Category Archives: Vegetable Growing

Brightwater Farms Doubles Capacity with New ATI Greenhouse

Brightwater Farms, LLC is in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, a hydroponic farm that uses two greenhouses made by Agra Tech, Inc. of Pittsburg, CA. They recently purchased their second structure from ATI to accommodate more sales and enable them to achieve better and bigger things.

Owned and operated by two brothers, Andrew and Robert Toews, the business began in 2014 and now Brightwater Farms is a flourishing farm that grows specialty lettuces, including Oak Leaf, Butter Leaf, Watercress and Frisee. USDA GAP certified and a member of Colorado Proud, Brightwater Farms is a highly-respected green company that believes in sustainability and helping the planet in everything it does.

A produce wholesaler in Denver buys 80% of all the crops grown at Brightwater Farms, with the remainder going to local restaurants and grocery stores. The business is strong and sales are robust, according to Co-Owner Andrew Toews. “Right now, our demand outweighs our capacity, even after doubling the operation after acquiring the second greenhouse from Agra Tech,” he said. “We sell our products alive, which means the roots are still attached. Some consumers put them in water and that way they stay fresher right up until consumption.”

Brightwater Farms knows that the quality of their crops has to always be spot-on if the business will continue to be successful, Andrew Toews explained. “We need these lettuces to be uniform and they have to look good, so that we can keep our customers and the consumers happy. We always make certain that everything is perfect before it leaves here and that’s why we make quality control a priority.”

By acquiring the additional Agra Tech greenhouse, Brightwater Farms was able to add 8,640 sq. ft. to its initial 10,400 sq. ft. greenhouse, also purchased from Agra Tech. The structure also includes a head house, offices and bathrooms, etc. which makes it 100% enclosed, so that everything can be performed on-site and protected by the weather.

Toews is delighted with his expanded greenhouse and how it has helped his business. “The greenhouse does everything we need,” he said. “We are now able to produce 750 cases per crop every week, which is keeping us busy around here all the time. Crops we harvest today were planted six weeks ago, so we’re turning them quickly and like clockwork.”

Toews became initially aware of Agra Tech in 2014 when he met ATI Sales Rep Adam Pound at the annual ​Greenhouse ​Crop ​Production ​& ​Engineering ​Design ​Conference, presented by the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CEAC) and held at the university. “Adam made a very positive impression, so we decided to get a competing bid from Agra Tech, along with some other companies. After reviewing everything, we decided to go with Agra Tech and it was a great decision.”

With backgrounds in construction, the Toews brothers built both of their Agra Tech greenhouses themselves and are proud of the finished result. “Adam Pound told us that this is one of the best Agra Tech greenhouses he’s ever seen, which was satisfying,” Toews said. “Agra Tech provided us with a lot of useful information about how to assemble the structure and they’re very knowledgeable, so that was extremely helpful and allowed us to put together the best greenhouse we possibly could. We rely on our greenhouses to keep our production rolling and so we wanted to make sure that they were built correctly.”

Now with both greenhouses working well and helping Brightwater Farms to meet their production numbers, Toews is happy to be growing crops that are consumed by people throughout Colorado. “Collaborating with Agra Tech enabled us to double our business and if we had the space, we could double the production again, because the demand is there. People want our lettuces and that is surely satisfying.”

Written by Ed Attanasio
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Cover Produce & Agra Tech Have a Relationship Spanning Four Decades

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A multi-generation, family-run operation that grows some of the finest tomatoes in the area, Cover Produce in Tuolumne, CA recently acquired an Agra Tech greenhouse to increase their ability to grow tomatoes year-round. By working closely with Agra Tech sales engineer, Jim Bergantz and much of the company’s support team, in addition to Ag-Con, Inc., Peter Cover and his large family were able to erect a brand-new ATI greenhouse in a short time with outstanding results. This relationship has now come full circle, because believe it or not, back in the early 1980’s, Peter’s parents purchased an Agra Tech greenhouse that they still use.

On 30 acres of predominantly wooded land, Cover, 46, grows tomatoes for grocery stores and restaurants and delivers them weekly on a regular sales route. With the assistance of his wife and eight children (3 boys and 5 girls ranging in ages 2-23) Cover Produce grows tomatoes in the ground during the summer and in their new greenhouse starting in the fall and then harvesting throughout the winter and spring.

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New Agra Tech Solar Light 30 with Tomatoes

It keeps the Cover family busy–either planting or harvesting or delivering tomatoes to its clients, Cover said. “The tomatoes don’t stop growing and our customers need them year-round so going to a climate controlled environment during the winter is ideal for what we’re doing. It also helps that my family is very interested in this greenhouse project. I can see the passion in their eyes, especially with my boys.”

Cover’s parents got him into farming back when Peter was a youth, when his mother started growing decorative plants and creating “dish gardens” that quickly became popular. After doing it as a hobbyist, Peter’s parents decided to get a serious greenhouse more than 35 years ago, so they contacted Agra Tech and purchased one.

“My mom has a green thumb and her little greenhouse was too small,” Cover said. “It was a wood structure and they needed something larger, so they got a greenhouse from Agra Tech and it worked well. It’s still full of plants after all these years, which is a testament to how sturdy and resilient that these Agra Tech greenhouses truly are!”

Late last year, Cover and his family decided that the time was right to purchase another Agra Tech greenhouse, so they began the process. It wasn’t an easy task to get the proper permits and construct a 60 foot by 120 foot Solar Light Agra Tech greenhouse, but by tapping into ATI’s vast reservoir of knowledge and experience, it was covered, so to speak.

“Jim Bergantz was incredible,” Cover said. “From start to finish he was onboard and in tune with the project.  Since he has been in greenhouses from his youth as well, it was a real asset to have him covering for us” Cover said. “If we ran into issues, which were few, he was right there and willing to help us in any way he could.  We assembled the greenhouse ourselves. Ray Pound from AgCon set the 44 posts in concrete and the boys and I did the rest. I was amazed to see that Ray set those posts perfectly–he could not have been any more precise–they were dead-on and perfectly aligned. Everything was perfectly square, which was a big deal since we were building it ourselves. He set us up so that when we started our work, every bolt just fell into place. The instruction manual they sent with the massive bundles of parts was very thorough and gave very good instructions as to which part went where. It all made sense and was easy to follow. The entire support team at Agra Tech was terrific and was willing to do whatever we needed to make this project a complete success.”

The Covers burn wood in a furnace to heat their greenhouse–a method that allows them to have the structure at 65 degrees all night, even when it gets chilly in Tuolumne. “The furnace heats the water and then it is forced through duofin aluminum pipes,” Cover said. “The heat radiates from the pipes and into the foliage of the plants, heating the greenhouse very well.”

AgraTech Solar Light Cover Produce (4)Cover Produce is proud of its tomatoes–the only crop they grow in a controlled environment. By concentrating solely on tomatoes, the family has been able to produce some of the area’s finest and that’s why their customers covet them. “We grow grape tomatoes, and two colors of cherry tomatoes and mix them together for a basket of medley tomatoes. We also raise red round slicing tomatoes as well as orange cluster tomatoes.” he said. “I call the other mass-produced tomatoes on the market that come from Mexico and other places ‘pink things’. They have so little flavor and can only provide color to a salad. Since we are a locally operated business, all of our tomatoes can be picked ripe and most of them reach our customers within 2-3 days. Our tomatoes rarely sit for more than a week.”

What does the future hold for the Cover family at Cover Produce? “I am intently interested in helping my sons to take this business and watch it grow with them,” he said. “With this new Agra Tech greenhouse, we have doubled our winter time production and that is going to put us in a great position as we grow more tomatoes and expand our business as a result.”

Article by Edmund Attanasio

Delivery Truck

Delivery Truck

Putting up the gutters.

Putting up the gutters.

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Putting up the trusses

Agra Tech and CEAC Maintain a Healthy and Growing Relationship

Dr. Gene A. Giacomelli at the Greenhouse Tomatoes Cooling Studies at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Dr. Gene A. Giacomelli at the Greenhouse Tomatoes Cooling Studies at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.

The University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) in Tucson supports education, research and extension/outreach as part of the school’s Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering and the School of Plant Sciences.  Both within their the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the CEAC is known as the country’s leading institution for greenhouse growing education, featuring the finest professors in every aspect of this burgeoning industry. By staying ahead of the technology, the CEAC also offers an innovation platform for plant physiology, sensor technology and applied computer technology.

About Dr. Gene Giacomelli

He teaches Controlled Environment Systems which is an introduction to the technical aspects of greenhouse design, environmental control, nutrient delivery systems, hydroponic crop production, intensive field production systems, and post-harvest handling and storage of crops.

Giacomelli’s interests include controlled environment plant productions systems [greenhouse and growth chamber] research, design, development and applications, with emphases on: crop production systems, nutrient delivery systems, environmental control, mechanization, and labor productivity.

We recently talked to Giacomelli to discuss his role at the CEAC and how Agra Tech, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of commercial greenhouses assists the program by providing education and ongoing sponsorship.

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Q:  Tell us what you do at CEAC?

A: We focus on crop production in order to help the industry to grow, but we also teach the science and the engineering involved, to know why we can make it work or why it doesn’t work. So that’s what we do – we teach undergrads; we do research to create new knowledge; we teach graduates that help us do that research and then we have outreach and extension to get to the growers by inviting them to attend our short courses.

Q: It seems as though the professionals in this industry are willing to help each other even if they are competitors?

A: Yes this is a different type of industry in that regard. Agriculture in general I think – particularly the greenhouse people – are willing to help each other in a lot of ways. There’s competition, of course, but it’s beneficial too as more and more people succeed and that’s been raising the bar for everybody. And I think organizations like ours recognize and respect it from companies like Agra Tech. And that’s why we invite them every April to our conference in Tucson.

Q: From what we’re hearing, there are actually more jobs than students out there in the commercial greenhouse growing industry right now?

A: Absolutely. And that’s why I see all of these other states now at least putting together the horticultural side so they can educate and train students to be the growers. But we’re still going to need the engineers and the technical people as well. We have the engineering design program, but now we want to create a technical, non-engineering degree. Some people just don’t like the math – let’s put it that way. But yet they’re technically directed and they like to work hands on. They could do a non-engineering technical degree.

Q: How has Agra Tech played a role in what you’re doing at the CEAC?

A: Agra Tech comes to our short course year in and year out and they exhibit, which helps us to finance the entire program. It’s beneficial for the students and growers because they can meet the greenhouse reps and find out everything they need to know before acquiring a greenhouse for their particular needs. I was introduced to the Pound family back when I was at Rutgers University in the 1990’s as I recall.  They’re prominent people in the industry and well-known. Jim Bergantz and everyone else at Agra Tech see the bigger picture when it comes to this industry. They know that in order for this industry to grow, it needs education and support. So Agra Tech has been very good to us by waving our flag and telling people about our program.  All of the folks at Agra Tech are always there to say a good word  if somebody asks about a greenhouse – what’s a good buy, what’s a reputable one–I tell them,  ‘You’ve got to determine what you need by talking to the greenhouse reps and this is a good company that can assist you.’

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Article by Edmund Attanasio