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...
National Garden Bureau California Vegetable Summer Trials

May 26, 2016

California Summer Vegetable Trials In August Will Cover A Wide Range Of Crops

The National Garden Bureau is once again organizing summer vegetables trials this August in California, giving attendees the opportunity to visit with several breeding companies.

Read More
Costa Farms won International Grower of the Year. Representing the operation, (left to right) were Chuck Zala, Michael Vera, Menachem Ganon, Jose Costa, and Mike Rimland

May 24, 2016

AIPH Seeking Entries For Its International Grower of the Year Awards

The International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) is inviting ornamental growers from all around the world to enter the AIPH International Grower of the Year Awards (IGOTY) for 2017. Last year’s big winner was Florida-based Costa Farms.

Read More
Gotham Greens Atrium Style Greenhouse Chicago

May 23, 2016

What’s Good For The Environment Is Good For Business [Opinion]

Investing in technology to become more sustainable “always goes hand in hand,” says Abe VanWingerden, co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses. “If it is good for the environment, it normally is good for business over the long term.” That connection was abundantly clear in the responses we received to this year’s Top 100 Growers Survey. VanWingerden points to three investments Metrolina has made as good examples of how technology can reduce an operation’s carbon footprint and pay dividends financially. Its biomass system burns locally sourced waste wood — a renewable resource; its ozone water treatment system cleans irrigation water, reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and improving plant quality and precision growing; and electrostatic sprayers reduce water and chemical use, and provide more targeted chemical applications. Other Top 100 Growers have found VanWingerden’s theory to be true, as well. Costa Farms’ investment in solar energy panels on three buildings at its […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Costa Farms won International Grower of the Year. Representing the operation, (left to right) were Chuck Zala, Michael Vera, Menachem Ganon, Jose Costa, and Mike Rimland

May 24, 2016

AIPH Seeking Entries For Its International Grower of th…

The International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) is inviting ornamental growers from all around the world to enter the AIPH International Grower of the Year Awards (IGOTY) for 2017. Last year’s big winner was Florida-based Costa Farms.

Read More
Gotham Greens Atrium Style Greenhouse Chicago

May 23, 2016

What’s Good For The Environment Is Good For Business [O…

Investing in technology to become more sustainable “always goes hand in hand,” says Abe VanWingerden, co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses. “If it is good for the environment, it normally is good for business over the long term.” That connection was abundantly clear in the responses we received to this year’s Top 100 Growers Survey. VanWingerden points to three investments Metrolina has made as good examples of how technology can reduce an operation’s carbon footprint and pay dividends financially. Its biomass system burns locally sourced waste wood — a renewable resource; its ozone water treatment system cleans irrigation water, reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and improving plant quality and precision growing; and electrostatic sprayers reduce water and chemical use, and provide more targeted chemical applications. Other Top 100 Growers have found VanWingerden’s theory to be true, as well. Costa Farms’ investment in solar energy panels on three buildings at its […]

Read More
Top 100 Drone Image Feature

May 16, 2016

Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers Talk Technolo…

The Top 100 Growers are already by nature some of the most technologically advanced greenhouse operations, due to their sheer size and need for efficiency. Many of the largest growers also serve big box merchandisers and home improvement chains, where prices are dictated, so producing plants at the lowest possible cost is essential to growers not only staying in business, but also profiting and expanding their operations. This year’s survey focused on the automation and technology the Top 100 Growers are investing in, and how these advancements have improved their operations, as well as how they have affected growers’ labor issues. We also asked growers about how they’re solving labor issues, where they’re recruiting new hires, and how they’re keeping their people committed. Lean management programs and sustainability certifications have become higher priorities in the past several years, due to growers’ needs to run efficiently and focus attention on sustainable […]

Read More
PrairieSplendor_CompactRose Syngenta Flowers March 2016

May 16, 2016

New “Generations Of Flowers” Study Tracks How And Why C…

The Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment have released an update and analysis of this study, which first began in 2009.

Read More

May 12, 2016

AmericanHort Is Hosting A Greenhouse Tour In New Jersey…

The Field and Covered Production Tour takes place Sept. 14-15, and features stops at Overdevest Nurseries, Centerton Nursery, and Lucas Greenhouses.

Read More
2016 Top 100 Growers With Drone

May 10, 2016

Reading The 2016 Greenhouse Grower Top 100 Ranki…

Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers survey reveals continued growth among the nation’s largest operations.

Read More
Petunia 'Supertunia Violet Star Charm' (2015 University of Georgia Field Trials)

May 10, 2016

New Southern-Centric Ornamental Production Conference T…

The 2016 Academy of Crop Production is dedicated exclusively to sharing information on advanced ornamental crop production and business management techniques for ornamental producers.

Read More
2016 Top 100 Growers List

May 10, 2016

2016 Greenhouse Grower Top 100 Growers: The Comp…

Check out the full list of Greenhouse Grower's 2016 Top 100 Growers, which includes nine newcomers and more growth in square footage at the top.

Read More
Webinar Photo from Flickr

May 7, 2016

How You Can Connect With A Broader Audience Through Web…

Webinars are time-saving and effective marketing tools that can extend your reach to a greater audience.

Read More
Janeen Wright

May 5, 2016

You Can’t Take Small Business Out Of The Big Greenhouse…

Big growers who stay true to their small-business roots don’t lose sight of the personal touch in business.

Read More

April 27, 2016

Use Your Data To Make Smarter Marketing Decisions

Learn which marketing metrics are important to your business, measure successes, and learn where changes are needed.

Read More

April 26, 2016

“Bee-Friendly” Labels Matter To Plant Consumers, Accord…

Research at Michigan State University shows ornamental plant buyers understand and respond to bee-friendly production practices.

Read More
University of Florida Online Greenhouse Training Courses

April 25, 2016

University of Florida Offering Online Training Courses …

There will be five courses offered, with the first starting on May 30. Courses are available in both English and Spanish and range from beginner level to advanced education.

Read More
HGTV_2015CAST

April 24, 2016

9 Business Predictions Smart Brands Should Pay Attentio…

Andreas von der Heydt, Director of Kindle at Amazon, recently predicted what smart businesses will do in 2016 to strengthen their brands and promote their products.

Read More
Lin Schmale 1996

April 23, 2016

SAF’s Lin Schmale Offers Lessons From An Industry…

Schmale represented the floriculture industry on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years. The advocate has recently retired, and shares some valuable insights from her career.

Read More
Scott Schaefer Aris CEO

April 22, 2016

New Aris CEO Scott Schaefer Looks Forward To Dealing Wi…

Schaefer, who has been with Aris for 15 years, grew up working at his family’s greenhouse operation in Illinois.

Read More
Krause Berry Farms Farm To Table Dinner

April 20, 2016

What The Floriculture Industry Can Learn From Farm Mark…

Although we have a lot in common with the produce industry, there is much we can learn from one another.

Read More
Janeen Wright

April 18, 2016

Three Lessons From A Master Greenhouse Vegetable Grower

Three lessons from greenhouse vegetable grower Casey Houweling that you can apply to your business.

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