Sunday, December 21, 2014

It's tomato season year-round in this place

This is a new greenhouse on the old Patterson Farm in Yardley. Guess how big? 56,000 square feet, the same area as Michael Jordan's mansion outside Chicago, the one that just went on the market for $29 million. I visited on Friday, and am writing a story for next week's Food section.

It's tomato season year-round in this place

This is a new greenhouse on the old Patterson Farm in Yardley. Guess how big? 56,000 square feet, the same area as Michael Jordan's mansion outside Chicago, the one that just went on the market for $29 million. I visited on Friday, and am writing a story for next week's Food section.

The greenhouse was built by BrightFarms, Inc., an interesting company out of New York that's growing fresh tomatoes, lettuces, greens and herbs for supermarkets. Yardley's is the first greenhouse, but CEO Paul Lightfoot tells me he's got a total of $70 million worth of contracts in hand - St. Paul, Brooklyn, St. Louis, Oklahoma City ...

The Yardley operation supplies several McCaffrey's Markets near the greenhouse and two SuperFresh supermarkets in Philadelphia, one at 10th and South, the other on Girard Avenue, in the city's new hipster zone. Produce is delivered the day it's picked, sometimes within hours. Imagine.

Paul's an athlete, and a fresh food fanatic, but he's also got experience designing distribution systems for retailers. With this job, he says, he's combining his expertise with his passion. Others I've interviewed say this is a novel idea - longterm contracts with supermarkets, which after all is where most people still shop, to deliver fresh, local produce year-round, from a hydroponic - soil-less - growing system.

The greenhouse was very warm - 70 degrees, which felt warmer because we were wearing those sanitary suits, with hair nets and booties, to minimize the chance of spreading germs. The tomato plants were huge, heavy with ripening fruit; the lettuces beautiful. Everything hydroponic, so they can control exactly what goes in.

Story's fascinating and fun, and you'll be able to read it next Thursday. Meanwhile, I've tasted the salad mix - delish. And the grape tomatoes. They've got thicker skins than other tomato types, but inside, sweetness. Beats those cardboard babies any day.

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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