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More people watching the rise of greenhouse certification

Following several years of research and review to protect and support superior standards of excellence in food safety and quality, the North American Greenhouse Hothouse Vegetable Growers Association announced in 2008 that it had launched a “Certified Greenhouse” program.

Today the organization, headquartered in Bellevue, WA, is commonly referred to as CGF, standing for Certified Greenhouse Farmers. It is a trade association of vegetable farmers who meet a strict and published standard defining greenhouse growing. These standards focus on production standards, food safety and environmental stewardship.

canadagreenhouseA Village Farms greenhouse located in Canada. (Photo courtesy of Village Farms) Greenhouses must be certified through independent audits, which verify adherence to the published standards. Certified Greenhouse Farmers protects the integrity of the greenhouse growing process through management of the certification program.

According to Perishables Group using A.C. Nielson scanner data, more than 50 percent of tomatoes sold in supermarkets are labeled as greenhouse-grown. Simultaneously, demand for field-grown tomatoes is declining. Since 2007, the volume of field tomatoes sold in the U.S. has declined by nearly 30 percent.

Greenhouse growers who are certified by CGF use the “Certified Greenhouse” seal on packaging and on greenhouse-grown tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce and eggplant.

CGF claims that grower members such as Village Farms LP, Nature Fresh Farms, Millennium Pacific and others — now numbering over 50 individual greenhouse operations — are now certified. It reports that these growers represent the next generation of farming. Many have long family histories in agriculture. They grow their products with care for the environment.

While the greenhouse sector is best-known for its many varieties of flavorful tomatoes, its growers have introduced new vegetables: colored peppers, both hot and sweet; cucumbers; eggplant; endive; and specialty greens.

Certifications for membership are done through independent auditing. A Certified Greenhouse is one that has met CGF’s definition and requirements for the controlled environmental production of tomatoes and greenhouse vegetable crops. Certified Greenhouse Farmers defines a greenhouse as a fully enclosed permanent aluminum or steel structure clad in either glass or impermeable plastic for the controlled environmental growing of Certified Greenhouse (sometimes called hothouse) vegetables that uses both computerized irrigation and climate-control systems, including heating and ventilation capability.

Certification also requires that produce is grown in a soilless medium that substitutes for soil — using hydroponic methods — and that the greenhouse supports growing through Integrated Pest Management and without the use of herbicides or soil fumigants.

The “Certified Greenhouse Farmers Standard” was developed to set forth a common set of requirements for the infrastructure and production practices in greenhouses that have already achieved certification in food safety and have demonstrated investments in advanced technologies. Ecological requirements ensure that the fresh greenhouse vegetables have been produced in a distinctly environmentally sound manner. The standard allows growers to benchmark with recognized sustainability practices.

CGF requires that its members produce premium-quality vegetables grown under verifiable production, food-safety and environmentally sustainable practices. These “Certified Greenhouse” vegetables are grown in a controlled environment where the farmer can closely monitor plant needs and adjust the growing conditions to meet those needs to produce optimum quality.

This controlled environment also protects the growing plants from weather and certain pests.

For years, companies who grow in true hydroponic glass- or plastic-enclosed greenhouses have struggled with an identity that would set them apart from others who use the term “greenhouse,” but grow in soil in structures like shade houses or tunnels.

With true greenhouse vegetables growing in demand, a clear standard and certification will help to educate consumers about exactly how the vegetables they are buying were produced — and this is a consumer trend that everyone agrees is growing.