Local Is The Key With Greenhouse Produce

Jeff Mast of Banner Greenhouses says he began looking at growing vegetables in the off-season about four years ago. “The whole locally grown movement has been big in Western North Carolina for a good period of time,” he says. “It seemed like there might be opportunity in that realm that we could pursue if we could match up the time periods in the years with those opportunities. Our goal was to diversify our product, diversify our customers, open up a new sales channel and hopefully cover some overhead costs in the off-season.”

Mast and his staff had a lot to learn. Banner Greenhouses is predominantly a wholesale contract grower for the mass market — two seasons of annuals in spring and fall, although they also sell plugs and liners and unrooted ipomoea cuttings. “We tried quite a few things — green beans, pak choi, cucumbers, bagged herbs, strawberries, mini cukes, mini squash and mini melons,” Mast says. “We looked at what would fit nutrition-wise, what fits with our irrigation system and, of course, where the volume is. Tomatoes and peppers are where the big volume is, so we worked with those.” Mast originally sold the produce under the Banner name. Now he is selling through a distributor, using its New Sprout Farm label.

Find The Right Market To Increase Efficiency

Mast has since backed away from tomatoes, saying he couldn’t compete on price. “You’re competing regionally during the season and with California and then with Mexico during the off-season. It’s a high-volume product for those guys, and it all comes down to commodity pricing,” he says. “In 2011 we really went after the tomato business. We had really good volume and a beautiful crop, but the price was horrible.” The pepper crop he’s growing right now includes red, yellow and orange bell peppers, which will be harvested during the summer and fall.

Mast has found a profitable marketing outlet with Whole Foods as well as with a local grocery store chain and a local distributor who works with restaurants. He says having a restaurant distributor is important since restaurants want small, frequent deliveries, which were inefficient for his operation.
 
Banner’s rural location is not suited for a retail outlet, but Mast acknowledges that would be ideal. He also stresses the importance of finding markets that value locally grown food. “Our product is local, it’s grown pesticide free, vine ripened and has a great flavor — those are the merits,” he says. He’s considering the advantages of becoming certified organic, citing some possible opportunities that might open up. “You can get a better price if you’re certified, but there are some upfront costs. We’ve found in some of our sales channels if it’s local, vine-ripe and pesticide free, it has just as much merit as being organic. We haven’t decided yet,” he says.

Last fall, Banner became Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified. It’s a voluntary certification but will open doors for business opportunities. “In the future a lot of grocery store chains are going to require you to be GAP-certified to sell to them, and the local school systems as well,” Mast says. “And as part of the GAP process, we’ve learned a lot more and changed our ideas on handling and harvesting.”

Develop Partnerships To Reduce Packaging Issues

As Banner started to get involved in vegetables, Mast got support from two important sources: his seed supplier, Rogers Seed, and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), a non-profit organization with the mission of helping North Carolina farmers convert from a tobacco-based economy to other products. ASAP helped with marketing and setting up meetings with buyers, while Rogers assisted with production information. “The main differences [from ornamental plants] are that irrigation is critical — the volume and frequency impacts the fruit quality — and the nutrition is completely different. Managing temperature and light was similar,” Mast says.

The marketing, sales and packaging sides of the business have their own unique challenges. “Packaging and handling have been the largest obstacles we’ve had to work through,” Mast says. “It’s a perishable product — it’s got to move. You don’t harvest the same quantity every week. For example, you’re used to 100 cases per week, now you have 225. Where are you going to go with those extra cases? It’s happened to us.” In those cases, Mast says, it was vital to have multiple, good business partners who can work the extras through.

Leave a Reply

More From Business Management...
Albert Grimm, Jefferys Greenhouses

August 25, 2016

7 Ways Albert Grimm Strives To Be An Effective Leader

Grimm, Greenhouse Grower's 2016 Head Grower Of The Year, tries to live by the "Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People” from author Stephen R. Covey.

Read More
Tidal Creek Growers

August 25, 2016

Maryland-Based SunMed Growers Nabs Cannabis License

The company was one of 15 licensees selected by the commission out of a pool of 145 grower applicants to receive one of the license pre-approvals.

Read More
Albert Grimm GOY feature

August 25, 2016

Up Close And Personal With Head Grower Of The Year Albert Grimm

According to Grimm, Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Head Grower Of The Year, the key to being a successful grower is educating and inspiring yourself, your staff, your customers, and the next generation of growers.

Read More
Latest Stories
Albert Grimm, Jefferys Greenhouses

August 25, 2016

7 Ways Albert Grimm Strives To Be An Effective Leader

Grimm, Greenhouse Grower's 2016 Head Grower Of The Year, tries to live by the "Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People” from author Stephen R. Covey.

