Rethink What It Means To Be A Greenhouse Grower, Konjoian Says

Peter Konjoian
Peter Konjoian

During the first decade of my life, our three-generation household was supported by truck farming. My grandfather, father and mother, two brothers and I cultivated several acres of row crops. My father also worked outside the farm as a meat cutter. He built his first greenhouse and convinced his father-in-law that the family farm needed to take another direction. He began growing bedding plants and sold retail directly from the greenhouse during my second decade.

While we de-emphasized the farm to concentrate on the flowers, it provided me with a wonderful opportunity to run the farm as a means to work my way through undergraduate school at the University of New Hampshire. I have the fondest memories of that period of my life and career, having the opportunity to manage the farm, hire neighborhood kids to work with me, purchase supplies and learn how to manage finances.

In the ‘80s, my third decade focused on expanding the greenhouse operation, enjoying double digit annual growth with a belief of unlimited potential. The fourth decade brought a slow but steady decline as greenhouse production ramped up coast to coast, to the point of oversupply. By the end of our fifth decade, we decided to close the family greenhouse business, as did many other operations in our industry.

From Flowers Back to Food

Since closing the family range, I have renovated a Quonset house for my research and consulting practice. If you had told me in the ‘80s that in 2014, 90 percent of my research would focus on food crops and not ornamentals, I’d have called you crazy. But here I find myself completely immersed in farming again.

To be fair, during these decades I am repeatedly on record in my presentations and articles with the following statement: “If one could make a living farming in New England, I’d still be a farmer.”
So here I am, traveling this exciting path from flowers to food. Only now, we can agree that the more accurate reference is from food to flowers back to food. For me and my family, it’s more a case of closing a circle and returning to one’s roots. My favorite line from The Hobbit, “There and back again,” sums things up perfectly.

Find Your Place In The New Market Place

It’s easy for agricultural sectors to feel a sense of ownership, a sense of territoriality when it comes to others venturing from one sector into another. Greenhouse flower growers felt that farmers who threw greenhouses up and entered the local marketplace with lower prices were infringing on their turf.

Greenhouse vegetable growers feel that flower growers who are shifting into vegetables should stay away. I once referenced my local apple orchard’s venture into fall garden mums by stating that if they can sell mums, why can’t I sell apples?

I argue that today, diversification assures the best chance for growth and profitability. Farm stands and garden centers are morphing into identical retail outlets. Vegetables, flowers, nursery stock, baked goods — you name it and a progressive business is going to consider it in its product mix.

Consider how OFA and ANLA recently merged to bring greenhouse and nursery together under one association, AmericanHort. A question I’ve asked fellow growers in recent years is, “Are you a floriculturist or horticulturist?”

Several recent OFA Short Course programs have included seminar tracks on greenhouse vegetable production. Will it take much longer for AmericanHort and vegetable growers to come together? This year’s AmericanHort Cultivate‘14 (formerly OFA Short Course) seminar program will continue offering a track on vegetable production.

Is The Shift To Food Production Sustainable?

What’s fueling this shift in consumer demand from flowers to food? Is it real; is it going to last? My answer is yes, because we’re going to need more food to feed more people. If someone is hungry, they’re going to be more interested in food than flowers.

I also point to our younger generations of consumers and growers. A tip of my cap to young adults who are saying they want more of their food to be locally grown, fresh and sustainably produced. A colleague recently used the word locovores in a discussion with me to describe these individuals’ preference for locally sourced food. I like the word and what it brings to this debate.

These young adults are supporting farmers’ markets, which has resulted in unprecedented growth of this distribution sector nationally. Farmers’ markets are exploding coast to coast. How long until we invite this group into our AmericanHort family? I think not long at all.

I’ll slap an exclamation point on the conversation with this final thought: Medical marijuana legalization is sweeping over the country. As soon as permits and licensing protocols are established, I have an indoor urban agriculture project chomping at the bit to shift gear into this crop. So, shifting from flowers to food to fun may very well become an option for growers in the future.

As Kurt Schilling once said during the Red Sox’ run to the World Series in 2004, “Why not us?”

A Change In Crop Can Mean A Change In Growing Systems

As growers or ornamental crops add vegetables to their greenhouse rotations, some aspects of production remain the same while others bring new challenges. One of my favorite comments when discussing the different sectors of agriculture is, “A plant’s a plant.” Most crops require very similar inputs: water, fertilizer, temperature, insect and disease management and so on. But the big difference between ornamental and food crops is food safety.

Food safety laws and regulations are evolving continuously in order to assure consumers that their food is produced by farmers and handled by supply chain participants using accepted protocols and caution. Minimizing the entry of plant and animal pathogens that cause human health problems into the food chain is critical when feeding as many people as currently inhabit our planet.

Growers of ornamental crops face the challenge of learning new practices in order to comply with current food safety laws. We also must stay current when government regulations change. Similar to maintaining our pesticide applicator licenses, by law we must make a commitment to protect the safety of our food chain. To this end, educational conferences such as AmericanHort Cultivate‘14 will provide growers with the information we need to learn, understand and comply with current and future regulations.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

More From Grow Initiative...

May 23, 2017

6 Simple Ways to Acquire New Customers

Even the most successful brands need new customers if they want to grow their business, or stay profitable.

