The Greenhouse Alternative

The operational model offered by greenhouses mitigates both food loss and waste, and presents an alternative to the traditional produce supply chain. By growing crops closer to where they will be consumed, greenhouses reduce the time, cost, and energy it usually takes to transport produce to far-flung supermarkets. Paul Lightfoot, the CEO of BrightFarms, a greenhouse farm based in New York, says that his “hydroponic techniques use 90 percent less water, 75 percent less land and 98 percent less shipping fuel than conventional lettuce companies.” They deliver high-quality, reliable produce to local eateries and markets, disrupting a traditional model that continues to waste significant quantities of food.

In addition to the streamlined supply chain it facilitates, the greenhouse allows for another advantage: sensitive produce can be grown independent of the weather, providing a stable environment for maximized year-round yield.

For example, greenhouses have made it possible to grow fresh, juicy tomatoes in Iceland, a country whose volcanic soil and erratic climate have long prohibited traditional agricultural practices. In the past, most of Iceland’s produce was shipped from Italy or Britain — requiring, of course, a costly fuel expenditure for suppliers. Now, the farm produces one ton of fruit each day, sustaining the local food supply for surrounding communities.

All that said, most greenhouses are small enterprises, mainly yielding lettuce, carrots, spinach, leafy greens, and tomatoes. Thus, the need for large-scale produce farming and shipping remains. Despite their relatively limited output, however, greenhouses allow local communities to cook up and consume fresh produce year-round. And we’ll call that a major win — after all, who wouldn’t like a fresh tomato in the middle of winter?

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