Fresh Ohio veggies in winter? Here’s why

Chances are you’ve been noticing more Ohio-grown produce at your grocer, and not just in summer but in winter, too.

Turns out there are good reasons for it, including a red-hot industry, support from CFAES, and warm, cozy shelter from the storms.

Big growth

Ohio’s greenhouse industry is booming, said Chieri Kubota, professor of controlled environment agriculture in the CFAES Department of Horticulture and Crop Science. With excellent access to water, interstates, and millions of consumers, plus a long history in greenhouse production, Ohio has recently attracted expansions by major companies.

Ohio’s greenhouse tomato acreage alone rose by five times in five years, Kubota said, based on the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

Ohio’s other greenhouse crops include cucumbers, peppers, and lettuce, to name a few—all of which, thanks to their greenhouses, are able to thrive in the state year-round.

Hydroponics

Almost all of Ohio’s commercial greenhouse veggies, Kubota noted, are produced by hydroponics. Crops grow either in trays floating in nutrient-rich water or rooted in soil-less media. Among its benefits, hydroponics conserves water and limits nutrient loss.

CFAES scientists

CFAES, as part of its land-grant mission, supports cutting-edge greenhouse experts and facilities. Recent new studies, for example, are optimizing climate conditions and nutrient solutions for leafy greens.

CFAES scientists host a Greenhouse Management Workshop every year—a chance for growers to learn the latest findings—and have done so since 1999. The next one is Jan. 16–17, 2020, in Wooster.

The new, state-of-the-art Controlled Environment Food Production Research Complex is planned for CFAES’ Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory in Columbus.

Together, especially when it comes to hydroponics, Kubota said, “no other land-grant university in the U.S. has this complete set of expertise.”

CFAES-trained grads filling jobs

Students graduating with greenhouse-related degrees are in big demand, Kubota said. Nationally, including in Ohio, “there are tons of (greenhouse-related) jobs available,” she said.

In Columbus, CFAES majors related to greenhouse production include plant health management; plant pathology; entomology; sustainable plant systems; and food, agricultural, and biological engineering.

In Wooster, at Ohio State ATI, CFAES’ two-year degree-granting unit, greenhouse-related majors include horticultural science, agricultural systems management, and greenhouse and nursery management.

Kubota said her own lab, the Controlled Environment Plant Physiology & Technology Lab, trains graduate students in both the science and technology of greenhouse production.

“There is no problem for them getting a job,” she said.

Fresher, local produce

Kubota said lately, for the first time, she’s been seeing packaged, Ohio-grown spring mix salads in her supermarket.

“It’s a pleasure to find that,” she said. “I’m so glad stores are carrying more produce from local growers. There’s such an obvious difference in freshness and quality.” (Photo: Hydroponic greenhouse lettuce, Getty Images.)

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