As February draws to a close and cold weather returns to the area, fresh, local produce may seem out of reach.
However just off Route 104 in the Town of Ontario, hundreds of workers are currently busy picking fresh tomatoes that will hit area shelves, often just 24 hours after leaving the vine.
It’s all thanks to a massive indoor operation run by a company called Intergrow.
Founded in 1998, Intergrow specializes in hydroponic tomatoes, currently boasting a half dozen different varieties that end up on the shelves of local grocers like Tops, Aldis and WalMart. The company is one of a growing number of facilities across the state and beyond who bring fresh, local produce to areas that otherwise would import such items from as far away as Mexico.
James Williams, Intergrow’s Key Account Manager, hosted New York State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball on a tour of the 35+ acre state-of-the-art facility off Dean Parkway.
The company is part of the NYS Grown & Certified program, an initiative to indicate the farms your products come from have been inspected for safe food handling and environmental stewardship.
Commissioner Ball saying of the program “Buying local is important to consumers and it’s important to growers and our economy. But when a consumer or wholesaler sees the NYS Grown & Certified symbol, they know it’s NY grown and that the farm is audited for both safety and their environmental stewardship,” things Ball indicated include their use of water and protection of natural resources.
Commissioner Ball saying of the facility that it is “off-the-charts impressive,” and that it has been “great to see the company grow.”
Williams says that growth is due to several factors, including strategic locations that currently put Intergrow Greenhouses within 24 hours of 60% of the US population. He also credits the company’s hundreds of employees, nearly 80% of whom are New York residents. With starting rates of $15/hour plus piece bonuses, Williams says many can make upwards of $20/hour, contributing millions to the labor market here in Wayne County and NY State.
A Walworth resident who grew up in the Wayne County farming industry, Williams feels right at home in his position at Intergrow. “It’s a controlled environment, but we still need to incorporate all the regular parts of nature.”
Although grow lights pepper the ceilings of the facility, Williams says they still rely primarily on the sun to provide the necessary light to grow. Bees and other insects are introduced as well to replicate pollination and fight off parasites or disease. But the rows upon rows of plants will yield much more than a standard growing operation thanks to the level of precision achieved moving an operation indoors.
That efficiency carries on throughout the facility, with semi autonomous robots carrying the boxes of freshly picked produce from grow room to packaging. In addition, the pitched greenhouse roofs collect over 90% of the water needed for irrigation. The company even manages it’s only fleet of trucks to ensure the quickest possible turnaround.
Beyond the Ontario location, which also serves as the company’s corporate headquarters, they operate two other facilities in Fillmore and Albion NY, with over 105 total acres under glass.
Williams says they’ve experimented over the years with different vegetables, but continue to focus on Tomatoes as there are so many different varieties to choose from and constantly different ones being created.
So while fresh Wayne County Apples may be a distant dream, a locally grown beefsteak tomato for your BLT is just a short drive to your closest retailer.
To learn more about the company including open jobs, visit their website at intergrowgreenhouses.com