The weather says differently, but inside the Rosewood Service Inc. greenhouse, it’s still tomato-growing season. In its first full year of operation, the greenhouse is filled to capacity with 265 tomato plants producing two varieties – brand names Celebrity and Truss. Their success is dependent upon a few dozen clients at Rosewood who work to care for and grow the tomatoes and then bring them to market.
"I cut the (suckers) off and I put them in the barrels," explained Rosewood client Gwen Butler about her role in the greenhouse. "I clean up, I water and I pick tomatoes. I really like it in here."
Clients began working in the greenhouse in spring 2010, growing 160 plants as a trial run. They increased their plant numbers last winter by more than 100, but suffered a setback in January when the greenhouse heating unit broke down and all the plants froze. Undaunted, they started the process again – seed planting, to dark-room germination, to transporting the plants in the greenhouse. By late May, they had their first new crop and the plants have been producing full-tilt since then.
"The clients love growing tomatoes," said Rosewood employee Sherri Nickelson, who directs greenhouse operations. "They like the quiet; it’s therapeutic for them. They like watching the plants grow and learning how to help them grow. They know exactly what to do when they walk into here. They know when is the best time to pick, when they need water, when they need fertilized. They go out in the community and they help sell them. They really enjoy the whole experience."
Greenhouse production was added to the clients’ standard garden production of tomatoes during the summer months. All of those tomatoes were gobbled up by customers at the Great Bend Farmer’s market. Rosewood sold out of its produce every time it went to market, said Nickelson.
Clients spend about two hours a day in the greenhouse, harvesting a few buckets-full daily. Many of the tomatoes are sold to Rosewood staff, and about 40 pounds are sold to a restaurant weekly.
Nickelson said Rosewood sold about 4,000 pounds of tomatoes a year ago from its 160 plants in a shortened season. The clients are way ahead of that pace this year. "The more they do, the more they learn and they become more efficient in this process," she said. "That means they are growing more tomatoes than ever before."