From Four Acres Under Glass to 400, Two Brothers Turn Risky Hydroponic Venture into Sustainable Success
January 9, 2014 | Marianne Peters
Shortly after immigrating to Ontario, Canada from Italy in 1961, brothers Tony and Gino Mucci planted their first vegetable crop on rented land. In 1969, they built a wood frame greenhouse, and in 1975, they put four acres of crops under glass—a risky venture during a time of high-mortgage rates, as well as high fuel and labor costs.
The investment paid off. Today, Mucci Farms continues to make investments in its profitable business, especially in the area of sustainability.
Located near Kingsville, Ontario, Mucci Farms is still family-owned and operated, growing and marketing 400-acres of hydroponic non-GMO produce across North America. While tomatoes have always been its main crop, the company also grows a wide variety of peppers and cucumbers. In partnership with several Mexican growers, Mucci Farms supplies its produce to the major retailers across North America.
The company started implementing company-wide sustainable practices five years ago. According to Megh Bhandari, Health and Food Safety Manager, at that time the company established a strategy called “greenERhouse™” to reduce its overall use of energy, water, chemical pesticides, and packaging materials. But this isn’t just another program handed down from management, according to Bhandari.
“I’m part of an environmental sustainability committee composed of a cross-section of employees,” Bhandari says. “We meet monthly to review progress and suggest improvements.”
The comprehensive approach to sustainability at Mucci Farms includes all stages of the operation, from how the plants are grown to how they are packaged for shipping.
“All our plants are grown hydroponically,” says Bhandari. “We are able to capture and reuse the water in the greenhouses. We have also eliminated the use of synthetic pesticides. We use a type of bio-pesticide as well as integrated pest management.”
In some of its products, Mucci Farms uses packaging made from 100% recycled materials printed with vegetable oil- and water-based inks.
Taking sustainability seriously is as much about conscience as it is about customer relationships, according to Jim Gallant, Vice President of Engineering at Mucci Farms and another member of the environmental sustainability committee. As customers build ecologically-friendly practices into their own operations, he says, they expect it from their suppliers.
Gallant says that even though Mucci Farms has reduced its overall energy use, the company is now implementing a software program designed just for the greenhouse industry to further track and quantify the company’s carbon footprint. The program will track a substantial amount of information, from planting, harvesting and food safety to day-to-day operations, equipment, and resources.
“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” says Gallant. He believes tracking all that information will help Mucci Farms save money, making sustainable techniques more practicable and affordable.
A web-based program, the software is accessible to Mucci Farms employees via desktop and tablet computers, as well as smart phones. Gallant says that since a large number of employees are involved in reporting, the company can get comprehensive results, but no one person has the lion’s share of work.
“Reporting in this industry is already labor-intensive,” Gallant says. “We’re trying to streamline it and make it more efficient With this software, each individual position within the organization has a very narrow requirement for what they have to input. That way reporting won’t be overwhelming for anybody.”
Implementing sustainable practices has been a methodical process over the years, Gallant says.
“From a sustainability perspective, every step that we’ve taken has improved our bottom line.”