If you love tomatoes on the vine, you probably love summer when fresh tomatoes are plentiful. Now, thanks to hydroponic methods, you can get locally grown vine-ripened tomatoes all year round.
One hydroponic farming operation is located in Rochelle, Illinois. According to an article in the February 12, 2018 issue of The Beacon-News, “the glass-enclosed facility consists of two 7 1/2-acre greenhouses that today produce a total of 9 million pounds of tomatoes annually.” They are sold at Jewel food stores under the MightyVine label. The facility also supplies tomatoes to over three-hundred Chicago-area restaurants. In addition, MightyVine canned tomatoes are sold to area Whole Foods and Jewel stores.
Developer Daniel Murphy, who owns the Rochelle facility, said the idea came from his dad, “an Italian-Irish man who was raised in the Chicago area and knows the food industry here. This was my father’s passion and vision, and he always felt the issue was how to have fresh produce here year-round.”
Murphy continued, “Tomatoes are 90 percent water and don’t transport well and are often picked before they’re ripe, which means not having their true color or taste.” MightyVine boasts its tomatoes “are picked today and on your plate tomorrow.”
Murphy said that the company employs 100 workers and that “we have applications on file for 300 more people waiting to get a job here. People get to work in a (climate) controlled environment 365 days a year where it’s never too hot or too cold, and we have our own ecosystem where we use rainwater and collect it in barrels, and water is provided directly to the roots.” Murphy continued, “We have our own bees we use for pollination-it’s a complete system.”
State Representative Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) and members of the Illinois Farm Bureau recently toured the MightyVine tomato “growhouse” in Rochelle. Russ Orrill, assistant director of state legislation for the Illinois Farm Bureau, said that the decision to raise tomatoes was no accident. Local markets and grocery stores consistently report that the tomato is their Number 1 commodity. Orrill went on to explain, “Because of the versatility of the tomato between salads, salsas and all the various sauces, it’s the commodity people most ask for.”
Next time you’re in Jewel, pick up a box of MightyVine tomatoes. I guarantee that you will eat them and declare that they are “mighty fine tomatoes.”
To see a video about MightyVine tomatoes, go to Chicago’s Best Tomato: YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgCiptp8aak.
—By Karen Centowski