Two things hit me when I got out of my car at Calais Farms’
greenhouse. First was the overwhelming aroma of ripe red peppers. Next was a
debate two guys were having near the front doors over the sustainability, or
lack thereof, of growing food in greenhouses.
But I was running late for the B.C. Greenhouse Growers’
Association’s open house in Abbotsford so I side-stepped the discussion and
followed my nose through the huge doors and into the staging area.
It’s a big greenhouse. Ten acres to be exact, and through the
sliding glass doors that lead to the growing area you can see, on either side
of a central concrete path, endless rows of super tall pepper plants dotted with
bright red peppers. They seem to go on forever.
Ninety-two thousand plants are in there, snug in their humid,
25-degree micro-climate. We just had to wait for our tour guide to get a closer
look at them.
This is the second year that the B.C. Greenhouse Growers’
Association has held an open house. This non-profit organization, which
represents almost all of the vegetable greenhouse producers in the Lower
Mainland and Vancouver Island, promotes research and education. And since I’ve
wanted to step inside one of these cavernous glass kingdoms for ages, I
couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
It had been a busy day, likely because people’s interest has
been piqued by the ever-growing number and size of greenhouses in the Lower
Mainland. Who hasn’t driven Highway 99 south and not noticed them glinting in
the Delta sun, or spotted them along the highways in Abbotsford?
Some of them are indeed huge, since the trend has been to
greenhouses of more than two acres, which are more efficient to run. But their
size also fuels at least part of the eco-debate: how they displace everything
from vegetation and voles to red-tailed hawks, and impact surroundings with
their bright lights and warm, moist exhaust, and consumption of water and fuel.
In all regards, the growth of the industry in B.C. remains a
fact. It started in the 1970s, but didn’t take off until the mid-90s. The last
period for which province-wide stats are available show that the sector
increased 135 per cent during 1995-2000, with annual growth around 20 per cent
in those days (it has slowed a bit).
Greenhouse produce grown in B.C. today is worth around $220
million-$240 million a year. About one-third of that stays in Canada; the rest
goes to the States. Even in California consumers find lettuce, cukes, peppers and
tomatoes with those cute little B.C. stickers on them — only there they
think B.C. stands for Baja California.