Growing Year-Round in Greenhouses
PelotonPosts is a monthly interview with a member of PelotonLabs, a co-working space in Portland’s West End. This month, Peloton’s founder Liz Trice caught up with Gary Goodrich, the owner of Replenova Farm, http://replenova.com.
Liz: What are you growing at Replenova Farm?
Gary: We’re growing produce, saffron, ginger, turmeric, wild mushrooms, but our major product will be packaged sun dried cherry tomatoes in multiple flavors. The idea with a dried product is to be able to employ people throughout the winter. We’ve been working with Fork Food Lab to develop different flavors – seaweed, bonito… I’m taking samples with me to Japan this month.
Our first summer it was just me and one other full-time person, plus 4 part-time seasonal staff, and we picked and dried 2,000 pounds of cherry tomatoes. This year I will have 12 part-time staff, and we’ll grow 20,000 pounds of cherry tomatoes.
Liz: How did you get into this?
Gary: I’ve been a lifelong avid organic gardener and grow all sorts of stuff. I want to be a good environmental steward. So we want to use water wisely, make sure we’re building good soil, run the farm off the grid. We also want to pay people well – our minimum starting wage is $15/hr – and I want to give back, so we’re giving away cucumbers and cherry tomatoes to the Good Shepherd Food Bank.
It’s an organic operation, so we’re not using pesticides. We had some aphids last year, so we bought thousands of ladybugs, and now they’re living in the greenhouses. We also plant Zinnias – flowers – so that the aphids will be attracted to them instead of the produce.
Liz: What did you do before this?
Gary: I was trained as a biochemist, and for 25 years I had a biotech company called Bioprocessing on Riverside Street – we developed and manufactured raw materials used to make tests for diagnosing and managing cancer. I sold that company 5 years ago, which allowed me to self-fund this business. I really feel for new young farmers – farms in Cumberland County cost $1M and up – who can afford that?
Liz: Do you think your work will help young farmers?
Gary: I would like to develop a model that’s efficient enough so only a small amount of land is needed, we can give back to the community and pay our workers well. Imagine if anyone who wanted to farm could do that on a one or two acre house lot!
I’m already sharing technology with others: I have an insulated trough that I run solar heated water in, and can grow mushrooms and seedlings there. Using the high tunnel greenhouses adjusts your growing season by 500 miles, which buys us an extra 6 weeks of growing time and allows us to get out to market a month earlier, and I was still delivering fresh tomatoes to Rosemont Markets last year in November.
Liz: What’s it like in a greenhouse in the winter? Are they heated?
Gary: We have three 100′ high tunnel greenhouses and access to 15 acres in Cumberland. We don’t heat the greenhouses at all, but during the day it can get to over 85 degrees, and can drop to below 30 when it’s below zero outside.
Liz: I think we all would enjoy being in greenhouses in the winter!
Gary: It’s so therapeutic to be in the greenhouse in the winter. Even this time of year it’s a beautiful green when you walk inside the greenhouses! We’re growing winter rye now and we’ll till it back in the spring – it makes the nutrients in the soil more bioavailable for future crops.