Leamington, ON-based Nature Fresh Farms received the Outstanding Achievement Award at the Ontario Produce Marketing Association's Gala Dinner & Awards Ceremony, held Nov. 8 at the Liberty Grand-Exhibition Place. The award is given out annually to honor those who have significantly contributed to improving the industry.
"It was a great honor to receive the award," said Peter Quiring, founder and president of Nature Fresh Farms. A greenhouse designer, manufacturer and builder, Quiring began his foray into greenhouse growing as a demo model as he wanted to showcase an upfront investment in the latest technology was worth the cost. Today the company has grown into one of the more highly automated hydroponic growing greenhouses anywhere.
Innovation and forward-thinking is woven into the culture at Nature Fresh and state-of-the-art technology is the backbone. From flash cooling systems for Bell peppers, a hands-free packingline and an automated tracking cart system that runs on hot water pipes, technology abounds. In 2013, Nature Fresh became a zero nutrient discharge facility, ensuring all water stays within the farming operations and out of the environment.
Nature Fresh brought a fully functional miniature greenhouse to this year's Royal Agricultural Winter Fair held over 10 days at the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto. The fair welcomed over 300,000 visitors, and displays and competition facilities were sprawled over 1 million square feet. Nature Fresh was one of the highlights from the "For the love of food" section of the fairgrounds.
The working greenhouse contained three different varieties of tomatoes as well as a bee box. Information kits were available as well as specific pieces geared for teachers. Nature Fresh had experts on hand to answer any questions visitors may have.
"We've realized that a lot of people have misconceptions about greenhouse produce and think that all greenhouse produce is the same," said Quiring. "As we know there are various varieties that are superior to other varieties.
"We had our bio specialist come in, our food safety specialist, growers and staff," continued Quiring. He felt it was important not only for consumers to have access to the experts but also nice to have his team interacting directly with consumers and exposure outside of the produce industry.
"We're doing some taste testing here and having some amazing results. People think greenhouse tomatoes have no flavor, then they taste these," said Quiring.
They weren't selling any product at the show at first, but people were very upset. Nature Fresh quickly rectified the situation to satisfy the demand and brought in a variety of their tomatoes, peppers and fried green tomato boxed kits. They also had a chef on hand for cooking demos on the exhibition stage.
Being on hand to talk directly with consumers provided Nature Fresh the opportunity to dispel some myths. Some of the most common misconceptions that came up during the show were that greenhouse vegetables don't have flavor and concerns over GMO and pesticides.
"All Nature Fresh product is non-GMO," said Quiring. "Consumers don't know that we try to avoid pesticides by using integrated pest management. We have to explain to them what integrated pest management is.
Nature Fresh is intent on staying ahead of the curve, be it with its growing family of products, work on sustainability and food safety, or latest technologies. If there is equipment needed in future innovations, Quiring is likely to have a hand in designing and building it. As to the mini-greenhouse they brought to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, Quiring is considering making it available commercially.
"I'm very excited about the award, I do have a couple of new innovations coming out next year that I think will be exciting at the retail level," concluded Quiring, hinting at things to come.