MIDDLESEX TOWNSHIP — A large greenhouse meant to grow organic produce is beginning to take root in the Midstate.
Toigo Organic Farms LLC, of Shippensburg, has begun construction on the first of potentially three greenhouses in the 300 block of Old Stonehouse Road North with an estimated cost of construction of nearly $1.8 million, according to a stormwater management plan filed by Toigo in May.
The greenhouse, imported from Bom Greenhouses in the Netherlands, will be more than 240,000 square feet, covering nearly five acres of land, and will be used to grow organic tomatoes, according to Mark Toigo of Toigo Organic Farms.
“The demand for local and organic food is certainly here,” he said. “Central Pennsylvania is certainly a great place to produce.”
According to Toigo, the tomatoes will be grown to USDA organic standards, which are guiding rules for farms to follow certifying organic status. To be considered USDA organic, a farm must not use irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides and genetically modified organisms in the growing of crops.
Only USDA-certified products are supposed to be labeled “organic.”
The greenhouse will use biocontrols like advantageous insects — ladybugs, encarsia and wasps — to help control pests that might otherwise be dealt with using pesticides in non-organic farms.
“Basically, it’s a bug-eat-bug world out there,” Toigo said. “What we do is introduce a lot of breeding disrupters and biologic controls.”
Another major feature of the greenhouse’s organic culture is the recycling of rain water for irrigation. According to Toigo, 100 percent of the water that falls on the greenhouse will run off into a 853,000-gallon irrigation pond located adjacent to the greenhouse. This water will be collected and used to irrigate crops.
Middlesex Township Zoning Officer Mark Carpenter said the township has received requests since the late 1990s to rezone the land to allow industrial development and warehouses, but it decided against the rezoning. “We drew the line,” Carpenter said, explaining he was pleased that Toigo was able to continue using the land for agriculture.
According to the stormwater management plan, the 500-foot by 486-foot, glass and metal lattice greenhouse will sit on only a portion of the 106-acre farm owned by Toigo, all of which is expected to remain zoned for farming.
Toigo projected the first crop will go in the ground by the end of December, and the greenhouse is expected to create roughly 13 to 15 full-time jobs. The first shipment of tomatoes is expected to be ready for market between March and April of next year.
If all goes according to plan, two more greenhouses could sprout up in the future.
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