With over 175+ events in 8 US states and 1 Canadian province, our mobile Greenhouse Education Center (GEC) has experienced a lot in the last 2 ½ years. It’s travelled thousands of miles (and km’s), battled the elements, braved the storm, and crossed many state borders to bring the greenhouse to the city.
It all started the way most things do, with an idea, an awesome idea at that. We can’t bring everyone to our 130 acre greenhouse facility in Leamington, ON (or to the 45 acres in Delta, OH), but what if we brought the greenhouse to the people? Our Owner, quite possibly, one of the most interesting men in fresh produce, Peter Quiring, decided to do just that. Build it, but on wheels; make it look exactly like what visitors would see in our greenhouse. Most thought it was impossible and wondered how a fully functional (and automated) greenhouse could travel such far distances? That didn’t stop Peter; so, with our sister company South Essex Fabricating Inc, we built a greenhouse on wheels.
The GEC is a fully functional science project on wheels. Whether it’s the irrigation system, heating system, growing the plants in coconut husks, the energy screens or the venting system on the roof of the GEC, everything is an exact replica, piece by piece. When building the mobile greenhouse, we didn’t spare any expense nor did we cut any corners, as we wanted to give consumers an in depth look into how a greenhouse operates. And yes, the plants are real!
The mobile Greenhouse Education Center gives consumers an indepth look at our growing process, which also includes our live Bumble Bee Eco-System display. One of the most popular features of the GEC, we demonstrate to consumers how the pollination process works. No stone is left unturned and after a tour of the GEC, you’ll know exactly how your produce is grown.
Many customers are amazed (and quite honestly, some shocked!) when they see first hand how their tomatoes are grown. We often get the question, “How do they grow so big and look so beautiful, the ones in my garden do not look like that?”. It is comments like those that we hear the most, people just can’t believe what is standing there in front of them. They are big. They are real and look identical in our actual greenhouses. When you give a plant exactly what it needs, it can reach its maximum potential, which is proven with our mobile Greenhouse Education Center.
The #GreenInTheCity events are two fold; outdoor tours of the mobile Greenhouse Education Center and sampling of fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers. At all of our events, we offer samples of NatureFreshTM product, which is one of my favorite parts of the job. Some customers will approach our sampling table and may not be the biggest fans of the vegetables but are willing to try something new. If they have not been a fan of tomatoes in the past because of the lack of flavor, I am quick to make sure they know that the TOMZ® Red Cherry Tomatoes are a very unique tomato with a superior tomato taste; perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. Instead of giving them the detailed answer as to why it’s different, I ask them to simply try it. After one bite, they are convinced; there really is something different. It’s amazing to see their faces light up as they bite into a TOMZ® Red Cherry and an explosion of flavors set off in their mouths, “It actually tastes like a tomato!!!!”
I’ve participated in dozens of events with the GEC over the past 2 seasons and I have plenty of amazing interactions to share. The one that sticks out to me the most is when I got to meet a diehard NatureFreshTM fan in Mississauga, ON. She approached the GEC with a great big smile and I noticed she already had a NatureFreshTM grocery bag that we love to give to our loyal customers. Little did I know, she received this grocery bag last year when the GEC was in town and she was back again to receive her annual grocery bag. She was ecstatic that we were back and I encouraged her to make sure to come by again next to receive her 2018 NatureFreshTM grocery bag.
When we connect with school groups, both students & teachers are blown away with what they learn from spending time at the GEC. While the Bumble Bee Eco-System is a hot topic, so is learning that our plants are grown in recycled coconut husks. When you put some of the growing medium in the palm of your hand, it makes it all that much more real in explaining the sustainable growing practices we partake in. At the end of the growing season, the recycled coconut husks get recycled yet again, this time in to potting soil. We are very environmentally conscious and respect the opportunity of using resources that can be recycled after their use.
The lasting impression the GEC gives consumers always blows me away. Whether it’s the customers, kids, students, the retail staff or even the employees of NatureFreshTM, they are all genuinely amazed when they finally get to see the mobile greenhouse in person. “How long will you be here? I need to get my children so they can see this for themselves!” is also a common comment I hear and who can blame them? It’s a one of a kind science project on wheels!
The ability to connect with consumers to sample a greenhouse grown tomato or bell pepper or cucumber is one thing. Yes, the exceptional flavor of the item that they are tasting is what will generate the sale on the spot but when you have the opportunity to spend one on one time with a consumer next to live plants and explain that we are the grower and this is who we grow their non-gmo verified vegetables in a sustainable environment, it really connects the dots for them.
The mobile Greenhouse Education Center fills a void; it clearly demonstrates how NatureFresh™ Farms grows its tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers. From growing medium to plant type to irrigation, it is as plain as day. We know that the greenhouse industry as a whole will benefit from this initiate, we all have something to gain and all have the same common goal; to encourage consumers to eat more fresh! Confidence in understanding who grows your vegetables and seeing how they are growing is creating loyalty at the retail level. Now progressing through our 3rd season with the GEC, we see the impact that it has on consumer decision-making. We really do care about the future of fresh.
The next time you want to know how your greenhouse vegetables are grown and where they come from, I bet you will bump in to someone who will tell you about the GEC.
For a complete list of events this year, click here.