Season 2, Episode 01

Tomatoes From The Ceiling

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Donna Sanders headshot and byline.

Picture this: A chilly and rainy day in Dublin, VA. Not exactly a picturesque time to visit a farm. Hello Red Sun Farms! What makes this farm so special? It’s one of the largest greenhouse growers in North America.

Red Sun Farms is based in Canada, and has greenhouse farms there, in Mexico, and in the U.S. to supply all of North America with fresh favorites like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

I was so excited about this shoot and it did not disappoint. It was incredible!

First things first, Chip told me greenhouses are very hot, but what he did not tell me was except when it rains [EDITOR’S NOTE: Chip’s never been in one when it was raining before, so he learned something, too]. So what did I do? I showed up in shorts – very embarrassing. To add insult to injury, I later found out shorts are not allowed in the greenhouses unless they are a certain length. Thank goodness mine made the cut. With that out of my system, let’s visit the farm.

Chip sits with Red Sun Farms CEO Carlos Visconti.

Chip with Carlos Visconti, CEO, Red Sun Farms (R)

Our crew visited Red Sun Farms April 26. The welcome we received was so warm and gracious. From CEO Carlos Visconti to Director of Operations Jay Abbott to Director of Marketing and Packaging Leona Neill (and a special shout-out to Leona for coordinating this visit!).

Our day started out with an interview between Chip and Carlos in the offices. Carlos is one of the most distinguished and humble men I have ever met. He was worried about his accent and how it would sound… no problems there! Chip, on the other hand, had a fight with a tomato and lost. You’ll see in the episode where his single bite of a super juicy snack tomato led to the need for a wardrobe change.

All Bugs Are Insects But Not All Insects Are Bugs!

But up next was what we all came for — the greenhouses!

Being a Registered Nurse who keeps a can of Lysol by the front door to spray our shoes, I was surprised and delighted to find a disinfectant footbath to be used just to walk down the aisle in the middle of two very large greenhouses. Even more impressive was donning gowns, foot booties, gloves, and hairnets before entering the greenhouse to avoid contamination. Talk about scoring points!

Chip and Red Sun crew putting on PPE before entering the greenhouse.

The greenhouse was incredible! Rows and rows of tomatoes hanging from the ceiling on the biggest vines I ever saw, perfectly draped, and with tubing to water and fertilize the plants. Reminded me of some of the things I had to do in the hospital, but I won’t go there.

Carlos and Chip continued their interview in the greenhouse. Next came the interview with Jay. Jay is a highly intelligent man and runs the greenhouse with an iron hand. His interview is scientific, educational and fascinating.

Tomatoes on vines hanging.

Hanging Tomatoes at Red Sun Farms

Jay Abbott from Red Sun sitting by tomatoes

Jay Abbott, Director of Operations, Red Sun Farms

Again, being a nurse, I asked so many off the record questions. Jay was the victim of my questions, but he was so patient with me. A big one I had was, Why all the bees indoors? You would think there would be no insects at all inside!

The bees, which are actually insects, are brought in and used to pollinate the plants. There are over 10,000 bees in the greenhouse at any one time. The bees have a very short life span of 12 to 15 weeks and are then replaced. Other beneficial bugs are introduced to the environment as needed.

 Where’s All The Water?

 You may ask, If the plants are in a greenhouse where does the water come from? Jay, once again, gave me the answer. Rain water flows off the roof and is collected in a pond next to the greenhouse, and any overwatering of the plants goes into a reservoir, sterilized, and recycled. Talk about efficiency!

Riddle time — personally I hate riddles, but… What does our skin have in common with the skin of a tomato?

Are you thinking about it? Stumped? Read on…

When we cut our finger — provided it does not have to be amputated — our cells proliferate, forming a scab, allowing the cells to come together to heal the cut. At this point you are probably thinking, “What does this have to do with tomatoes?”

Hold on. You all have probably seen the deep brown lines, or scars, on a tomato that do resemble scabs. Believe it or not, they actually are. Sometimes when rain or water hits the tomato, the skin can split. And just like us, the cells of the tomato begins to proliferate, forming a scab, thus healing the tomatoes. Wow, talk about Mother Nature at her finest!

When we left the greenhouse all of our PPE (personal protective equipment) had to be removed before we entered the main building. Just like the hospital, we had to wash our hands after we took off our gloves at a huge handwashing station. More points scored!

Our next stop was the packinghouse. It was absolutely immaculate. It was toward the end of the day and the packinghouse was winding down, but there is always something to see.

Large handwashing sinks.

It Ends With A Giant Box Of Tomatoes And A Yellow Tricycle

I was able to follow the line from start to end, from the hand-sorting — yes, hand-sorting! — to the boxing and labeling process. Per Carlos, “Red Sun prides itself on having a consistent size product, free of anything that is unappealing to the eye.” He wasn’t kidding.

But there is always something I find extra fascinating any time and anywhere we film. Sometimes it can be the weirdest thing. In this case it was a giant box of tomatoes at the end of the hand sorting process. I asked Leona about this.

As it turns out these are the tomatoes that did not “make the cut”. I was shocked — some of them looked so perfect! My thought was, “Any nonna or any person who makes spaghetti sauce from scratch would love to dive into this box – me included!” I really must have been in shock because I didn’t take a picture. By the way, nonna is Italian for grandmother.

Well, Chip being Chip, our day ended with him riding a big clunky yellow bicycle in between the greenhouses, which was an interesting and very funny site. Going straight was not a problem, but watch out for those turns, I thought as I watched him wobble towards the camera.

I was right. Later he admitted it was not easy – the handle bars were super-loose and kept collapsing while he was trying to steer! But somehow he managed. Way to go Chip.

Chip having trouble steering the Red Sun tricycle.

That was our day at Red Sun.


The Steve Troxler North Carolina Agricultural Sciences Campus in Raleigh!

Bear with me, but I have to add my favorite picture of the day! I call it my Where’s Waldo photo.

Chip and Carlos from behind the vine.