The first batch of tomato plants has been delivered to the Phase 1 NatureFresh Farms greenhouse in Delta, with a mid-February harvest scheduled.
“Thousands upon thousands” of seedling plants were delivered Nov. 25 from the company’s plant propagator in Leamington, Ontario, Canada, according to Chris Veillon, Nature Fresh director of marketing. The plants will produce typical cluster tomatoes on the vine in a 15-acre state-of-the-art greenhouse the company has constructed six months after breaking ground off State Route 109.
The tomatoes will be picked and shipped to Nature Fresh’s retail partners. They will be packed under the company’s brand name, “Ohio Red.” NatureFresh wants to expand its future product line to include bell peppers, and possibly cucumbers.
“We believe Ohioans will very much embrace a product grown in their home state,” Veillon said. “We will grow them 12 months a year. That is very unique in Ohio. To our knowledge, that has never been done.”
Different varieties of tomatoes will be grown in the county’s Phase 2 NatureFresh greenhouses. The two 15-acre facilities are already under construction, with a completion date in mid-summer of 2016.
A total of 12 greenhouses are planned at the Fulton County site by 2022. Once completed, the complex will be one of the largest greenhouse operations in North America.
“The increase in our acreage in Ohio will help us provide even more product to our key retail accounts in the Midwest and in Canada,” said Ray Wowryk, NatureFresh director of business development.
He said the demand for locally grown produce increases every year. “By reducing food miles and growing closer to home, consumers will have the opportunity starting in February to purchase Ohio-grown tomatoes in the winter, which is a first,” he said.
The company will continue to hire for the expanding operation. Veillon said prospective employees can get information at the naturefresh.ca website.
“This is a great day for NatureFresh to see the first tomato plants arrive here at our new greenhouse in Ohio,” said Peter Quiring, president. “We will be heading into 2016 with 130 acres in Leamington, Ontario, and 15 acres in Delta, for a total of 145 acres under glass.”
There has been discussion of reducing the county greenhouses’ carbon footprint by funneling steam from a nearby steel plant, “but right now we’re just very much focused on building Phase 2,” Wowryk said.
The company hopes to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the greenhouse complex next summer. Veillon said NatureFresh is excited to be located in Delta.
“The support we have received is astronomical. It’s an incredible honor to be able to establish ourselves there,” he said.