When Jonathan Schow, Big Marble Farms Inc Vice President of Sales and Marketing, reflects on the impact of COVID-19, it’s easy to connect with the purpose of his work. “These days, everyone is scrambling to find ‘normal’. And we know that people feel much more secure if their supply of local food is safe.”
Big Marble Farms Inc. produces Alberta-grown vegetables in high tech greenhouses, 365 days a year. Currently, the farm runs the province’s largest year-round greenhouse. Since the company’s start in 2009, it has gathered huge momentum. The goal, Jonathan explains, is to continue adding ten acres of production every year “for the foreseeable future.”
Clearly, the market was ready for what Big Marble wanted to provide. “President (Ryan) Cramer had a vision for where the greenhouse industry was going,” says Jonathan. “He saw that Alberta needed a 365 offering.”
Fresh, local produce, 365 days a year? Delivering that in Alberta, a place with wildly differentiated seasons, is no easy task. To do it, a food producer needs to invest in high-tech greenhouse capabilities—what’s known in the industry as “lit culture”.
Jonathan explains that conventional greenhouses have plastic roofs and no lights. But the type of greenhouse Big Marble uses is 7 metres high, with more air and dead space between the plant and the roof. This better regulates the heat and captures more beneficial condensation. Finally, lit culture greenhouses are equipped with high pressure sodium lights that mimic sunlight. These lights ensure that growing can continue from October to March.
Kickstarting a project like this back in the mid-aughts took ambition. As Jonathan puts it, “You have to be brave to embark on this kind of initiative. It’s not cheap and it takes lots of planning.”
To build their greenhouses, Big Marble relied on many local tradespeople. But they also had to inject the architectural expertise of consultants from Holland, where lit culture is well established.
The project also posed challenges when it came to developing without encroaching on wildlife. Growing without disrupting the local environment is a challenge that Big Marble took—and takes—seriously.
As Big Marble’s packaging partner, our goal is always leveraging innovation to help the farm boost sales while remaining true to their values. The perfect opportunity to do that arrived in the form of Big Marble’s “Simply Marbelous Pint” of grape tomatoes.
“Our goal for the packaging was to put an offering into the marketplace that represented what we were about as a company, which is sustainability.”
That meant creating packaging without plastic, something that’s relatively uncommon in the world of produce. Aside from being environmentally friendly, the pint container had to allow for easy loading and product ventilation. And, it goes without saying that the packaging had to look great.
Together, with Big Marble, we landed on a solution: a brightly printed folding carton box. It also features a handle so cute that customers’ kids are using the boxes to store their belongings.
And it’s not just the kids who are impressed. The packaging took home the Paperboard Packaging Council’s (PPC) Excellence Award in Sustainability in 2020. The designs recognized by the PPC’s annual North American Paperboard Packaging Competition represent some of the best folding cartons and rigid boxes in the industry.
“We keep talking about new plastic reduction initiatives,” says Jonathan. “We’re not done on that front.”
We always love it when our commitment to sustainability aligns with our partner’s values. We’re cheering Big Marble on as they continue to invest in local, fresh food, and a reduced-plastic future.