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May 07. 2013 7:13PM

Hooksett greenhouse firm grows its business - in Alaska

HOOKSETT - While grim jokes abound about the New England winter, a Hooksett greenhouse company has found a surprising market much in need of growing solutions in a snowy, unforgiving climate: Alaska.

"When I started my company 19 years ago, if you had told me I'd be shipping greenhouses to Alaska, I would laughed at you," said Bob Rimol, owner and founder of Rimol Greenhouses.

Rimol Greenhouses shipped 15 high-tunnel greenhouses to Alaska in April as a part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program. Since breaking into the Alaska market, the company has shipped more than 100 high tunnels to the state, all beginning with a phone call from an Alaskan with New England ties, Rupert Scribner.

"About three years ago, USDA came out with grants to get high tunnels, and people started calling us, Rimol said. "Then one gentleman in particular, he's a pretty savvy guy, he just totally figured it out, how to ship it out and make it competitive and affordable for everybody."

After traveling on shipping containers to Seattle, the tunnels go by sea to their distributors, Kenai Feed & Supply, and its owners, Scribner and his wife, Sarah Donchi, in Alaska. The two consolidate orders for large- and small-scale agriculturalists across Alaska, particularly in the communities on the Kenai Peninsula, on the south coast of the state.

Scribner and Donchi work with the local Natural Resource Conservation Service, in particular under the 2009 "Know your Farmer, Know your Food," a U.S. Department of Agriculture program designed to promote local food production. Under the program, small or new farmers are able to apply for the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which provides financial assistance for purchases such as high-tunnel greenhouses.

"In Alaska, the average summer temperature is 55 to 60 degrees," Scribner said in a news release. "Without a greenhouse, the growing conditions are very difficult, and the average growing season is two to three months long.... With Rimol Greenhouse Systems, several small-scale farmers are now able to grow for eight or nine months a year."

Having been developed to meet the rugged New England climate, Rimol's greenhouses are particularly well-suited to meet this market, he said.

"They're unheated structures, but the growing season in Alaska is so short, by growing vegetables in an unheated greenhouse, all the sudden you start to extend the season, and you really start to reap a lot more productivity out of the greenhouse," Rimol said.

Rimol, a New Jersey native, initially began his New Hampshire career working with a greenhouse manufacturer as a representative. He later left that company to found Rimol Greenhouse Systems, producing a line of customized greenhouse technologies. The company spent two years as a part of the Amoskeag Incubator in Manchester before moving to its current location in Hooksett.

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