ROCHELLE, Ill. (WTVO) — Rochelle’s MightyVine greenhouses are expanding, building on former farmland that’s no good for plants anymore…at least, outside.
Inside MightyVine’s greenhouse, there are rows and rows of red tomatoes. The company’s workers and managers make the process of growing them look easy.
“Things change on a daily basis with a greenhouse, and you have to be very mindful about your growing techniques and patterns, and the living organism…is something you have to be very mindful of,” said Danny Murphy, MightVine’s Director of Business Development.
The greenhouse opened in 2015, and MightyVine’s first harvest came that fall.
Their “Phase One” operation sat on about 7-and-a-half acres. “Phase Two” doubled that a year later.
The company just celebrated the opening of “Phase Three,” which means it now runs three operating greenhouses, with another on the way.
“Each greenhouse has 100,000 plants,” Murphy said.
The plants, which come in about a foot tall, begin producing fruit in a couple of months. After that, there’s a new set of tomatoes every week.
“Everything happens once per week. We lower all the plants once per week. We twist the head of the plants around the twine every week. We de-leaf, we de-shoot, we prune every week. And, we harvest the plants every single week,” said Murphy.
The plants can last about 10 months.
“That’s why you have numerous greenhouses,” he continued. “You can clean out one, still be in production in two, and then kind of stagger that throughout the year.”
There’s no soil used by MightyVine. They use bricks as a substitute, and drip-irrigate the plants.
MightyVine recaptures all of its waste water, so its operation uses a fraction of the water used on field-grown tomatoes.
“For us, we can actually let our tomatoes fully ripen on the vine. The last few days are the very important part of the process. All the sugars rush from the leaves, making the tomato gain all of its sweetness and color,” Murphy explained.
MightyVine’s customers are mostly localized in the Midwest, something Murphy calls a big advantage to his business.
“We can actually pick to a ripe point for the tomatoes, because we’re not shipping across the country,” Murphy said. “Everything’s picked, packed, and shipped the same day, getting to our retailers and restaurants in 24 hours. I always like to say, ‘It’s picked today and on your plate tomorrow!'”
Murphy says MightyVine is planning for a Phase Four expansion, but there’s no hard timeline on that yet. The company hopes to start construction within the next year.