Greenhouse Grower has recognized one operation as its Grower of the Year for each of the last 25 years. A 26th operation will be added to the prestigious list at our Evening of Excellence ceremony July 12 at OFA Short Course, but Greenhouse Grower and its event partner, BASF, are taking the Grower of the Year awards program to yet another level this year with the introduction of a second award.
For the first time, we’ll recognize a Head Grower of the Year as part of our program. We’ve designed Grower of the Year as a program with two distinct categories–one that recognizes a head grower and the other that spotlights our Operation of the Year.
We opened up our Grower of the Year program to nominations for the first time in 2009, when George and Louise Lucas of Lucas Greenhouses were honored as Grower of the Year. The industry’s response to their recognition at Evening of Excellence was overwhelming.
The number of nominees we received this year for Operation of the Year and Head Grower of the Year was overwhelming, as well. Thirteen operations and 17 head growers were nominated for the respective awards, and our Grower of the Year panel narrowed the field down to four finalists in each category. Our 2010 panel includes Associate Professor Paul Fisher of the University of Florida, Greenhouse Grower Editor Delilah Onofrey, our last two Growers of the Year–George Lucas and Mark Elzinga of Elzinga & Hoeksema Greenhouses–and Steve Larson, national ornamentals account manager for BASF.
“I think it’s great to recognize an operation,” Larson says. “It allows the whole company to enjoy success together. But I also like this opportunity where we recognize a specific individual. The head growers are some of the unsung heroes in the horticulture industry. They don’t get the spotlight shined on them often, but they’re the master artists creating the plant materials that consumers purchase and grow. It’s nice we get to recognize them.”
In addition to unveiling our Grower of the Year award winners July 12, Greenhouse Grower will be featuring the Operation of the Year and Head Grower of the Year with its coverage this September. Stay tuned for more on each award winner, and get to know the operation of the year finalists
Bob’s Market & Greenhouses
If you’re looking for high-quality plugs and liners in the Mid-Atlantic, look no further than Bob’s Market and Greenhouses in Mason, W. Va. With 17-plus acres of greenhouse space, Bob’s is among the 100 largest operations in the United States. The Barnitz family specializes in plugs and propagation, and it’s also active growing ornamental bedding plants, flowering potted plants, container perennials and herbs for its garden centers.
Plugs and propagation are, however, at the core of the business Bobby, Rick and Scott run. Their business took off on the young plant side 10 years ago, when Bob’s Market began growing plugs for Ball Horticultural Company. In addition to its business with Ball, Bob’s is now a rooting station for German flower breeder Dummen. New business like this has helped the operation grow as one that produced 4.5 million plugs annually 10 years ago to one that produces more than 100 million plugs annually today.
“In my book, they have the best plugs out there,” says Kathy Miller, owner of Trail Nurseries in Dover, Pa. “I tell everyone I know about their material.”
In addition to its sheer size, Bob’s stands out because of its devotion to customer service. Customer satisfaction is extremely important to the Barnitz family, and it regularly goes out of its way to make sure customers get the product they expected and one that’s delivered in a timely manner. Bob’s Market also goes out of its way to beautify its surrounding communities and take part in America In Bloom.
The next generation of leadership at Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, N.C., is taking the family business founded by Tom Van Wingerden to new heights. Ranked at No. 6 on our Top 100 Growers list with 124 acres of greenhouse production, Metrolina is the largest greenhouse producer on a single site in the world.
While Art is president of greenhouse operations, Abe is president of sales, marketing and merchandising. Metrolina is constantly developing new ideas with a can-do attitude, whether they’re growing new varieties, inventing new production systems and automation, or building effective service and merchandising programs. The Van Wingerdens excel because they’re willing to reinvest profits into the operation for never-ending quality production.
“Metrolina continually puts their customers first and brings solutions to the market not only in products, but also in merchandising and customer service,” says Nathan King, Ball Horticultural Company.
Metrolina exudes leadership away from the greenhouse, as well, including in Haiti, where several team members helped raised more than $1 million for the Double Harvest mission following the earthquake there earlier this year. Double Harvest was particularly special to Tom, and he spent time nurturing the mission in Haiti each month in the years before his death in 2009.
Tom is sorely missed by his peers today, but his spirit lives on in Abe and Art, who have the same commitment to excellence.
With a young, energetic and hard-working staff, Rocket Farms, based in Salinas, Calif., has grown in recent years like few others. Within a three-year period, Rocket Farms doubled its orchid business and rose toward the top of our Top 100 Growers List, settling in this year at No. 4 in the United States with more than 125 acres of greenhouse production space.
Rocket Farms’ orchid production has grown so quickly in large part because Of the team’s dedication to marketing orchids. Last year, Rocket Farms sponsored a scientific study on best-care practices for orchids and shared the results with retailers and consumers. Because of such marketing efforts, Rocket Farms has played a key role in repositioning orchids in the market.
To support its community, Rocket Farms conducts an annual breast cancer awareness campaign in October. The campaign raises money for breast cancer and sends oncologists working with breast cancer a pink orchid to thank them for their commitment to the field.
Seemingly, there’s no limit to Rocket Farms’ growth. In the last 30 months alone, Rocket Farms has added 1 million square feet of greenhouse space. And sales have increased by 300 percent over the last five years. Expect those numbers to increase this year and beyond because of the operation’s drive for excellence.
Terra Nova Nurseries
When you think Terra Nova Nurseries, you think first of its numerous variety introductions, colorful marketing techniques and enthusiastic team. But what’s also noteworthy about the Canby, Ore.-based operation are its genetics and advancements in the tissue culture lab and breeding departments. From day one, Terra Nova Nurseries selects plants in trials for vigor, multiple crowns and the “wow” factor, all of which lead to reliable plants homeowners can count on.
Information sharing and promotion are important to Terra Nova’s team, as well. President Dan Heims speaks all over the country and is a regular participant in special programs for the Garden Writers of America, Perennial Plant Association and others.
Also at the core of Terra Nova’s success is marketing. A brand-new website, TerraNovaNurseries.com, was launched last year that offers targeted information for consumers and industry professionals. Additionally, the company’s catalog has evolved from a promotional tool to an all-inclusive brochure that’s focused on providing grower solutions and plant-specific information for Terra Nova’s customers.
In the greenhouse, Terra Nova practices IPM, scouts regularly, and uses predatory insects and botanical controls in addition to biological fungicides. Terra Nova embraces lean production, and it even conducted a week-long seminar for employees on the topic last year to create a more efficient working environment.