On a snowy day in December I was lucky enough to be able to have a tour of some of the greenhouses of Bevo Agro in Langley. This is a publicly traded company on the Vancouver venture exchange and is the biggest grower of propagated plants in North America. They grow bedding plants and Poinsettias which go direct to market but at this time of year much of their 39 acres of greenhouses in Langley and 5 acres in Pitt Meadows are devoted to pepper and tomato plants which will go to other growers when well established and these growers will bring the peppers and tomatoes to market.
Entering the greenhouses I was aware of being in a totally clean environment. The first thing I had to do was walk over a special machine which cleaned my shoes and place my hands through special slots to be cleaned with ultra violet light. The steps taken to ensure cleanliness were extreme and there are some areas where visitors are not allowed for fear of contamination. We passed through the staff areas and saw racks of clean clothing as, like the hospital operating room staff, are provided with this every day. Entering the plant growing area was like a tropical paradise on a cold afternoon as it was warm and humid and bright with overhead lighting. Pepper plants were growing in various stages of development – one and half million of them and the plants seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. They are grown in square plastic boxes without a bottom and watered and fertilized by being flooded from below. The growing medium is a special expanded rock product which is imported from Europe and the seeds come from suppliers all over the world. The peppers are ordered in advance by individual growers and each of these has their own colour which is dabbed on top of the supporting stake of their plants. Bevo tries to be as organic as possible. 90% of their water/fertilizer mix is recycled after being sterilized by ultra violet light and they have huge water storage tanks. They also use bio waste to provide heat. They use no pesticides unless specifically demanded by growers. White fly and thrips are kept at bay by parasitic wasps that hatch in rather scruffy pots of grass that are seen in each growing bay. Bevo has to buy batches of wasp eggs as so many are needed. Much of the work of plant growing has become quite mechanized with seeding machines that place a seed in each special growing plug. Some jobs still need doing by hand though and one of these is clipping the pepper plants to their stakes. There used to be problems with this as not only was it back breaking work to bend over and place a clip on each stem but lots of valuable plants got trampled in the process. Now workers lie on their tummies on a slow moving bench and put on the clips from above. It is much easier on them and the women doing the job were chatting to each other and had music to accompany the task. The plants can be placed much nearer to each other and as the demand for the product is much greater than the supply this is important.
Bevo is a major contributor to the BC economy as much of their product gets shipped to the US. They provide most of the Poinsettias for Costco stores in Washington State amongst other things. This is a family company with Dutch roots and senior staff have been trained there. The company is working with UBC to try and breed a pawpaw variety that will be suitable for the Okanagan and which also will have smaller seeds. We await progress and sampling of this product!
I felt grateful for this interesting opportunity and will regard the red and green peppers that I throw casually into my shopping cart with much more respect after this experience.