- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

DAKOTA CITY, Neb. (AP) - Dreams of spring have been hard to come by this winter when your chattering teeth keep you awake.

Subzero and single-digit temperatures have been all too common, making it hard to think about what it will be like to actually enjoy being outside again.

We all know mild, spring days are the light at the end of what has felt like a long, cold tunnel, but that hasn’t made it any more comforting when sitting down on a frozen car seat, getting ready to head home after work.

Then you drive by the sign for Cardinal Farms, and the warmth practically oozes into you.

The big greenhouse off Dakota Avenue just outside Dakota City is a summer oasis in the middle of winter.

“Some days, when it gets cloudy, it can cool off in here. It’s still not terrible,” supervisor Cody Garwood told the Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/1c8dsWk).

That cooling off he mentions? That would be temperatures in the 60s. Not exactly a cold snap.

When you’re in the hydroponic agriculture business (growing plants without soil), that winter heat is a necessity. The greenhouse contains a network of pipes and tubes running nutrient-rich water into pots of tomatoes and cucumbers lined up in neat rows. If you’re going to have tomatoes ready to harvest by May 1, you’ve got to get them growing in January.

And if you’re going to grow anything around here in January, you’re going to have to do it indoors in a climate-controlled greenhouse.

Sure, it’s a lot of work to set up boxes for 2,800 tomato plants, plant the seeds, then prune the young plants as they grow.

But working in 60- and 70-degree conditions when it’s 6 or 7 degrees outside makes it much easier, Garwood said.

“It’s nice. I don’t have to wear a jacket. Most days I don’t even wear a sweatshirt,” he said.

We all should be so lucky.

These young plants now thriving in the indoor warmth of winter will eventually produce up to 2,000 pounds of tomatoes per week during peak production of a harvest season that lasts from May to December.

So while the rest of us can only look at our garden plots that are frozen as hard as our driveways, Garwood and other workers are toiling away unburdened by bulky winter clothes.

“It’s strange to be able to do farm work in the middle of the winter and break a sweat,” Garwood said. “I’ve got plenty of my friends always hitting me up to see if we have any extra work.”

By next month, Garwood’s tomato plants will be blooming. Outdoor gardeners won’t even be buying plants yet.

“We’re able to provide tomatoes and produce to people before they can even think about planting their own gardens,” Garwood said.

Now in its 10th year, Cardinal Farms provides a taste of summer while consumers wait for their own growing season.

Garwood laughs a little about his ideal winter working conditions. It does get humid inside the greenhouse, so every now and then he has to step outside into the cold for a breath of fresh air.

“It’s refreshing for a few minutes, but then I’m ready to come back in,” he said.

Right where the rest of us have been since December.

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