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Lakeside shipping greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers to market

Chris Cervini explains how Lakeside cogenerates its own energy in its Canadian location and is exploring it here.

MILLS RIVER — Boasting the lowest “food miles” in the industry, Lakeside Produce is shipping fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from its new Mills River greenhouse to supermarkets across a wide area.

Originally announced in 2017, Lakeside has invested $30 million to build a 15-acre greenhouse employing 140 people. It’s now growing, packing and shipping tomatoes and mini-cucumbers with a “Got to be NC Agriculture” brand. The company plans to triple the glass under roof to 45 acres and eventually employ 300 workers for a total investment of $100 million.
“Our food miles are the lowest in the industry when we are producing vegetables in the wintertime this close to the market,” Chris Cervini, Lakeside’s fourth generation owner, told business leaders and elected officials in a tour recently. “We’re very very happy of what the team has done here to be producing local, flavorful, sustainable tomatoes and cucumbers, year-round, right here in Mills River, North Carolina. And we can’t thank AgHC enough for all the support they have given us with this project from when it was just a bare piece of land.”
Mark Williams, AgHC’s executive director, pointed out that Lakeside is the latest greenhouse farming operation to take advantage of Henderson County’s favorable sunlight hours, lower humidity and proximity to large population centers to grow fresh vegetables year-round. In addition to Lakeside, Tri Hishtil grows watermelon plants and other products in Mills River and salad greens grower Bright Farms is investing $21 million to build a seven-acre greenhouse that will create 54 jobs in the Pleasant Grove community.

“Traditional agriculture is rapidly changing and crops that can be produced indoors are increasingly being grown in protected environments to better manage risks of weather and pests and to provide local, year round supply of fresh, flavorful product,” Williams said. “Lakeside’s Mills River facility is futuristic and so is the way they do business. As a company they are a recognized industry leader in production technology, quality of product, sustainable practices and taking care of their employees.”
Cervini “is overflowing with energy, enthusiasm and never ending ideas for future growth and the next generation,” Williams added. “He and his highly skilled team have been fascinating to work with and AgHC is extremely pleased they chose this location. We’re confident they will be successful here and look forward to working with them as they grow in phases to come.”
Based in Ontario, Canada, Lakeside has distribution facilities in Michigan and Texas and operates more than 650 acres of greenhouse production. The Ladson Road facility includes water treatment systems for reuse of water, capturing of CO2 for reuse in the greenhouse, a complete packing and shipping facility adjoining the greenhouse and on-site housing for guest workers. To produce 2.2 pounds of tomatoes in the field requires 120 bottles of water, Cervini said. The Lakeside greenhouse uses only eight bottles of water to produce that much.
Williams said many people want to know where they can buy the products being grown here.
“While Lakeside has established relationships with some of the area chain stores, they are not in all of them, such as Ingles, but they would like to sell to Ingles,” he said. “Folks should make it known to their grocers that they want the option of buying Lakeside tomatoes and cucumbers, especially since they are locally grown and it’s January.”