By Riccel Kouns
We were going to be visiting “los invernaderos.” Translation: greenhouses. I had no idea what to expect. Our professor Dr. Kelly Comfort told us we would be driving through “un mar de plastico” or a sea of plastic. Initially when thinking about greenhouses I imagined giant glass buildings and an abyss of green from the ground to the ceiling. I soon found out that this was not going to be the case. I saw a picture where you could see nothing but white rectangles for miles. I thought salt mines? Landfills? I was completely wrong. We were going to be visiting greenhouses made of plastic and those white figures were the roofs of each house.
Inside an “invernadero”
We drove to Almeria, a region in the south of Spain near Granada. We spent the day learning about the trials and tribulations of these established greenhouse communities. On the negative side, there is an abundance of unsightly white buildings along the coast that drive away tourists. Immigrants from Eastern Europe and Africa have flocked to the South seeking work but have instead found racism and prejudice. The structures themselves are semi-environmentally friendly at best. They put a strain on water resources in a region that does not have much access to water and used lots of plastic in construction.
On the other hand, the harvests from the greenhouses continue to spur the economy. Farmers can have between two to three harvests a year. Due to painting the buildings white, the average temperature in the region has lowered by about 2 degrees. Despite the lack of water, farmers are inventing new irrigation systems that would use sensors and crops would receive water only when sensors deemed it necessary. Farmers also are easing away from chemicals and pesticides and using natural solutions to eliminate pests with a practice called biological control.
At the end of the day we toured Clisol, one of the most innovative “invernaderos.” The greenhouse property is run by an energetic woman, passionate about the care and success of her farm. She gained ownership from her father, who had received it from his father, and she was in the works of training one of her sons to take over when the time came. She reminisced about her youth when she was excused from school to work in the farms. Grueling work she told us. It was the family’s livelihood. If the farm was unsuccessful they would not be able to eat or get their basic needs. It was mind boggling because growing up scholarly education was enforced upon me. However, this woman had a different kind of education. She learned to be an entrepreneur, an environmentalist, a scientist, a public speaker, and much more. She was inspiring and visiting the greenhouses gave me insight into a potential career path.
We visited greenhouses that were in the process of regenerating heat, eliminating a plight, and producing some amazingly delicious cherry tomatoes. I am a foodie and will forever love the concept of farm to table. I was living the life, walking around a vegetable heaven! “Pick and eat whatever you want” she cooed. She did not have to tell me twice. At the end of the tour we sampled a spread of the fruits of her labor, which consisted of tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, and cucumbers.
It was “una experiencia inolvidable”- an unforgettable experience. Maybe I am disillusioned by delicious food and my preconceived notion of a farmer’s lifestyle, but I hope to have my own “invernadero” in the south of Spain one day. I want to be able to promote sustainability and provide fresh healthy food for the community. Until then, I will just appreciate a good tomato when I eat one.