Plantpeddler Succeeds With Produce

Mike and Rachel Gooder, PlantPeddler

For some growers, using empty greenhouse space to raise produce in the off-season is a viable new market. If done right, raising and selling produce can help offset overhead costs without requiring additional investment in new structures or equipment. It’s not a slam-dunk; careful planning is required to find markets for your produce and to determine which vegetable varieties to grow, as well as to understand legal issues.
 
Mike Gooder, president of Plantpeddler in Cresco, Iowa, has faced these challenges and ultimately found ways to make growing produce profitable. He emphasizes that raising produce is only a small part of his business, and ornamental plants remain the primary focus, always taking priority over vegetables. But for Gooder, it’s worth doing.

“If you’re only producing ornamentals for a short period of the year and then that space will be empty, look at your opportunity during those windows to gain some revenue to offset overhead expenses,” Gooder says. “You need to look at it from a distribution of overhead cost approach — ‘I’ve got a fixed overhead cost, can I divide it up further?’”
 
Gooder says his goal was to bring in new revenue without increasing his fixed costs. “It doesn’t make sense to say you’re going to produce vegetables if you’re going to incur costs to build more infrastructure,” he says. “You have to look at your structures and opportunities and ask, ‘How can I do this without contributing more cost to my operation?’”

Gooder says one of the easiest opportunities is the fall cycle. “You seed now, you seed through the summer — there is a wide variety of vegetable crops that respond well to this. You can use the naturally declining temperatures of fall to finish that material and pick after the normal outdoor production cycle. It’s an easy opportunity to gain a fall revenue stream.”
 
While Plantpeddler still grows a large number of poinsettias as a rooting station for Ecke Ranch, and as pre-finished and finished, Gooder points out that fall produce is a good option for growers who no longer have poinsettias in their mix or if they are looking for something to grow with them.

Choosing What To Grow

Historically a potted flowering plant producer, Plantpeddler has recently focused on vegetative propagation of young plants, especially begonias. They started growing vegetables in 2008. When asked how he learned production techniques for vegetables, Gooder laughs, saying, “The way we learn most things at Plantpeddler — the hard way.” One of the big challenges was finding the right varieties. They needed to be compatible with greenhouse production, and Gooder focused on self-pollinating, seedless varieties.
 
“We tried more than 20 tomato varieties until we found ones that were adaptable to what we were trying to do in the greenhouse,” Gooder says. “If you’re going to do determinate tomatoes, they need an open canopy, and you’ve got to get air through that canopy. And they have to be able to grow in low light — most people are not equipped with HID lights in their structures, and a lot of guys will be growing under poly.” The typical Dutch tomato varieties for greenhouse application are developed for glass roofs and supplemental lighting. They are also mostly indeterminate, he says.

Gooder has had success with a number of other crops including Mediterranean cucumber, bush beans, leafy greens, Swiss chard, summer squash, zucchini, radishes, strawberries and raspberries. “Probably the most well-received product for us was the Mediterranean cucumber. Also the leafy greens,” Gooder says. “And there’s always demand for locally grown tomatoes, but it’s the most difficult crop to produce.”

Gooder saves money by recycling pots and planting media. Leafy greens, for example, are a 30-day crop, ideal for short windows within the ornamental cycle, he says. “You can take a 10-inch hanging basket, or — we do lettuce in a 6-inch azalea pot — core it out when you’re done and replant right back into it. You don’t even have to refill it,” he says.

In some cases, Gooder says, he can sell both the produce and the plant itself. With strawberries, for instance, he plants in late summer or fall in hanging baskets, picking fruit until Christmas. In January and February, the plants rest, and he begins greening them up again in March. “They’re cold-hardy, so you get them out of your greenhouse and finish them outside. You get a nice flush of fruit on them and they’re good to sell. It’s a double-dip,” he says.

The Legalities Of Growing Food

There is something even more important than the varieties you choose, however, and that’s understanding the legal issues surrounding selling food that people will eat, as opposed to plants that people will grow.
“The first conversation that you have to have is with your insurance company,” Gooder says. “Make sure they understand that you’re going to be picking food for harvest. We’re used to being in the ornamental business, and what we do typically doesn’t affect the health of our customers. It’s a whole different factor when you start to grow food.”

Gooder stresses that you have to do your homework. Challenges such as monitoring for pests, sanitation and pest control are more complicated when producing food for consumption. Fewer pesticides are labeled for greenhouse use, so the use of beneficials in an IPM program or mechanical controls such as row covers become more important. He recommends Wholesale Success: A Farmer’s Guide to Selling, Postharvest Handling and Packing of Produce produced by FamilyFarmed.org as an excellent source of information on harvesting, storage, grading and packaging of produce for someone starting out.

Finding Your Produce Niche

Plantpeddler’s produce is sold under the name Stone Creek Farms. Gooder explored and is successful with several different markets: restaurants, food co-ops, wholesale produce distributors, schools and institutions and his own retail store. The latter is the most successful. Initially a traditional flower shop, Plantpeddler’s store now carries Stone Creek Farms produce as well as other local products, such as wine and cheese.  Grocery stores, unless it’s a small, local chain, are the hardest to break into because of aggressive national and international price competition, Gooder says. Food co-ops are good markets because of the value placed on locally grown, sustainable products. “Co-op customers don’t want a Mexican tomato, they want a local tomato,” Gooder says. “Cost is typically not a factor, and you can set and count on a fair price for the season.”

