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California endive grower builds trailblazing chicory root facility

California Vegetable Specialties, a major grower of Belgian-style endive, recently dedicated a new 20,000-square-foot chicory root cold-storage facility next to its grow out operation in Rio Vista, CA. Designed by Integrated Structures of Berkeley, CA, this state-of-the-art facility could save the company up to 75 percent in energy costs, and repay the cost of the entire facility in 17 years.

Each spring, chicory seeds are planted in stages at several locations in Northern California, harvested for the roots from September until January endive-garland-cuttingRich Collins, founder and president of California Vegetable Specialties, and Luc Darbonne, his partner at S.C. Darbonne, Milly-la-Foret, France, cut an endive garland to celebrate the dedication of their new chicory root cold-storage facility.and then placed in 29-degree cold storage for a 30 days to 10 months. As demand requires, roots are pulled, planted in trays in completely dark, temperature-controlled forcing rooms where it takes three to four weeks to grow each head of endive.

"The facility is the realization of a dream of many, many years," Rich Collins, CVS president and founder, said in a release. "We really started from scratch, conferring with construction people, contractors and cold-storage operators in the U.S. and Europe.

"Our major priorities were to make the new building energy efficient, affordable, safe and to provide an ideal place to store chicory roots," he added.

Before the cold-storage facility was built, California Vegetable Specialties stored its roots at Lomo Cold Storage, Live Oak, about 100 miles to the north.

Pioneering Design

For the last couple of decades, Gary Black of Integrated Structures, an associate architecture professor at the University of California-Berkeley, had been experimenting with unconventional designs for better buildings, ideas to make those in quake- and fire-prone regions of the world safer and more stable, and those located everywhere more energy efficient.

Mr. Black says that this Energy Mass (EM) wall system creates a structure that is not only highly quake and fire resistant, but produces zero construction waste and boasts an energy efficiency that is off the charts.

California building codes only require R-28 insulation for similar buildings. This building provides an R-100 insulation factor and requires a smaller refrigeration unit to maintain cold temperatures. "There is not a wall system anywhere on this planet that has an R100 core,” said Mr. Black."

The insulation is surrounded by two layers of concrete, three inches apart, one on the outside and one on the inside. Both layers are very thin and separated by foam tied together with a piece of fiberglass that doesn't conduct any thermal bridge, creating a wall that's 30 times more resistant to an earthquake than an equivalent six-inch solid wall.

"It took a community to build this, led by maverick endive producer Rich Collins, who doesn't like staying in the status quo," said Mr. Black. "He went out on a limb with us and took a big chance, even though we've never built a building this big or tall, nor ever built a cold-storage freezer. He had a vision."

Well Positioned for the Future

Started by Rich Collins and his wife Shelly in 1983, with just five acres of endive, California Vegetable Specialties is now planting its 30th crop and looking to produce nearly 5 million pounds of endive this season.

"Just as skeptics 30 years ago said the production of endive was impossible, there are many others who said that a cold storage is a cold storage, is a cold storage," said Mr. Collins, "and we should not stray from that Title 24 status quo of R28. We didn't abandon our roots as Rebel Farms, our initial company name, and maintain the status quo but strayed from the status quo for all the right reasons. The result is maybe the most efficient cold-storage building in America."

Mr. Collins and his partners, S.C. Darbonne, Milly-la-Foret, France, believe in the long-term viability and expansion of their Belgian endive business in the United States.

"We feel we're well positioned for our future. We're in the right business at the right time, producing the right product for an American consumer that has rediscovered the importance of wellness as an outcome of good food and lifestyle choices,” the company stated in the release. “And a key element that will enable us to do that is this building."