Q&A with Ed Beckman, Certified Greenhouse Farmers

Ed Beckman, the president of Certified Greenhouse Farmers talks to Grocery Headquarters about greenhouse-grown produce and why the industry needs a standard definition for greenhouse. 

How much produce on supermarket shelves is greenhouse-grown?

Beckman: Greenhouse-grown produce, sometimes called hothouse, is increasing on supermarket shelves nationwide, particularly in the tomato category. According to Perishables Group using A.C. Nielson scanner data, more than 50 percent of tomatoes sold in supermarkets are labeled as greenhouse-grown. Simultaneously, demand for field-grown tomatoes is declining. Since 2007, the volume of field tomatoes sold in the U.S. has declined by nearly 30 percent.

Why is Certified Greenhouse Farmers calling for a standard definition of greenhouse?

Unlike certified organic, there is no standard, enforceable definition for what constitutes a “greenhouse.” This, combined with rising demand, has some growers and distributors mislabeling field-grown product as greenhouse grown. We believe that when a retailer or consumer purchases a greenhouse-grown product, he or she should be assured that produce labeled as greenhouse is, in fact, produced in a defined greenhouse. Without such protections, consumers are paying a premium for what is essentially a field-grown product masquerading as greenhouse.

What are the benefits of greenhouse-grown produce versus field grown produce?

The controlled conditions of greenhouses allow for consistent year-round growing, create a more uniform flavor profile, meaning a more consistent taste, and offer produce with superior appearance and color. In addition, the controlled environment protects against animal, pest and disease intrusion. In addition, produce is grown hydroponically, without the use of soil, eliminating the possibility for soil-born contamination and the need for herbicides or soil fumigants. Certified greenhouses also use less water, and water can be recycled and recaptured. In addition, greenhouses focus on prevention of pests by keeping them away to begin with, reducing the need for pesticides. Alternatively, greenhouse growers use biological controls, predator insects and other controls whenever possible.

Is greenhouse-grown produce the same as produce grown under protected agriculture?

No. Protected agriculture produce, increasingly grown in Mexico, is very different than greenhouse grown. It is not hydroponically grown and its environmental and climate controls vary. In many instances, the product is closer to traditional field-grown than greenhouse. Unfortunately, the two terms are often erroneously used interchangeably. Protected agriculture is often only concerned with controlling weather elements. For example, shade houses used in the production of field-grown vegetables may provide limited protection from wind and insect pressure, but don’t provide the benefits of a true greenhouse.

How can retailers or consumers know if the product they are purchasing was grown in a true greenhouse?

Retailers or consumers can look for the Certified Greenhouse seal, which means the product was grown in a true greenhouse and represents the best of the best in quality, food safety and environmental performance. All growers with the seal must meet a stringent greenhouse definition and undergo a food safety audit, such as a Global Food Safety Initiative benchmarked food safety audit, and meet a certification standard, which is audited by a third party.

What is the definition advocated for by Certified Greenhouse Farmers?

The definition builds off of California law, which prevents the marketing of produce as greenhouse unless the product is hydroponically grown in an approved structure. In addition, the definition is largely harmonized with that advocated for by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The definition defines greenhouses as:

A fully enclosed permanent aluminum or steel structure clad in either glass or impermeable plastic for the controlled environment growing of certified greenhouse/hothouse vegetables using together: computerized irrigation and climate control systems, including heating and ventilation capability; a soilless medium that substitutes for soil (under the greenhouse/hothouse); hydroponic methods; and Integrated Pest Management, without the use of herbicides.

Certified Greenhouse Farmers is a trade association with a mission to protect the integrity of the greenhouse-growing process, representing greenhouse farmers who produce in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. Members include Houwelings Tomatoes, Nature Fresh, Village Farms and Windset Farms.

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