By Daphne Jackson
A new business in Corvallis intends to provide nutritious produce on a year round basis. Bitterroot Valley Greens, a greenhouse-based produce business that opened in Corvallis last May, is working toward year-round vegetable production.
Brian Jackson, originally from Boise, Idaho, first saw the company’s current location when a business partner in another venture brought him there after a meeting.
“I spent six months designing a greenhouse solution for local food production, and after working on that design, I realized I didn’t have the experience in operating an actual greenhouse to help me finish my concepts,” he said. “And that’s when we found this greenhouse that was for sale, and decided that it was the best opportunity to immediately start local food production with a solution that exists, long before we end up building the new and improved version that I’ve been designing.”
Jackson said he first became interested in the greenhouse business after reading reports from the food industry that it will be necessary to double the world’s food supply by 2050.
“So we have to absolutely double the total food production on the planet within a short window of time to meet the demand for increased food needs around the planet,” he said. “A lot of people in the world don’t have an adequate food supply as it is, and those needs are going to be taxed and grown dramatically. There are several reports that are stating that small scale local production, from the village in Africa to the community in Hamilton, Montana, the only way we’re going to actually meet the increased needs for food is to dramatically increase local production, local quality, and local varieties of food production within regional marketplaces.”
Jackson said the business’s goal is to grow food crops, with a particular focus on growing organic heirloom plants.
“Basically, our focus is on food production, so the primary crops that we grow are peppers and tomatoes, but also things like cucumbers and squash, and just standard vegetable and produce type of crops, but we specialize in peppers and tomatoes because of the type of facility we have,” he said.
The facility, which was previously the location of Bitterroot Restoration, includes five climate-controlled greenhouses that Jackson said will eventually be in year-round production, and a 120-foot by 300-foot unheated greenhouse that serves as a season-extender.
“It’s a combination between an outside garden and an inside greenhouse,” he said. “the roof opens, and the walls open, so the plants that we put in there get the benefit of full sunlight, and irrigation systems, and raised beds, and the benefit of growing in soils. So those plants are actually in raised beds inside of that greenhouse, but we close it up at night, and what we find is, those plants keep growing all night long, instead of having temperature extremes.”
As someone who comes from a background in mechanical engineering and business administration, Jackson doesn’t have previous experience in the greenhouse industry. He said he has previously studied a lot of the systems and pieces involved in this new venture, but he still faces some new challenges in this system.
“We come from a farming family that’s been farming in Idaho for over a hundred years, but greenhouses are quite different from farming crops in fields, and they’re much more of a production-oriented system,” he said. “There are a lot of systems that are fragile in the greenhouse, where if the sun comes out and the temperature starts rising very quickly, the fans, pumps and cooling systems are absolutely crucial. In the wintertime, it’s the opposite: the heating systems become critical, because we have watering systems that can’t be allowed to freeze inside the greenhouses, as well as the plants themselves.”
One of the greenhouses has housed tomato plants for nearly 10 months, plants that are currently producing tomatoes.
Jackson said the company will eventually make planting decisions based on the needs of customers, but it is still starting up, and will take some time to develop that knowledge.
“At this point, we’re a little bit out of step, and we’re planting and growing and producing what we believe the demand is out there for,” he said. “As we get past this first commercial year of operation, last year was really more of a demonstration of our ability and getting the greenhouses working… our goal is to really be customer-focused and plant what the customers need, or what they want for their facilities. This year, we’re trying to maximize variety and selection.”
In addition to standard vegetables, Jackson said he plans to grow fruit, such as currents, berry plants, cold-hardy grapes and haskap berries, which are not widely known within the US.
“The haskap berry is unique, and it’s very special,” he said. “It’s very new to the United States markets, but it’s well-understood in Asia. This plant has been propagated for centuries in the islands of northern Japan, where they have strong winters. They actually are native to Siberia, and in the spring when the blossoms come out, you can have a late-spring snow storm, and even if the temperature drops down to 18 degrees Fahrenheit it won’t freeze the blossoms on the plants.”
Jackson said these berries, which are frequently compared to blueberries, are three times more nutritious and higher in antioxidants than the blueberry.
“We actually found out about the haskap berry from Zach Miller at the Western Agricultural Research Center, which is actually just across the road from us, and just a half mile away,” he said.
After researching this berry extensively, and speaking to multiple people within the business, Jackson picked up more than 7,000 plants from a company in Saskatchewan, Canada.
“Our goal is to become a provider of berry plants, whether it’s currents, or haskap berries, or cold-hardy grapes for table or wine production, we want to actually produce the vines in this facility, and sell those to other people who are putting in vineyards and facilities and orchards, with fruit orchards and production,” he said. “This berry is quite special from an environmental standpoint, in that it works in places that have harsh winters, it’s a tremendous crop for Idaho and Montana, in places that won’t support warmer-climate types of berries. We really believe that this is an economic opportunity in this region, throughout the mountain regions of Idaho and Montana, to have an alternate food crop that can be grown at existing orchards or brand new locations as a specific focus.”
Jackson said many people within the community have helped the business along in crucial ways. He said one family in particular has been working with the facility for the past few months, with the eventual goal of setting up a roadside fruit stand in Hamilton.
“We’ve really been blessed in this community,” he said. “Several people have come to provide volunteer help, to help plant things, or help clean stuff up or help fix systems. We’ve had some families and some friends, and a lot of volunteers. Our goal is to be in a position to hire workers later on in the year, when we start harvesting products for commercial sales, but at this stage of the business, we’re really just a startup, trying to get the facilities in operation, and get the plants growing, and get them to mature.”
Bitterroot Valley Greens is located at 445 Quast Lane in Corvallis.