Windset Farms’ 3 million-square-foot greenhouse — one of the largest hothouse tomato facilities in the United States — is up and running in Santa Maria.
The first crop of tomatoes will be ready for picking in mid-October, Windset President Steven Newell said on Friday. The tomatoes were planted in August in what Newell calls “Greenhouse One,” the first of four 32-acre Windset facilities to open along Black Road. Greenhouse Two is set to begin operating by the end of the year, while the final two will be constructed throughout the next decade as market demand picks up, he said.
Newell said Windset, which is based on his family’s farm in British Columbia, chose Santa Maria as the location for its massive hydroponic tomato project because of the dry climate and proximity to densely populated areas.
“Costco [Windset’s largest customer] doesn’t care if there’s a hurricane or a snowstorm, they just want their tomatoes,” Newell said at an Oct. 7 luncheon meeting hosted by Coastal Business Finance. “We chose Santa Maria because we can grow all year round, and there are 38 million consumers within a four-hour drive.”
Newell and his brother John began growing greenhouse vegetables on their parents’ Vancouver farm in 1996. The brothers started searching for a place to grow tomatoes and other vegetables hydroponically — meaning in bags without soil — about three years ago, when they noticed a demand for healthy, pesticide-free tomatoes. By 2009, ground broke on the Santa Maria project.
“California isn’t the best place to do business right now, but the Santa Maria farming community has been great for us. Everyone has welcomed us with open arms,” Newell said.
Windset, which will employ between 240 and 300 people with the first two hothouses, is the largest commercial development currently underway in the Tri-Counties.