Rooting for a Local Tomato
When a cold wind whistles outside during a Midwest winter, nothing sounds better than the warmth of summer and all that comes with it . . . the feel of warm sunshine, sounds of children splashing in a pool, or the enjoyment of cutting into a bright red, garden-fresh tomato. Yet, it’s difficult to get that delicious tomato in January. Enter MightyVine, a company that can help with Midwesterners’ winter blues since it grows tomatoes in a 15-acre greenhouse in Rochelle, Illinois.
When Local Foods, now a partner distribution company to MightyVine, started sourcing products directly from local farms to restaurants in Chicago about five years ago, it soon became apparent that sourcing fresh produce year-round, especially in winter, was a challenge. So it looked to a Dutch company, Royal Pride Holland, which is able to grow 140 acres of tomatoes under glass.
A partnership developed to bring seeds, technology, and expertise to the U.S., and that’s when MightyVine began. Construction on a 7.5-acre greenhouse began in 2014 and was complete in the summer of 2015. Shortly after the first harvest in October 2015, MightyVine doubled in size to 15 acres.
The seeds originate in the Netherlands, travel to a propagation greenhouse in Canada, and are then brought to Illinois. Tomato plants are on tables suspended from crop wire, hanging approximately 15 feet high. Rain and snowmelt from the roof is collected and stored in a 1-million-gallon retention pond. The water is then cleaned (UV treated), and through drip irrigation, the 200,000 tomato plants are watered numerous times per day. The drain water is then captured and reused for the same process, eliminating any agricultural runoff.
“Through this process we are able to use only 10% of the water that field-grown tomatoes use,” says Danny Murphy, vice president of sales at MightyVine.
MightyVine also utilizes integrated pest management. For instance, beneficial bugs (such as ladybugs) naturally combat predators (like white flies) that come into the greenhouse. Bumblebees are also used as natural pollinators for the plants.
Cherry on the Vine and Tomato on the Vine are MightyVine’s two tomato. The company is the only North American grower who produces these specific varieties (the Robinio seed and Forticia seed, respectively).
“The quality of the tomato has gone down because of the transportation needed to bring tomatoes to the Midwest,” comments Murphy. “Our goal is to provide a great tasting tomato to the Midwest from the Midwest, year-round.”
Because the MightyVine greenhouse is in Illinois, transportation is easier and shorter to local Midwest markets. Restaurants and grocery stores in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Iowa all have access to the MightyVine tomatoes.
“What’s exciting for me is hearing the stories and seeing what people can cook with our tomatoes,” expresses Murphy, “There are emotions associated with our tomatoes, which isn’t something that usually happens. So it’s cool and unique to hear about these feelings created by our product.” As for the future, Murphy feels that greenhouses will become more popular for growing produce.
“There are many great resources in the Midwest, so why should we grow something far away if we can grow it nearby? We can provide better tasting options that are transported fewer miles.”
So the next time you cut into a bright-red Tomato on the Vine, consider that although it hasn’t traveled hundreds of miles, the story behind it has a lot of traction.
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