Who Will Be Our Next Grower Of The Year?
Four finalists are in the running to be recognized as Greenhouse Grower’s 25th Grower of the Year. For the first time, nominations came from you, our readers.
June 23, 2009
Progressive growers move our industry forward and deserve to be recognized. Greenhouse Grower has partnered with BASF Turf & Ornamentals to take our traditional Grower of the Year recognition to the next level by creating a true industry award.
For the first time, we opened up the award to industry nominations and have a panel reaching a consensus on finalists and our next Grower of the Year. In the nominations process, we sought growers who:
• Exemplify modern, high quality production practices.
• Are innovative marketers.
• Are strong on customer service.
• Embrace technology.
• Demonstrate industry leadership.
Our panel consisted of myself, Associate Professor Paul Fisher of the University of Florida, our past two Growers of the Year – Mark Elzinga of Elzinga & Hoeksema Greenhouses and Juan St. Amant of Plug Connection − and Steve Larson, national ornamentals account manager for BASF.
Larson, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in horticulture from Purdue University, began his career as a grower. He worked for Hines Nurseries when it was owned by Weyerhaeuser, but is most proud of starting the horticulture program at The Brookwood Community, a residential community for handicapped adults with intellectual disabilities near Houston. The rest of his career, he has enjoyed visiting and working with growers on crop protection solutions during his tenure at Grace-Sierra/Scotts, Whitmire Microgen and now BASF.
Larson was pleased with the diversity in the dozen growers who were nominated for Grower of the Year by their employees, suppliers and customers. “One thing that struck me is the variety of growers,” he says. “You don’t have to work for a big company to be a good grower. There are outstanding personnel at a two- or three-acre operation or a 150-acre one. I was impressed with that.”
Becoming a partner in this award ties in with BASF’s vision and mission. While growers have been using BASF products for decades through other companies, since 2007, BASF has been building and representing its portfolio of cutting-edge chemistries for growers and acquired the Whitmire Microgen line. “We want to be recognized as innovators and recognize growers we consider to be innovators,” Larson says.
Without further ado, here are our four finalists for Grower of the Year. All four will be recognized at our Evening of Excellence reception July 13 at the OFA Short Course, where we will announce our 25th Grower of the Year.
Hank Bukowski, Kube-Pak Corp.
Known industrywide for high quality production, Hank Bukowski is the head grower of Kube-Pak Corp. in Allentown, N.J. The company is known as a plug pioneer, and for its technological innovations and energy conservation. Ranked at No. 85 on our Top 100 Growers and No. 10 on our Top 25 Young Plant Growers, Kube-Pak produces 125 million plugs annually and grows finished plants for independent garden centers.
“When it comes to Hank, no detail is too small and no plant is insignificant,” says Steve De Marzo, who nominated Bukowski for the award. “From setting up spray programs to spacing finished material, it is all about plant quality. There are two things he always has in mind when producing his material: 1) How it will perform for the end user, and 2) Making sure it meets his high standards when it leaves the facility.”
Bukowski also is known for giving back to the industry and helping other growers be successful. He is a popular speaker on production topics and supports industry research. “He will spend as much time as necessary to help smaller growers produce their crop,” De Marzo says. “Teaching, mentoring, handholding, analysis – any and all tools that can be used (within reason), he will make available.”
George Lucas, Lucas Greenhouses
From humble beginnings 30 years ago, Lucas Greenhouses, owned by George and Louise Lucas in Monroeville, N.J., has emerged as one of the fastest growing, well-diversified operations. Ranked at No. 90 on our Top 100 Growers, Lucas serves independent garden centers within a 150-mile radius and also has become a young plant grower of choice, contracting for leading companies in addition to being a rooting station for Syngenta Flowers.
“Lucas Greenhouses has steadily grown over the years because of its devotion to excellence,” says Jeff Warschauer of Nexus, who nominated Lucas for the award. “George has surrounded himself with a great team, built a state-of-the-art growing range and made the right changes as the market changed. In person and on their website, George reminds people of the high quality standard Lucas Greenhouses lives by.”
The website, www.lucasgreenhouses.com, states: “Excellence is our standard. What does that mean? It means we have a team of professional growers working around the clock to give you the very best plants on the market. It means we are constantly researching the industry’s new technology, structures and methods for their effectiveness and then have the people in place to build and implement them. It means we pride ourselves on delivering your orders quickly and efficiently, while giving you an experienced, friendly staff to answer your questions. In short, it is a commitment to give you the very best product along with the very best service.”
Abe & Art Van Wingerden, Metrolina Greenhouses
The next generation of leadership at Metrolina Greenhouses in Hunterville, N.C., is taking the family business founded by Tom Van Wingerden to new heights. Ranked at No. 6 on our Top 100 Growers with 124 acres of greenhouse production, Metrolina is the largest greenhouse producer on a single site in the world. The company excels delivering consistent, high quality programs to the mass market. Two key customers are Walmart and Lowe’s.
While son Art is president of greenhouse operations, son Abe is president of sales, marketing and merchandising. Both are co-CEOs. The two kicked off our Ones to Watch series highlighting young industry professionals last year. They always open their doors to visitors and Abe is a popular speaker on industry programs.
With a can-do attitude, Metrolina is an engine for innovation, whether it’s growing new varieties, inventing new production systems and automation, or building effective service and merchandising programs. “Awesome customer service and attention to detail have enabled Metrolina to thrive in the modern competitive wholesale greenhouse arena,” says Express Seed’s Rick Grossman, who nominated Art and Abe for the award. “There is not a finer example in the United States (and possibly worldwide) of a single grower who has continued to reinvest profits into the operation for never-ending quality plant production. I can’t think of any other grower who indeed deserves it more.”
Pinkus Family, Nortex Wholesale Nursery
For three generations, the Pinkus family has distinguished Nortex Wholesale Nursery in Wylie, Texas, as a progressive, market-minded supplier serving independent garden centers, high-end grocers and niche retailers with innovative programs. The business was founded by Ralph Pinkus and expanded by son John. Grandson Aaron (pictured) is general manager and a software whiz.
“Leadership in our industry runs in the blood with the Pinkus family in Texas,” says Tim Runte of Calloways garden centers. “They are very involved in the Dallas Arboretum. Any discussion regarding our industry without the mention of the Pinkus family is probably lacking in substance.”
Nortex has been big on branding, embracing Ball Horticultural Co.’s Simply Beautiful line of premium annuals and developing its own Blue Label Herb program, complete with sustainable pots, packaging, signage, website and in-store events.
“They are one of the few growers in the Dallas Metroplex not afraid to do their own thing and strike out in new and different directions,” says Steven Bartfield of Ball Horticultural Co., who nominated the company for the award. “I can’t think of any other grower in the area marketing programs to their customers. Quality and service and the programs sell well above-average local pricing and are met with enthusiasm by their customers. A truly unique local company.”