Premier Peckford's pickle palace
Hydroponic cucumbers were going to be Newfoundland's economic saviour
It was supposed to be a miracle technology that would grow Newfoundland's economy into prosperity; an enormous space-age greenhouse with cucumbers sprouting to full size in only six days.
"Holy smokes — let Newfoundland be first in something!" exclaimed Premier Brian Peckford when he first saw the hydroponic technology developed by greenhouse operator Philip Sprung.
But the dream of supplying all of Newfoundland's cucumbers — fuelled by more than $13 million in taxpayers' money — seemed to be dying on the vine. Construction took longer than expected. Then cucumbers from outside Newfoundland flooded the market so Sprung had to sell his scientific marvels for half the cost of production.
Not much appetite for cucumbers
He still couldn't sell all the cucumbers — Newfoundlanders only ate half a cucumber per capita per year in 1988 — so cows ended up munching the surplus.
Even though the fate of the enterprise in Mount Pearl looked grim, Peckford stood firm in the face of naysayers. "There'll be cucumbers over all kinds of people's faces," he declared.
In the end, the province pulled the plug in 1989 after repeated injections of emergency funds. Its total investment topped $22 million — double the original contribution. Enviroponics then declared bankruptcy and Newfoundland sold the facility to another company for $1.
An expensive mistake
A total of about 800,000 cucumbers was produced. The cost to taxpayers per cucumber was $27.50, compared to 50 cents for cucumbers produced out of province and sold in Newfoundland grocery stores.
The Liberal government elected in Newfoundland after Peckford's retirement appointed a royal commission to probe the cucumber affair. The resulting report called the investment "an improper expenditure of public funds."
Government should leave such enterprises, the report said, to "those who have the required expertise and the appropriate capital."
The company that bought the bankrupt greenhouse for $1 soon shut it down, complaining that it cost $60,000 a week just to power its huge grow lights.
The greenhouse later hosted a number of enterprises including a driving range.