Read More
Tidal Creek Growers

August 25, 2016

Maryland-Based SunMed Growers Nabs Cannabis License

The company was one of 15 licensees selected by the commission out of a pool of 145 grower applicants to receive one of the license pre-approvals.

Read More
Albert Grimm GOY feature

August 25, 2016

Up Close And Personal With Head Grower Of The Year Albe…

According to Grimm, Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Head Grower Of The Year, the key to being a successful grower is educating and inspiring yourself, your staff, your customers, and the next generation of growers.

Read More
Penn State Plant Bud

August 23, 2016

AmericanHort Is Helping Plant Importers Adjust To New R…

A report from Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort says the government is implementing a streamlined system for imports, in which all required data will be submitted electronically through a single window.

Read More
LuxFlora - feature

August 22, 2016

Check Out Luxflora’s International Adventures In Europe

A new, women-led professional organization provides its members the opportunity to gain insight, develop ideas, and build connections on its annual international trip.

Read More
MasterTag booth at Cultivate'16

August 17, 2016

5 Nuggets Of Wisdom From Cultivate’16

Here are five sweet pieces from the movers and shakers at Cultivate'16 to help improve your greenhouse business.

Read More
Cannabis ForwardGro

August 16, 2016

ForwardGro Receives License From Maryland Medical Canna…

The company, comprised of expert nursery growers, medical experts, business leaders, and patient advocates, says it can now apply its greenhouse growing experience, medical knowledge, and business expertise to effectively grow quality and consistent medical cannabis.

Read More
GreenhouseConnect 2015 Grower Supplier Meeting

August 16, 2016

5 Reasons You Need To Attend GreenhouseConnect

Greenhouse Grower’s annual event, which will take place Oct. 11-14 in Park City, UT, offers large-scale growing operations the chance to meet one on one with suppliers who can directly address your business needs.

Read More
Farwest Show Floor

August 14, 2016

Mobile App Now Available For 2016 Farwest Show

The app, available as a free download, can help attendees plan for everything from educational sessions to the New Varieties Showcase and Grower Showcase.

Read More

August 13, 2016

Plants Sales Are Up For Fourth Straight Year, According…

Growers declared spring 2016 to be a success in Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State Of The Industry: Spring Crops Recap Survey.

Read More
Echinacea ‘Butterfly Rainbow Marcella’

August 12, 2016

IR-4 Project Receives Federal Funding For Pollinator An…

Grants from the Specialty Crop Research Initiative will fund IR-4 projects on protecting pollinators through ornamental horticulture, and downy mildew management strategies.

Read More
Emily Teng

August 11, 2016

American Floral Endowment Announces Its 2016 Scholarshi…

This year, thanks to the generosity of several donors, AFE awarded more than $35,000 to 17 students pursuing careers in horticulture.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

August 10, 2016

Customers Need Hand-Holding And TLC [Opinion]

If we want customers to use our plants, we need to provide basic information about the plants we produce.

Read More
Plug Connection Assortment

August 9, 2016

AmericanHort’s Plug And Cutting Conference Will Feature…

This year’s conference, which takes place Sept. 19-21 in Carlsbad, CA, features discussions on water, pest and disease control, and production inputs, as well as a biocontrols workshop and tour of local cuttings facilities.

Read More
Jim Nordlie

August 9, 2016

AFE Establishes Memorial Tribute For Long-Time Rose Gro…

Kennicott Brothers Company, Nordlie Inc., and The Pete Garcia Company established the Jim Nordlie Memorial Tribute through American Floral Endowment in honor of James “Jim” Nordlie, who passed away on July 1 at the age of 93.

Read More
Josh Henry, North Carolina State University

August 8, 2016

Get To Know Joshua Henry, Winner Of The 2016 Richard T.…

Henry, a graduate student at North Carolina State University, is pursuing a Master’s degree in horticultural sciences, with a focus on crop nutrition in bedding plants and flowering potted plants.

Read More
Andy And Micky Buist, Micandy Gardens

August 1, 2016

Micandy Gardens Uses New Technology And Energy Efficien…

With it's through energy efficiency, new technology, or the use of biocontrols, the Micandy ownership family of Andy, Micki, and Marcelyn Buist are constantly looking to make changes that will keep the company strong well into the future.

Read More
Obscura Screens From Svensson feature

July 28, 2016

3 New Products For Cannabis Producers

From screens to fertilizers to lighting, here are three new products that might help enhance your cannabis production system.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]