Read More
Tyler Beasley

May 21, 2017

Final California Spring Trials Thoughts From Allan Armitage Scholarship Winner Tyler Beasley

“I went home from California Spring Trials realizing that the students enrolled in our Greenhouse Management program at Spokane Community College need to experience the trials. Attending opened many doors of opportunity for me.”

Read More
Cannabis Adobe Stock feature

May 1, 2017

Why I Turned Down a High-Paying Offer to Grow Cannabis (More Than Once)

Young growers have passion for all aspects of organic and sustainable growing. The key to not losing them to the cannabis industry, according to Kelly Vance, a Technical Consultant for Beneficial Insectary, may be nurturing their interests in these fields by aligning greenhouse production with sustainable growing practices.

Read More
Latest Stories

May 23, 2017

6 Simple Ways to Acquire New Customers

Even the most successful brands need new customers if they want to grow their business, or stay profitable.

Read More
Tyler Beasley

May 21, 2017

Final California Spring Trials Thoughts From Allan Armi…

“I went home from California Spring Trials realizing that the students enrolled in our Greenhouse Management program at Spokane Community College need to experience the trials. Attending opened many doors of opportunity for me.”

Read More
Cannabis Adobe Stock feature

May 1, 2017

Why I Turned Down a High-Paying Offer to Grow Cannabis …

Young growers have passion for all aspects of organic and sustainable growing. The key to not losing them to the cannabis industry, according to Kelly Vance, a Technical Consultant for Beneficial Insectary, may be nurturing their interests in these fields by aligning greenhouse production with sustainable growing practices.

Read More
National Collegiate Landscape Competition Feature

April 27, 2017

Hoffman Nursery Cheers On the Next Generation of Hortic…

Hoffman Nursery was a sponsor of the recent 41st National Collegiate Landscape Competition, an event that offers several opportunities for companies in the green industry to meet and recruit the next-generation of horticulturists.

Read More
Kaylee South

April 22, 2017

American Floral Endowment Announces Winners of 2017 Pau…

Four students pursuing careers in horticulture now have scholarships to help them along the way, thanks to the American Floral Endowment.

Read More
Basil Planting feature

March 29, 2017

How You Can Embrace Greenhouse Food Production With Con…

Maintaining balance, learning continuously, and seeking support will help make your transition into producing greenhouse food crops a smooth one.

Read More
If your Wi-Fi is truly secure, your staff can help customers on the sales floor starting today

March 25, 2017

What Marketing Approach Can Attracts the Most Customers…

Inc.com surveyed more than a thousand customers to find out which marketing strategies worked best to entice them to try out a new business

Read More
Greenhouse Loyal Customer

March 16, 2017

How Brand Enthusiasts Can Be Your Most Loyal Customers

A marketing expert shares three core principles that direct-to-consumer companies can follow to create brand enthusiasts.

Read More

February 17, 2017

How to Keep Customers Coming Back With Top-Notch Servic…

A recent article on Forbes.com outlines seven ways organizations can take their customer service from good to great and beyond.

Read More

January 27, 2017

Why Greenhouse Growers Must Know Their Costs to Stay Co…

Tom Dudek, Senior Educator at Michigan State University Extension, says greenhouse growers should evaluate their production costs to determine if they need to make adjustments to stay competitive.

Read More
Workplace Trends

January 20, 2017

10 Trends Predicted to Impact the Workplace in 2017

Here are 10 workplace trends that Forbes contributor Dan Schawbel predicts for 2017 that may change the way you do business in the future

Read More

January 10, 2017

Sidney B. Meadows Scholarship Endowment Fund Accepting …

The deadline for applications is May 26, and 12 scholarships of $1,500 each will be awarded at the SEGreen Conference in August.

Read More
GROW Logo

December 28, 2016

Greenhouse Grower’s GROW Initiative: A Year In Review

Staying ahead of the competition in today’s world is about remaining in constant motion with innovation. To create a competitive advantage, you must consistently experiment with and learn from new ideas. Greenhouse Grower’s GROW initiative provided cutting-edge ideas and actionable advice.

Read More
Grow Summit 2016 group shot

December 20, 2016

Less Talk, More Action At Greenhouse Grower’s GRO…

Investing in technology, developing new marketing solutions, and recruiting young growers were just a few of the issues covered at GROW Summit 2016.

Read More
Dramm-Echter-Pink-Gerbera-Daisies

November 22, 2016

Dramm & Echter Donates Pink Gerbera Daisies During …

“As a local flower farm, we are honored to show our support by sharing symbolic pink flowers with each participant as they reach the midway point on their amazing journey,” says Bob Echter, Owner of Dramm & Echter.

Read More
deming-pdsa-cycle

November 21, 2016

How The PDSA Cycle Can Help You Improve Your Business

No successful business stays stagnant, which means you should constantly be looking for ways to make improvements to your business and your products. Are you looking for a good model to follow? Try the PDSA Cycle.

Read More
afe-fundraising-dinner

November 17, 2016

AFE Fundraising Dinner Celebrates Success, Raises Almos…

The American Floral Endowment’s biggest fundraising event of the year, the 2016 Annual Fundraising Dinner, did more than just honor industry champions. It also raised nearly $20,000 for the future of floriculture programs.

Read More
hoffman-nursery-owners

November 9, 2016

How Hoffman Nursery Invests In The Future Of The Greenh…

Hoffman Nursery believes in the future leaders of horticulture, and the operation invests in several programs to cultivate young people in their careers.

Read More