In the August 1982 issue of sister publication Greenhouse Manager (now Greenhouse Management), Dr. P.A. Schippers, a former Senior Research Associate at Cornell University, speculated on the future of the greenhouse vegetable industry. Its headline was “U.S. greenhouse vegetable market: Feast or famine?” and examined the effects of elevated gas prices in the 1970s on greenhouse businesses. “During the early ‘70s, some experts predicted that the increase in fuel prices … would put the greenhouse grower out of business in a hurry,” the author states.

However, Schippers says that the growers who were most affected were those with “old, leaky glasshouses which needed large amounts of fuel to keep them properly heated.” It was then that we saw a decline in areas that relied on older greenhouses, like Ohio. Interestingly, Schippers mentions a shift from vegetables (mainly tomatoes) back to bedding plants. In Schippers’ words, bedding plants are “season-bound” crops, or plants that are only grown during a specific time of year. Instead of producing vegetables during the coldest winter months, growers were focusing their energy on growing bedding plants during a warmer time period, therefore reducing greenhouse heating costs substantially.

Another shift that Schippers mentions is one that has continued into the present day: relocating production sites closer to cities. “The interest in establishing greenhouses closer to population centers is growing and, once this interest has taken concrete form, it seems likely that a greenhouse industry near metropolitan centers will become a significant source of fresh produce of high quality for these centers,” he says. Later, Schippers makes the case for hydroponic growing methods, as “good quality horticultural soil” may not be found in urban areas.

One factor that’s remained constant is the need to continually innovate to feed populations during the entire year. This month, we’re looking at some of the women entrepreneurs that are doing just that in the world of controlled environment agriculture. We feature four trailblazers whose businesses are advancing the industry and availability of fresh produce in urban areas. One is enabling indoor farmers to better utilize their greenhouse system data to improve operations, while others have cultivated fresh produce and relationships with the community at the same time. Click here to meet these female innovators.

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