Casey Houweling is a craftsman who is passionate about growing tomatoes. His quest for mastery of his art digs deep into the growing process to understand thoroughly what it takes to grow superior tomatoes. As Owner and Head Grower of Houweling’s Tomatoes, and backed by a strong team, including President and COO Kevin Doran, Houweling concentrates on what he does best — growing and the development of innovative, sustainable technologies.
Houweling’s father, Dutch immigrant Cornelius Houweling, established Houweling’s Tomatoes in the mid-1950s as a floral greenhouse and berry farm in Langley, BC, Canada. Today the hydroponic tomato and cucumber growing operation consists of three locations in Delta, BC; Camarillo, CA; and Mona, UT. In 2015, Greenhouse Grower magazine awarded the operation its Excellence in Vegetable Production award for its hard work, innovation, and dedication to growing.
Houweling’s Tomatoes Delivers Locally Grown Produce Direct to the Source
Casey has seen significant changes in the vegetable business during his 30 years as a grower. He says today’s retailers are searching for direct-to-source relationships, and consumers’ expectations of seasonality have eroded. Produce shelves stocked with year-round product from around the globe now fill in seasonal gaps.
“We as growers have had to evolve our businesses to position ourselves to meet retailer needs,” he says. “Technology has changed, and advanced sustainability practices are light years ahead from where they were 30 years ago. From a regulatory perspective, expectations on producers have grown and become a bigger part of our reality.”
Houweling’s Tomatoes cultivates direct-to-source relationships by focusing branding on the locally grown advantage, using “CA Grown,” “BC Grown,” and “Utah Grown” license-plate-type graphics to let consumers know exactly where their produce is grown. This differentiates the company from competitors that pack vegetables bought from various sources around the globe under their company brands. Among Houweling’s Tomatoes various brands are its Signature Selection, a premium line that meets the highest-desired quality and attributes for tomatoes, and a full line of consumer Home Harvest herbs.
Houweling’s Innovates to Grow Sustainably
Whether it is building customer relationships or outfitting its facilities for sustainable growing to conserve natural resources, Houweling’s surpasses industry standards in all it does.
“The function of Houweling’s three farms is to continue to exceed industry standards for locally grown, sustainable greenhouse produce, while at the same time pioneering innovative growing technologies,” says Brand Manager Lindsay Martinez.
Under Houweling’s leadership, the company built its first 6-acre beefsteak tomato greenhouse in Delta, BC, in 1985. It was the first commercial greenhouse operation in the area to install and use onsite combined heat and power cogeneration, while using wasted by-product heat and CO2 for plant growth. Today, the Delta location covers 50 acres and houses the company’s vegetable seedling propagation division, which supplies starter plants to Houweling’s three locations, along with a majority of greenhouse farms in Western North America.
In 1996, the company built a 20-acre greenhouse farm in Camarillo, CA, that eventually grew into a year-round tomato and cucumber growing operation with 125 acres under glass. The final 45 acres, added in 2008, feature Ultra Clima-style greenhouses built from a patented design that Houweling developed. The greenhouses channel forced-air ventilation to create over-pressure, which increases climatic control and crop yields while reducing pest pressures. Integrated pad-and-fan cooling and CO2 distribution deliver the ideal growing climate for quality crops.
“Houweling’s has become a pioneer of technologies that improve sustainability, food safety, yield, and consistency because of our quest for perfection,” says Chief Marketing Officer David Bell. “The Ultra Clima Greenhouse Casey developed is a product of this quest, optimizing conditions that allow crops to flourish with the right temperatures, humidity, light, and carbon dioxide levels.”
At the Mona, UT, farm, a recent 28-acre acquisition, Houweling’s turns waste into food. The company diverts waste exhaust from a nearby natural gas power plant to produce heat and CO2 for plant growth. Through a patent-pending process, it captures and stores thermal energy to meet on-demand heat requirements and purifies any remaining exhaust to create food-grade CO2 for the greenhouse to promote the growth of growth of tasty, healthy tomatoes for consumers.
Houweling’s Tomatoes Focuses on Conservation and Sustainability
As a business and farming operation, Houweling’s Tomatoes weaves sustainability and conservation into the company fabric whenever possible.
“Casey views the company as an extension of his family,” Martinez says. “His desire to leave a legacy for future generations is a key driver in the company’s commitment to conservation and sustainability.”
A good example of this focus is the California farm, where a drip irrigation system ensures water usage is at maximum efficiency, and onsite tanks along with a 4-acre retention pond capture rainwater and run-off. A closed-loop system produces fresh, sterilized water for use on the crops, which prevents soil runoff, reduces fertilizer consumption, and delivers an overall reduction in water consumption. Other conservation measures include a 5-acre photovoltaic field that generates renewable electrical energy, and solar thermal panels situated on a pack house roof to capture renewable thermal energy.
Three GE Jenbacher Cogeneration engines installed at the site produce electricity for the farm and export it to an electrical grid. Any excess power is sold back to the state of California. The operation captures and stores thermal energy and water vapor from engine combustion, and previously wasted CO2 is purified and piped into the greenhouse as fertilizer. The California operation diverts 37,000 tons of CO2 yearly. Water condensed out of the exhaust gas system provides approximately 14,300 gallons of water per day to greenhouse operations.
Houweling’s also makes use of beneficials and innovative pest control practices using natural extracts such as peppermint and cinnamon. Farmed bee colonies pollinate plants naturally, which is further incentive for the company to find natural alternatives to traditional pesticides. In the limited situations where pesticides are required, Houweling’s uses low levels, with strict adherence to label rates and reentry times.
Houweling’s Combines Art and Science with a Craftsman’s Care
Houweling’s Tomatoes’ efforts and dedication to excellence are nothing more than the end products of the company mindset — do what you love, love what you do, and do it well. Prominent on the Houweling’s logo is the phrase “Mastery Under Glass,” along with Casey Houweling’s signature. It is reminiscent of a stamp of approval with a personal guarantee. To the team at Houweling’s Tomatoes, Mastery Under Glass means harmonizing the art and science of greenhouse farming to deliver a quality product for its customers.
“Craftsman’s care is ultimately the secret to our success,” says Bell. “You can spend endless dollars on technology, but a grower must walk the greenhouse every day, watching and observing the crop, because in the end, plants don’t lie. You need to balance both the art of growing with the science of technology to produce the quality and consistency that we strive to achieve every day.”
Houweling’s Tomatoes Gives Back with Seeds of Tomorrow
Martinez shares details about a charitable program the operation created:
“The Seeds of Tomorrow program started after Casey Houweling, owner of Houweling’s Tomatoes, visited Guatemala at the urging of his oldest daughter, who had spent time there with her school for missionary work. In a mountainous area of Guatemala, Houweling’s partnered with a local school organization that not only provides the children with access to education, but also with a hot lunch, which in many cases is their only meal of the day,” Martinez says.
“The school had agricultural land on the hillside, but heavy daily rain would wash much of the planted seeds away prior to taking root. Inspired by the children in the schools, who had so little, but who expressed the joy of having everything, Casey determined there had to be a way to help. Focusing on what he knows, he proposed the construction of a small seedling greenhouse where vegetable seedlings can grow large enough to then be transplanted to the field and withstand the daily rains. Within less than a year, through the company’s efforts and many greenhouse industry partners and suppliers, a brand new greenhouse was constructed, vegetable seeds donations poured in, and the school began growing a wide array of vegetables,” she says.