Leave a Reply

More From Business Management...

April 26, 2016

“Bee-Friendly” Labels Matter To Plant Consumers, According To Study

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 For Greenhouse Growers

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 Attention To

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
Latest Stories

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
Costa Farms Container Ideas E-Book

April 12, 2016

Costa Farms Targets Consumers With New Container Garden…

The electronic book offers tips on container selection, design, and plant care for millennials looking to grow in small spaces.

Read More
An Edible Evening At Stephen F Austin

April 11, 2016

How The Greenhouse Industry Can Propagate Gardeners The…

Jared Barnes at Stephen F. Austin University says we are the experts at propagating plants. That’s knowledge we can put to good use to envision how to attract new gardeners and future horticulturists to the industry.

Read More
Sanitation programs are essential to preventing and removing food safety concerns.

April 7, 2016

USDA Launches GroupGAP Program For Fruit And Vegetable …

The new certification program is designed to help small and mid-size growers, including greenhouse vegetable producers, comply with new food safety regulations.

Read More
Tropical Fruit Tree Selection (Hopkins Tropical Fruit Nursery)

April 7, 2016

University Of Florida Research Shows Consumers Value Lo…

Compared to conventional plants, consumers reported a higher purchasing likelihood for certified organic or organically produced fruit plants.

Read More
Congressional Action Days 2016

April 5, 2016

Floral Industry Leaders Make Progress And (In Some Case…

Nearly 90 floral industry members gathered in the nation’s capital in March to meet with lawmakers in the annual event coordinated by the Society of American Florists.

Read More
Casey Houweling, owner of Houweling's Tomatoes

April 4, 2016

Houweling’s Tomatoes Grows Produce With Mastery Under G…

Houweling’s Tomatoes, winner of Greenhouse Grower’s Excellence in Vegetable Production award for 2015, exceeds industry standards for locally grown produce while pioneering innovative technologies that improve sustainability.

Read More
Student Video Horticulture Education

April 2, 2016

Use Videos Featuring Your Millennial Employees To Recru…

Your Millennial employees may be the best spokespeople you have for your business. Why not encourage them to make a 30-second video talking about why they got into horticulture?

Read More
Random Acts Of Flowers

March 31, 2016

The Floriculture Industry Needs A Unified Message To Pr…

Seeing the sneak preview of the new varieties that will be presented at California Spring Trials (CAST) spurs a visceral reaction in me. I’m giddy and excited about these gorgeous plants, having taken in some of their beauty and excellent performance already at Costa Farms’ Season Premier. I’m excited to travel to Spring Trials and that spring is coming, and I’m ready to dig in and get gardening. I’m guessing many of you feel the same way. And it’s likely that consumers do, too. Nearly a year ago, upon returning from California Spring Trials, I lamented the absence of ideas translated from CAST to retail. The beautiful displays, the breathtaking combinations, the clever marketing — somehow, all of that effort and enthusiasm focused on business-to-business promotion is not being funneled effectively to the consumer. As an industry, we are not good at working together to market our products in a clear, […]

Read More
Sakata Seed America President David Armstrong

March 30, 2016

Sakata Signs Agreement With Indonesian Government To Co…

This week, Sakata Seed Corp. announced internationally that it has signed an agreement with the Republic of Indonesia to cooperate in the further development and production of its line of SunPatiens interspecific hybrid impatiens, based on the principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Under an agreement based on the CBD, Sakata Seed has worked with the Indonesian government since the early 2000s to identify the origin of the native germplasm collected in Indonesia to develop SunPatiens, and the two parties have agreed on how the indigenous genetic resources will be used for the further development of SunPatiens. There are currently only a few cases in the world of such an agreement, based on the CBD in the category of horticultural plants, made between a resource-rich country and a commercial seed company. Greenhouse Grower contacted Sakata Seed CEO David Armstrong to provide context about this agreement, what it means […]

Read More
One symptom of Botrytis blight is gray, fuzzy sporulation on foliage and flowers, similar to that shown on the flower of this hibiscus

March 25, 2016

American Floral Endowment Will Fund Research Projects A…

AFE’s primary research funding priorities cover everything from pest control to production management. Funding applications are due June 1.

Read More
NGI-SunPatiens-Compact-Hot-Coral-Sakata

March 23, 2016

P. Allen Smith Says SunPatiens Are Hero Plants For Cons…

Plants that ensure consumer success with disease resistance bred into their genetics, and ease of use in a variety of conditions, are heroes for gardeners, especially beginners, and they should be celebrated and supported to promote gardening success and interest. These are the messages the award-winning designer, gardening, and lifestyle expert P. Allen Smith wants the horticulture industry to know, with the recent announcement of his expanded partnership with Sakata Seed. In an exclusive interview with Greenhouse Grower, P. Allen Smith describes his expanded partnership with Sakata Seed to promote SunPatiens and why the now 10-year-old series helps both novice and expert gardeners to be successful. Smith also collaborates with Sakata to promote the HomeGrown Collection of vegetables. SunPatiens Set Consumers Up For Success, Smith Says As a plantsman first, Smith has extensively trialed SunPatiens in his gardens at Moss Mountain Farm in Little Rock, AR, and says he is […]

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