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...
Kaylee South

April 22, 2017

American Floral Endowment Announces Winners of 2017 Paul Ecke, Jr. Scholarship and Altman Family Scholarships

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

Read More
Oregon Lean Nursery Consortium

April 15, 2017

How Oregon Growers Are Making Lean Improvements With Help From Their Peers

The Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium recently helped two Pacific Northwest growers realize significant productivity gains and labor savings.

Read More

April 11, 2017

Jerry Halamuda of Color Spot Nurseries Retires

The co-founder of Color Spot Nurseries has retired, effective immediately, and has named a replacement.

Read More
Latest Stories
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
Oregon Lean Nursery Consortium

April 15, 2017

How Oregon Growers Are Making Lean Improvements With He…

The Oregon Nursery Lean Consortium recently helped two Pacific Northwest growers realize significant productivity gains and labor savings.

Read More

April 11, 2017

Jerry Halamuda of Color Spot Nurseries Retires

The co-founder of Color Spot Nurseries has retired, effective immediately, and has named a replacement.

Read More
NICH Plants Do That infographic feature

April 11, 2017

New Infographic Highlights Economic Impact of Plants

A new report from the National Institute for Consumer Horticulture shows how horticulture positively affects people’s lives wherever they live, work, shop, and play.

Read More
Vegetable and Hydroponic Production At Vineland

April 10, 2017

Growing Beyond Your Comfort Zone Can Be Rewarding

With experience in biocontrols and IPM, ornamental growers have much to offer in producing emerging horticultural crops.

Read More
Socius Webinar

March 30, 2017

Webinar to Offer Tips on Properly Managing Your Busines…

“How to Survive and Thrive: New Revenue Building Tools for Growers,” presented by Socius, takes place on April 6.

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
Leanne Kenealy, Hoffman Nursery

March 24, 2017

New Horticulturist At Hoffman Nursery Will Focus On Dev…

Leanne Kenealy, who brings great experience in plant evaluation, says introducing consumers to new plants can hopefully generate renewed excitement for gardening.

Read More

March 21, 2017

How Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Can Prepare for a Prod…

The United Fresh Produce Association is holding a Recall Ready Workshop in April that is designed to help growers properly manage a recall, from liability to communications.

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

March 14, 2017

Expanded Customer Footprint, E-Commerce, Succession Key…

Costa Farms' acquisition of indoor foliage producer Delray Plants rocked the industry, but the story behind Delray Plants' sale is the same as for many growers struggling with succession planning. For Costa Farms, the strategic purchase expands its customer footprint and also fast tracks its foray into e-commerce.

Read More
Steve Black and Bridget Behe

March 14, 2017

AmericanHort’s First-Ever CareerUP Event to Take Place …

CareerUP is a day-long workshop that is designed to provide the skills, information, and inspiration that young professionals need to advance their careers, love their jobs, and help the industry grow.

Read More
Horticultural Research Institute Logo

March 12, 2017

Horticulture Research Institute Rings in New Year With …

More than 150 industry professionals attended a reception at MANTS, which introduced new officers and celebrated the more than $190,000 in donations for HRI research fostering business-building knowledge for the horticultural industry.

Read More

March 10, 2017

Costa Farms Expands With Purchase of Indoor Houseplant …

Costa Farms annnounced March 10 that it has acquired Delray Plants, one of the leaders in the indoor houseplant industry. The two operations are committed to the same values, principles, and goals to grow the industry, and will fit well together to accomplish this, say Randy Gilde, CEO of Delray Plants, and Joche Smith, CEO of Costa Farms.

Read More
Startup Stock Photos

March 10, 2017

Passionate Horticulture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team

GreenhouseGrower.com is looking for people to join our team and submit original content to our website about floriculture and greenhouse production of emerging crops.

Read More

March 7, 2017

Local Florists Celebrate Women’s Day and SAF Prom…

Florists across the U.S. are celebrating International Women's Day, March 8, and raising awareness for non-profit organizations. The Society of American Florists is raising its own awareness of what happens when women receive flowers with a new video for International Women's Day.

Read More
Egon and Laina Molbak

March 7, 2017

American Floral Endowment Receives Major Contribution t…

AFE recently announced that it has received a $100,000 contribution from Egon and Laina Molbak, the founders and long-time owners of Molbak’s Garden + Home outside of Seattle.

Read More