The Wonder of Local Organic Tomatoes in Winter

by April Turner-Girard

It’s an icy cold winter day with a high temperature of 20 degrees as I head out to meet Dave Chapman, owner of Long Wind Farm. I’ve heard through a colleague in the Leadership Upper Valley program that the farm made changes in the greenhouses, which now allows the farm to harvest organic locally grown tomatoes year-round. I’ve come to see for myself exactly how this can happen.

Dave leads me into the greenhouses and my camera lens immediately fogs up in the warm greenhouse. Ahhh … I am once again reminded of the temperature outside. I pull out my iPhone to continue snapping pictures. Bees fly by and I look to see where they are coming from. At the bottom of the tomato rows are bee boxes. “We use bumble bees. Honey bees would only try to get out of the greenhouse and hit the ceilings all the time. Bumble bees, on the other hand, pollinate the flowers and don’t need to bring back honey for the hive.” I make a mental note to snap some pictures later on.

Next, I notice the lights overhead but my attention is caught by the amazing stems of the tomato plants.

Dave explains that every seven days, each tomato plant is moved to the next spot down the line to accommodate plant growth. He uses his stretched-out arms as a makeshift measuring device to demonstrate to me one plant’s length, starting with the roots that are grown in the soil. The plant we are measuring is four arm spans, or the equivalent of 24. My next lesson is about the soil and how it clumps to the roots. We can tell a lot by the soil and its relationships. I note the subtle change in tone and a twinkle in Dave’s eyes as he explains this to me. 

I can’t even imagine how long it must take to adjust these hundreds of tomatoes plants every seven days.

Okay, so back to the lights that are making this job of growing tomatoes in winter even a possibility. Dave explains that about one year ago they installed lights in this greenhouse to extend harvesting even in the January and February months. The lights are all programmed. The lights go on when the sun does not provide enough light of a certain intensity during the day. When I arrive at 10:30 a.m., the lights are still on. About 11:30 a.m., I am caught off guard as all the lights instantly turn on. Dave answers the quizzical look on my face. “When the lights sense enough sunlight after a 15-minute interval, they turn off and let the sun streaming in the greenhouses to do its job. We only use the lights from November to March. That’s it.” My colleague Jesse steps into the greenhouse to make some adjustments to the lights.

Dave and I talk more about consumer choices and the power we can have as shoppers.

“If you want to know about your food, where it comes from, and the practices used by different organizations,” he says, “just ask. Just ask in the produce department, ask at the meat counters, learn about your food.” I listen and think about the food and choices I make for myself and my family on a daily basis. We step back into the first greenhouse and a bumble bee flies by. Dave gets back to work as I continue to take photos. I’ve learned a lot in just two short hours.

April Turner-Girard is a graphic designer and marketing assistant in the Co-op Member Services and Outreach Department.

NOURISH. CULTIVATE. COOPERATE.

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