Peace Tree Farm, well known as a grower of high-end finished ornamentals as well as prefinished and young plants, is getting into greenhouse produce. Greenhouse Grower talked with co-owner Lloyd Traven to find out why he thinks vegetables look like a good business decision.
GG: Why do you see produce as an opportunity for Peace Tree Farm?
Traven: We sell herb plants and potted vegetable plants to Whole Foods already, so it’s not a completely new idea.
Our son, Alex, is coming into the business and he is a big proponent. He will work this summer for a cut flower farm that grows some vegetables. Two summers ago, he managed The Dilmun Hill organic student farm at Cornell and grew all vegetables. We’ve become more convinced every day about the potential for success here.
We will be very selective with what we do. We are talking about converting some smaller areas over to hydroponic vegetable production, but I think we will also start growing outdoors, both cut flowers and outdoor and high tunnel vegetables. Our regular greenhouse space is just way too high-end for growing vegetables.
We really think the time is right for this. Produce is local. We feel it’s what the consumer, Mrs. Smith, wants. Or more important, it’s what Mrs. Smith’s daughter and her boyfriend want. They’re kids, and they’re already in debt. They may have a hard time finding a good job or buying a car. They’re moving to urban areas. They want control over something in their life. There’s a huge shift going on there.
GG: Peace Tree Farm is certified organic with its ornamental crops. Will your produce be organic?
Traven: I’m going to say we’re undecided right now. Certainly some will be. All of our herbs are grown organically. Everything we grow now is grown organically even if we can’t certify it. That’s not the issue.
The issue is it’s produce, not ornamentals. We need to be productive and functional and efficient.
We’re looking at how do we get there as holistically as possible — can it be done purely organically in enough numbers that it’s worthwhile doing?
We’re struggling with the idea that hydroponic is almost by definition not organic. There are ways around it, but Rockwool and stuff like that is not acceptable for us. If we can’t do it effectively, we won’t bother.
The key for us is local. Local trumps organic.
GG: What markets are you planning to target with produce?
Traven: We have a lot of things dancing around right now. I think there’s a real opportunity for us supplying local Whole Foods, since we already have that relationship on the herbs and potted vegetable plants.
The restaurant market is very good and we have a lot of history there already. Chefs come to us all the time.
But I really think the farmers’ market is where it’s at. At the cut flower farm where he’s been working, Alex has been running the operation at the farmers’ market and he has a novel concept. He’s working with the other farmers there. They get together during the winter and instead of competing against each other, they’re saying, “This is what I do really well. This is what you do well. Why don’t we just concentrate on what each of us does well and then we have the best of the best for customers?” They come together in a central location and market it together. I think that’s a great idea. Alex wants to do that here.
We are not going to be your source for general produce — just like with our plant material. We take contract orders for specific plants, get licenses and fill those orders. [With these contract orders] we don’t work through brokers [unless it is required]. We work very much outside the normal market channels and we look to do the same thing with produce.