Writer: Mary Stone
Eating a tomato that tastes like you just pulled it out of your backyard midsummer can take a little sting out of the colder months. Intergrow Greenhouses Inc. gets emails weekly from grateful cherry tomato customers exclaiming as much. To make fresh tomatoes available year-round, the company has almost 100 acres of greenhouses in Allegheny, Orleans and Wayne counties.
The greenhouse technology and systems that make it possible stem from Dutch farming methods two of its owners brought to the region some 30 years ago.
Now based in Ontario, NY, Intergrow was founded by four farmers (two American and two Dutch). They met working in the local greenhouse industry and in 1998 decided to strike out on their own with a 15-acre greenhouse in Fillmore, NY.
John Vermeiren and Dirk Van Den Plas came from farming families and knew each other as agricultural students before bringing their techniques to the U.S., which in the ’80s and ’90s was just developing its greenhouse industry, explains Kris Gibson, Intergrow’s vice president of sales and marketing.
The company started with some 25 employees and today has nearly 300 across three locations: Fillmore, Albion—and Ontario, where Phase II of III expansions is slated for 2021, says Dirk Biemans, CEO and co-owner. That site, which now holds 25 acres of greenhouses, ultimately will stretch to 60.
The company has been growing tomatoes on the vine since its inception. The objective is always to pick when the tomato is fully red and at peak flavor, and deliver within 24 hours, Gibson says. After years of trying different cherry tomato varieties, Intergrow found just the right one and launched it in 2017.
The variety is larger than what was typically found in grocery stores, and sold on the vine.
“The characteristics of these tomatoes are outstanding,” Gibson says. “It is by far the best thing we grow. In fact, when we finally decided to go with this product, we liked it so much, we decided to purchase the rights to the seed company so we are the only ones allowed to grow it in North America.”
Intergrow serves mainly large retail grocers, such as ALDI, Tops Markets, Walmart, Whole Foods and Hannaford Bros. With their own drivers and fleet of tractor-trailers, Intergrow delivers beyond New York to New England, as far south as the Carolinas and as far west as Chicago—anywhere within a radius that allows tomatoes to be picked, packed and delivered within the same day.
Lento Restaurant in Rochester has used Intergrow tomatoes, in the non-tomato-growing months, since it opened in 2007. With a farm-to-table focus, owner Art Rogers combs local produce for the best of the best. Rogers says Lento uses tomatoes infrequently when they’re not in season. But when he does use them, he buys Intergrow’s product at the Rochester Public Market.
“They’re a really good all-purpose tomato, especially for people who like to eat tomatoes when they’re not in season. It’s a really decent tomato,” Rogers says.
As the company continues to grow its acreage, Intergrow works closely with customers to determine what varieties of produce to plant next. The company now is testing cucumbers and peppers. Gibson says, “We’re trying now to find the right variety that performs well and, has the right growing characteristics, as well as finding the right partner and the right home for it.”
2428 Oak Orchard Rd., Albion
Mary Stone is a Rochester-based writing professor and journalist who has been covering people and businesses in the region for the last 15 years.