Stacy Cramp for the New York TimesThe drawbacks of such a system are easy to see. Energy use is the biggest issue with greenhouses. Backyard Farms in Madison, Maine uses an amount of energy in 32 minutes that would equal the amount used by an American household in 1 year. Greenhouses are much more prolific, generating 700 metric tons per hectare to the field's 34. However, even this difference is not enough to offset operation costs. It is estimated that $1.25 million must be initially invested per hectare - excluding operation and harvest costs. When asked whether shipping tomatoes from Mexico to Maine is greener than his locally grown greenhouse tomatoes, the chief executive of Backyard farms put it simply: "We're redder." Clearly there's some information we've been spared here. I also can't help but question what we're doing to the land under these greenhouses, and if it's truly healthy. These aren't small greenhouses you can walk through in five minutes, Backyard Farms' building is the size of 32 football fields. A greenhouse in Leamington, Ontario, a world leader in greenhouse produce, covers roughly 1600 acres.
So how do the greenhouses justify themselves? They have some pretty convincing points. A greenhouse can keep income and jobs local year-round. The risk of weather-related crop damage is eliminated. Backyard Farms also boasts heat blankets, rainwater harvesting, biodegradable supports, recyclable packaging, etc. They've also brought in bees to do their pollinating, and wasps to keep the pests at bay. Greenhouse farming is also a much more traceable process, which is important for food safety concerns. It is a controlled and isolated environment (less contamination) and the tomatoes can usually be traced back specifically. This is the type of control, however, that would be appealing to large corporations. I believe it's only a matter of time before these greenhouses become exploited by the CR4 to be able to control more of the market. This is an example of horizontal integration, in that a company can have ownership over more types of food production. We can also see this as vertical integration. If Heinz can start growing tomatoes year-round right next to where it makes ketchup in Pittsburgh, this cuts enormous costs for them and increases production by a tremendous margin.
Stacey Cramp for The New York TimesA 2005 study found that there has been a 600 percent increase in North American greenhouse tomato area from the early 1990s to 2003. Consumer taste is mostly to blame for this enormous increase. Society has become so used to out-of-season produce, it demands it. Not only is it generally expected to have fresh, bright red tomatoes year round, but we also want to be able to choose which variety to purchase as well. Greenhouses allow growers to experiment with different types of produce because of the quick turnover time. Even within the tomato industry, new trends seem to enter the stores every few months. Recently it has been on-the-vine, next up are "cocktail tomatoes." An article in the New York Times likened these to "Tomato McNuggets" - an analogy that is very close to the roots of this trend. We're seeing McDonadization in yet another sector of society. We have variety, convenience, and nutrition in a neat little package - one that a corporation has designed for your business and its profits. Once again, we fall into the trap of romanticizing this illusion of choice and diversity.
From the research I've done, I'm convinced greenhouses are taking us down a slippery slope. The costs outweigh the benefits, and I feel that the current issues will only become larger and more complex in the coming years. I can wait until late summer for authentic tomatoes.
What do you think?