Without a doubt, the organic industry is in growth mode. Consumers can’t get enough of organic products, with more than 58 percent purchasing them every week. That’s why more and more producers are starting to grow organic crops or transition from traditional crops to greenhouse organic crops.
Across North America, greenhouse acreage is growing every year, says greenhouse vegetable consultant Gary Hickman, a retired greenhouse horticultural adviser for the University of California, Davis.
Consumers perceive greenhouse produce as “superior” to conventionally grown products and may pay more for it, Hickman says. A growing number of consumers are embarking on a quest to eat healthy, and many believe that greenhouse-grown produce will help them achieve that goal.
In Canada, producers can choose between above-ground or soil crops. Some soils are not rich enough to comply with, or are incompatible with, organic regulations, making above-ground production inevitable. Greenhouses make it easy to adapt to such situations, allowing producers to grow healthy and productive crops while respecting organic production standards.
The greenhouse provides an environment that is conducive to organic production management and allows producers to create their own growing environment, says Toronto’s Leonard Wong. “Greenhouses protect crops from a host of pests and diseases, extreme weather conditions and outdoor pollution such as pesticide drift.”
According to Wong, “more and more growers are moving back outdoors using the sun as their main source of lighting – the way it was intended to be. Large, indoor facilities that many growers are accustomed to require abundant amounts of energy, leaving unwanted carbon footprints. I have proven that growing with sustainable organic methods using high quality fertilizers is by far the most profitable and sustainable approach.”
Yet, not everyone would label greenhouse crops “organic.” Alex Travern, the head grower at Peace Tree Farm and a member of Greenhouse Product News “40 under 40,” discusses the confusion some have over greenhouse vs. soil-based organic farming.
“The organic growing community has something of a conflict of identity. There is a longstanding debate about whether hydroponic and aeroponic growers should be able to attain organic certification.”
According to Travern, vocal groups of organic farmers have held rallies demanding that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) keep the “soil” in organics, claiming that soil-less growers would sully the organic label and render it meaningless.
Organic farmers who grow their produce in soil argue that their vegetables have better flavor and superior nutritional content than those that are hydroponically grown, says Dr. Andrew Weil, an internationally recognized expert on integrative medicine, medicinal herbs and mind-body interactions. “Whether or not organic produce in general is actually more nutritious than conventionally grown food has never been scientifically settled.
“But better nutrition isn’t the primary reason to choose organic produce,” argues Dr. Weil. “The point is to avoid the pesticides and herbicides used and their potentially adverse effects on health and the planet.”