A cool hot house furnishes lettuces nationwide
WASHINGTONVILLE – A field trip hosted by the local Full Circle Harvest group traveled from Muncy to Washingtonville for a tour of the Lakeville Specialty Produce greenhouse where lettuces are grown hydroponically.
Built in 1985, Director of Operations and tour guide Richard Towart came with the company. The local site was an extension to its predecessor based in Lakeville, Ct.
Towart explained, “Two men wanted to get out of New York City, so they founded the company and the engineering partner began a one-of-a-kind construction, as back then, hydroponic greenhouses were crude.”
Since then, the Connecuit site has been abandoned, and the Washingtonville facility with one and a quarter acre has been cited as the second most profitable acre in Pennsylvania. “Similar businesses come and go; we are the oldest continuous greenhouse of this type in the country,” Towart said.
In 1990, the business fell on hard times and was near foreclosure when a local bank backed it, and the next year and each succeeding year, a profit has resulted.
In the controlled environment, seven lettuce varieties are grown with another often tested for future sales.
The tour took visitors from seed to harvest beginning with sheets of foam cubes purchased from the Oasis Company, well known as makers of foam for both wet and dry flower arrangements.
The seeded cubes located throughout bays are placed in gullies with water flowing throughout furnishing nourishment for growth. When ready for harvest, greens are put on a conveyor belt where employees inspect them. Then the greens are packed in plastic trays, boxed and cooled between the two weekly shipping days. Cubes remain attached to ensure a live product.
“Our lettuces are sold and shipped to ‘high end’ restaurants, taken to a distribution point in the Bronx with others trucked to Newark Airport flown via United Airlines throughout the country. Our biggest customers are in Los Angeles and San Francisco. One wouldn’t guess that possible, but California grows lettuces outside and these plants are too fragile for machine harvesting,” the director said. Buyers within the area include restaurants such as Di Salvo’s of Williamsport. Elizabeth’s in Lewisburg, and the Pine Barn Inn in Danville.
Product from the site is considered ‘locally grown’ by establishments in Boston, Washington D.C. and New York City. “Produce received and same shipped is considered local,” Towart said.
Lakeville has 30 employees, with four or five additional part time helpers during summer.
The company has a charitable outreach as during summer, lettuces are grown and donated to Camp Victory near Millville. Whenever product is in excess, it is picked up and distributed by food bands in Danville and Watsontown.