It all started back in 1986 when Paul Hotchkiss, a fan of BLT sandwiches, set out to grow a perfect tomato.
In a makeshift greenhouse in his backyard he began his journey into the world of produce and eventually, along with his wife Tracy, made his way to a piece of land southeast of Calgary. It was there that, even before the house was constructed, Paul had a greenhouse built to accommodate his passion for growing things. His tomato adventures were limited initially by a previous career choice in the oil and gas industry and so grew vegetables primarily for his own pleasure. It didn’t take long for Paul to realize that 4,000 square feet of greenhouse space produced a lot of veggies and thus a business was born. That business was initially a part-time job for Paul. He hired an individual to help with the sales, growing and delivering of the tomatoes. In 1998 Paul made a lifestyle change by leaving the oil and gas world to turn his hobby into a year-round business. He focused on heirloom tomatoes and over time experimented with at least 100 varieties. Eventually, through trial and error, Paul came up with a short list of his top 20 favourites, which seemed to grow well in the little ecosystem he had created.
Over time, with requests being made by his clients, Paul expanded the operation to include other produce and now can offer many items to the niche-type grocery stores and upscale restaurants that he services. With more produce to be grown, additional greenhouse space was needed and Paul’s operation grew from 4,000 square feet to just over two acres. In addition, approximately 10 acres of land is dedicated each summer to growing produce outdoors.
Tracy left her city job in about 1999 to join the operation. While not having a green thumb on either of her hands, Tracy took over the administrative responsibilities and as such looks after the customers, staff, orders, helps out with picking and packing, and the endless heaps of paperwork.
In about 2002 a virus was introduced into the greenhouses which set back Hotchkiss’ business plans. Through the tenacity of Paul and his greenhouse staff, they ventured down a challenging path trying to come up with a solution on how to deal with the tomato-affecting virus. In spite of many efforts, the problem seemed to be insurmountable but with diligence the Hotchkiss folks came up with a way graft heirloom tomato plants onto stabilized hybrid rootstock. The initial successes were seen only in tomato plants that produced red and pink tomatoes. A breeding breakthrough in 2007 reintroduced some of the colours that people are used to seeing in heirloom tomatoes. Moving forward to today, about ten varieties of tomatoes are grown showing many colours; some that would resemble Cherokee Purple and Green Zebra. We say “resemble” because these tomatoes would now be considered new discoveries in the tomato frontier. Hotchkiss Produce is, to our knowledge, the only greenhouse operation trying to combat the virus in an organic environment. When seeds are harvested from the disease-free tomatoes, they are considered Heirloom Tomatoes of the Hotchkiss Variety...not to be found anywhere else.
The business will continue its focus...
Providing its clients with excellent quality, organically grown vegetables to its market of fine restaurants and grocery stores.