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US (ME): A day in the greenhouse with Backyard Farms' Head Grower

He knows the greenhouse like the back of his hand. Every employee, every plant, every type of insect. If you ever have a question about the greenhouse, you go to Arie.

Backyard Farms' Head Grower, Arie van der Giessen, grew up in the Netherlands, a country where greenhouse food production is one of the most concentrated in the world. His father, also a grower, would take Arie through the greenhouse at only 6 years old and let him tend to the tomatoes and other plants being grown.

He has over 30 years experience in the industry, but believes there’s always something new to learn in the greenhouse. Arie is always looking for ways to improve – better planting schedules, different tomato varieties, new ways to manage pests and diseases.

The day starts in his office, where he checks sophisticated monitors to gauge everything from temperature changes to moisture levels. A few adjustments made and he begins his first (of many) walks through the greenhouse. He stops to look at the plants frequently – their leaves, their fruit, their colour…

“The plants are always honest,” Arie says. He can tell if a tomato has adequate potassium and calcium levels just by looking at it. Are they a little dull in colour? That means their water balance is slightly off. It’s a balance of science and data as well as Arie’s tomato know-how.

His role in an ever-changing environment is to make adjustments based on what the plants and other factors are telling him. These incremental changes are essential to a thriving ecosystem and of course, delicious tasting tomatoes!

He meets with the growers and checks in on the plants. As he walks through the rows, he takes note of the change in climate and conditions, frequently checking the fruit for temperature and quality.

Arie spots flat leaves on some of the plants: “A flat leaf indicates a stressed plant, a plant that has leaves with some curl has resources to draw on.” Some small adjustments made and a few days later, the leaves curl like the other healthy plants under his watch.

After a few emails and a couple meetings, Arie’s back to the greenhouse. He makes fine-tune changes and ensures everything is in balance, always with a big smile on his face.

“Smile, the tomatoes know,” Arie always says. It’s one of his rules in the greenhouse, one that everyone at Backyard Farms has come to believe.

For more information
Backyard Farms
131 River Road
Madison, ME 04950
tel: 207-696-5300
www.backyardfarms.com

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