‘greenhouse grown’ is on the rise
In addition to a growth in acreage and volumes produced by greenhouses, the consumer awareness of greenhouse grown products is also increasing. “The education and awareness of greenhouse grown vegetables has been a challenge over the years,” says Sbrocchi. “However, all indications are that new consumers are really focusing on educating themselves on where their food comes from. Additionally, more consumers are moving towards plant-based diets,” he adds.
The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers work hard on educating the consumers about the benefits of greenhouse grown products, and this work has been paying off. “Our website is filled with great information, as well as a virtual 360 tour where individuals can guide themselves through a greenhouse from the comfort of their home or their mobile device. In some of our recent polling, we have also seen that greenhouse grown vegetables are looked at positively by Canadians. With that in mind, many of our members now clearly indicate ‘greenhouse grown’ on their packaging because we see it as a value-added statement about the product. Our communities have a growing sense of pride in our sector’s standing in the produce industry,” says Sbrocchi.
Greenhouse vegetables during the pandemic
Throughout the pandemic, the Ontario greenhouse vegetables have seen good demand. “As for many in produce, the nationwide lockdowns forced people to eat at home more, which served as a major contributor. In addition to experimenting with recipes, we also saw an increase in discussions around healthier eating with the notion of boosting one’s immunity. Snacking vegetables continue to drive growth as well, which is something that our lineup lends itself to very well,” says Sbrocchi.
Despite the strong demand, the Ontario greenhouse growers have definitely met their share of challenges as well. “These past eleven months have definitely had their share of challenges for our sector, especially regarding labor. In the onset of the pandemic, there were concerns on whether international workers would be able to come to assist farms in their production. However, OGVG worked with many of our stakeholders to help create solutions to allow these essential men and women to arrive. Since then, we have been vigilant in creating protocols, following guidelines, and being compliant with the demands of our health unit and government,” Sbrocchi explains.
OGVG has worked hard to provide as much support as possible to their growers throughout the pandemic. “We became a hub for all Covid-19 related information. We focused on providing PPE to farms that were in need, and we advocated best practices for on-farm testing and quarantining procedures. Despite all our efforts, outbreaks did occur and some of our members’ production was halted. But, as a sector, we have persevered and are more prepared now as our workers are returning for the 2021 season,” he says.
Sbrocchi concludes: “The first and foremost priority of all our members is the health and safety of our workforce. They are a vital part of our farms and communities and are key contributors to our success.”
For more information:
Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers