Tag Archives: greenhouse grower

Trevor Airola: The Student Becomes the Teacher

Trevor with the first group of FFA students to go through the program While most 24-year-olds are out there finding themselves and considering their career options, Trevor Airola has already landed the job of his life and if everything works out for the young man, it will be the only position he will ever hold.

A former graduate of the nationally renowned Agriculture Program at Bret Harte Union High School in Angels Camp, CA, Airola has returned to become an instructor for the school’s Agriculture Department after graduating from California State University, Chico with a BS in Agricultural Science in 2013.

Carrie Phillips, one of Airola’s teachers at Bret Harte, now works with Trevor. She recognized his enthusiasm for this field almost immediately, so she is not surprised that he is back as an instructor. “Oh absolutely, his passion was evident right away and he wanted to learn as much as he could,” she said. “Under the mentoring of Roy Beck, our former director (now retired), Trevor has accumulated extensive knowledge and is always excited to share it with his students. I predict a great future for Trevor as a teacher and a leader here at Bret Harte.”

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There are three pathways that agriculture students can choose from at Bret Harte High School, including Agriculture Science, in which they learn about basic plant and animal science, California agriculture, citizenship and leadership. The second pathway is agricultural mechanics, where they can study about things such as welding, woodworking and fabrication, for example. And the third pathway offered by the department is the horticultural concentration, dealing with subjects like floral design and plant science. For all of their classes every Ag student receives UC/CSU A-G credits upon completion.

Agra Tech’s Jim Bergantz is known as the school’s “Green Father”, because he has helped the program in so many ways, Airola explained. “Jim Bergantz is a wonderful person, because he cares about the greenhouse industry and is willing to consult us on how to do things the right way. He showed us what to plant and how to market it. He provided us with a manual that clearly describes each step and we refer to it often. We re-did our irrigation, made the greenhouse virtually turnkey and made it ready for plants. Without Jim and Agra Tech, we would not be where we are now.”

When Airola needed assistance with a greenhouse retrofit at a previous school, he called Bergantz for help. “I told him, I am going to need to contact Agra Tech and I asked him does he know anyone there?” Well, Jim told me–‘I am your guy’. He had just been hired as a sales rep by Agra Tech and I thought–wow, this is cool! So, by working with Agra Tech and Jim, we got it done!”

The Ag Department at Bret Harte is considered by many to be one of the best in the country, with one-third of the school’s enrollment involved in one or more of the school’s three pathways. “I used to have to recruit students to enter this program back when I was a student myself or when I was working with the department while attending college,” Airola said. “But, now that I am here–all of my classes are full. We have no more room so we’re literally turning kids away.”

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Newly married and now poised to perform at a high level in the best job he’ll ever have, he explained, Airola is both grateful and hopeful. “Yes, this is a dream job and a special opportunity. If I can even come close to filling Mr. Beck’s shoes after three decades in this position, I will be very happy. Teaching kids to becoming better people and leaders while showing them how to produce food–that’s a big deal.”

As the greenhouse growing industry continues to gain momentum, Airola believes that his students will be in a good position when they graduate from one of the pathways offered at Bret Harte. “There is a huge need for people who know how to manage greenhouses, so our graduates will be in demand. There are opportunities for college scholarships and so many other options for them to choose from. It is an exciting time in this industry, because of the technology and how it is changing all the time.”

So, in 30 years, when greenhouses produce a new crop every week and students drive autonomous cars to and from their personal greenhouses, will Trevor still be there showing them the way? “I sure hope so,” he said. “This is my hometown and I would really love to stay here for many, many years. As my students get out there in the industry, I am hoping that some of them too will come back and help us in some capacity, which would be great.”

Written by: Edmund Attanasio
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California Berry Cultivars is a World-Class “Strawberry Start-Up”

Agra Tech Solar Light 30 x 60' long with Benches, a Roof Vent for natural ventilation, Fan & Pad cooling, Heating, and Energy Saving Shade Curtains.

Agra Tech Solar Light 30 x 60′ long with Benches, a Roof Vent for natural ventilation, Fan & Pad cooling, Heating, and Energy Saving Shade Curtains.

To develop the strawberries of the future with all of the attributes that a strawberry lover covets–such as sugar content, juiciness and that perfect texture–California Berry Cultivars (CBC) in Oxnard, CA is using cutting-edge technology to create amazing strawberries. And that’s why they recently purchased a 1,800 square foot Solar Light greenhouse from Agra Tech, commercial greenhouse manufacturer. CBC has been using this greenhouse since mid-2016 to achieve their pursuit of the ultimate strawberry.image010

CBC’s Project Leader Kyle VandenLangenberg, 32, has a PhD in Horticulture and his role in the company is to successfully complete its mission of developing and releasing new varieties (or cultivars) for strawberry growers through the process of plant breeding. This involves crossing unique things together to create unique combinations. By testing literally thousands of different types of strawberries produced from dozens of different cross combinations and whittling the number down to less than a handful, VandenLangenberg is able to find the best-of-the-best while discarding the rest, he explained.

“We’re taking a ‘shotgun’ approach in order to find that one type of strawberry that will possess all of the qualities we’re looking for,” VandenLangenberg said. “We run these large numbers in order to find a strawberry plant that is hopefully superior over the previous ones and that is why we’re using this Agra Tech greenhouse. It’s an environment that is very conducive to growing mother plants and monitoring pollen production as well as germinating the seeds we produce in order to grow seedlings. Strawberry plants are extremely delicate, especially when they’re very young, so we need a sophisticated structure like this greenhouse to do all of our work the right way.”

When the strawberry plants are babies (less than a 1/2 centimeter wide), they’re called “germinates” and extremely sensitive to the temperature, humidity, and moisture content of the growing medium they’re in. This is a very crucial time in their lives and that’s why CBC needs a greenhouse that can protect them during this stage.image005

“We need complete environmental control and when you lose that, things can really go wrong,” VandenLangenberg said. “You can get disease outbreaks, slow growth or growth that is too rapid and time is everything when it comes to strawberries. We have to germinate on a specific day and we need to see a certain amount of growth by the time we take them out of the greenhouse and plant them in the ground. It’s a balancing act all the time in this business.

You can’t afford to cut corners or make a mistake when you’re trying to create the greatest and latest strawberries of the world, VandenLangenberg said.  “Strawberries are a crop where the errors of the past will haunt you in the future and that’s why this greenhouse is such an important part of what we’re doing here. If the early steps that we take in the greenhouse are done incorrectly we will pay down the road, so we have to get it right the first time if we’re going to succeed. Because the development time for new cultivars is between 6 to 10 years, mistakes earlier on could really set us back. So, creating an environment that we can completely control and rely on is a must.”

CBC’s busy schedule will keep their Agra Tech greenhouse busy 10 months out of the year. The company’s cross-breeding is performed in the winter months, followed by a rolling seed collection process through the spring. After a quick clean and turn-around they switch gears and begin germinating in July and grow their transplants for the next two months. CBC will produce roughly 100,000-plus seeds and thousands of transplants every year, according to VandenLangenberg.

Working with Agra Tech to get a greenhouse that would fit their needs, specifically, was a huge step, VandenLangenberg explained. “We realized early on in the process that we needed a top-end greenhouse and that’s what we have. We’re a small startup company so value was a major factor and we looked at a wide range of options before selecting Agra Tech. Kira Construction built the greenhouse based on Agra Tech’s recommendations and it was completed right on time.”

In order to set themselves up for a bright future, VandenLangenberg and his team worked closely with their Agra Tech’s sales engineer Jim Bergantz. “We started the conversation with Agra Tech back in 2015 and were immediately impressed by Jim Bergantz for his knowledge about the industry. We sat down and put together a plan that had everything we needed. The service that Jim provided was great and he really worked with us to get it done. There are two departments within the greenhouse, separated by a custom designed inner-wall, allowing us to run two separate environments exactly the way we want it.”

Now that CBC’s Agra Tech greenhouse is up and running VandenLangenberg is confident that he made the right decision by going with Agra Tech, he said. “There’s a bunch of plants in there right now and they’re doing well, so yes–I am happy about our decision to go with Agra Tech and we hope to work with them more in the future as our business grows.”

Article by Edmund Attanasio

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Agra Tech Solar Light 30′ x 60′

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Completed greenhouse showing screen boxes over the exhaust fans

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Construction meeting

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