Summer in winter: Ohio’s red-hot greenhouse industry

Summer in winter: Ohio’s red-hot greenhouse industry
Fresh lettuce when it’s snowing? Inside, things are growing.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within my greenhouse, an invincible summer.”(Not) philosopher Albert Camus

Story by Kurt Knebusch | Photos by Ken Chamberlain

Chances are you’re noticing more fresh, Ohio-grown produce at your grocer, and not just in summer but in winter, too.

It turns out there are good reasons for it, including a red-hot industry, support from The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), and warm, cozy shelter from the storms.


Chieri Kubota and MS student Tom McKean with hydroponic strawberries in a CFAES greenhouse


Big growth

Ohio’s greenhouse industry is booming, says Chieri Kubota, professor of controlled environment agriculture in CFAES’ Department of Horticulture and Crop Science. With excellent access to water, consumers, and interstate highways, plus a longtime history with greenhouse production, Ohio has recently attracted expansions by major growers. 

Ohio’s greenhouse tomato acreage alone rose by five times in five years, Kubota said, based on the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

Ohio’s other greenhouse crops, to name a few, include cucumbers, peppers, and lettuce—all of which, thanks to the controlled environments of their greenhouses, can thrive in the state year-round.


Hydroponic cucumbers in a CFAES greenhouse



Almost all of Ohio’s commercial greenhouse veggies, Kubota noted, are produced by hydroponics. Crops are grown either in trays floating in nutrient-rich water or rooted in soil-less media.

Among its benefits, hydroponics conserves water and limits nutrient loss.


From left, Ohio State ATI greenhouse and nursery management majors Hunter Myers, Marissa Lamp, and Kaylie Wittekind



CFAES, through its land-grant mission, supports cutting-edge greenhouse experts, facilities, and research. Recent new studies, for example, are optimizing the climate conditions and the nutrient solutions used to grow leafy greens—romaine lettuce, for example.

CFAES scientists host a Greenhouse Management Workshop every year—a chance for growers to learn the latest findings—and have done so since 1999. The next one is Jan. 16–17, 2020, in Wooster.

The state-of-the-art, new Controlled Environment Food Production Research Complex is planned for CFAES’ Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory in Columbus.

Together, especially when it comes to hydroponics, Kubota said, “no other land-grant university in the U.S. has this complete set of expertise.”


Wittekind works in an Ohio State ATI greenhouse


CFAES-trained grads filling jobs

Students graduating with greenhouse-related degrees are in big demand, Kubota said. Nationally, including in Ohio, “there are tons of (greenhouse-related) jobs available,” she said.

In Columbus, CFAES majors related to greenhouse production include plant health management; plant pathology; entomology; sustainable plant systems; and food, agricultural, and biological engineering.

At CFAES’ Ohio State ATI in Wooster, greenhouse-related two-year majors include horticultural science, agricultural systems management, and greenhouse and nursery management.

Kubota said her own lab, the Controlled Environment Plant Physiology & Technology Lab, trains graduate students in both the science and technology of greenhouse production.

“There is no problem for them getting a job,” she said.


An Ohio State ATI student tests the pH of a hydroponic nutrient solution; Ohio State ATI stresses hands-on learning


Fresher, local

Kubota said lately, for the first time, she’s seeing bagged, Ohio-grown spring mix salads available at her supermarket.

“It’s a pleasure to find that,” she said. “I’m so glad stores are carrying more produce from local growers. There’s such an obvious difference in freshness and quality.”

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