Greenhouse vegetables offer early taste of summer

While much of the state was covered in ice this winter, Zack Brewer was wearing shorts and a T-shirt as he transplanted 2,300 young tomato plants into the ground at Sunny Slope Greenhouses in Bear Creek. Those plants are now 15 feet tall and tomatoes will be ready for harvest in a few weeks, offering consumers a taste of summer in the middle of spring.

“A lot of people turn their noses up at greenhouse tomatoes at first,” said Brewer. “But once you get them to try one, they’re sold.”

Tomatoes account for about 90 percent of the state’s greenhouse vegetables, according to the N.C. Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association, a group that works with local farmers to develop and promote the greenhouse industry. Greenhouse vegetable growers also produce cucumbers, lettuces and peppers.

Along with research on breeding, growing practices and pest management, the association sponsors outreach events, including Greenhouse Vegetable Days at farmers markets. This year’s events will be held at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh on April 14 and the Robert G. Shaw Piedmont Triad Farmers Market in Colfax on April 15. Both events run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

During the events, visitors can enjoy a free tomato sandwich made with locally grown greenhouse tomatoes. Farmers also will answer questions about the greenhouse industry, and fresh greenhouse tomatoes will be available for purchase.

At Sunny Slope, Brewer grows Trust tomatoes, a variety suited for greenhouse production, and English cucumbers. Like many operations in North Carolina, Sunny Slope sells its products directly to consumers on the farm and at local farmers markets. The farm also sells wholesale to area restaurants and cooperatives.

To find local greenhouse growers near you, go to