Ellison Greenhouses Owner Talks About Transition To Color Star

Jim, Ellen Ellison, PJ Ellison Kalil

A 43-year-old business is closing its doors, but for the owner, it’s a new beginning. Ellison’s Greenhouses of Brenham, Texas, which grew from a commercial tomato operation into one of the best-known horticultural operations in the state, will be turning its greenhouses over to Color Star Growers beginning Jan. 1, 2013.

P.J. Ellison Kalil, owner of Ellison’s, says that while the decision was difficult, she sees a solid silver lining. “It’s a huge emotional thing,” she says. “It’s like a death. I can’t tell you how many tears I’ve cried and how many more I will cry. But the good news is, by leasing the greenhouse to Color Star, we’re helping their operation to continue to be successful. I feel really good about that because they are very good people.”

Ellison Kalil says once she decided it was time to move on, working with Color Star was a natural choice. “We have leased space to Color Star for the past few years and find them to be a great partner. They have the knowledge, resources and team to continue to be successful,” she says.

Retail Operation Will Close

Color Star Growers, which was founded in 1991 in nearby Giddings, Texas, has growing operations around the U.S. The company supplies garden plants to several large retail outlets, including Lowe’s. However, because Color Star is strictly a wholesale operation, the retail store, which contains a post office and is a tourist destination, will be discontinued as of Jan. 1, 2013.

“Our retail operation has been a viable part of the community for a long time,” says Ellison Kalil. “We were the first greenhouse operation [in Texas] to open our doors to the general public, the first to actually be a tourist operation and probably the only one that has pick-your-own greenhouse tomatoes. We were probably the first operation to do a poinsettia celebration at the magnitude we do. I think not only our local customers but people who have been coming from other states throughout the nation will really miss that.”

That is one reason that Ellison Kalil and her parents, Jim and Ellen Ellison, who founded the business in 1969, are glad that Color Star is taking over.
“We are pleased that the town location will remain as a greenhouse operation,” says Jim Ellison. “Ellison’s has been a tremendous asset to the community, the industry and the state of Texas for more than 43 years, and as a corporation it will continue to remain viable.”

The elder Ellison’s latter statement refers to the fact that his daughter retains ownership of the Ellison Corporation itself.  The corporation itself is not closing, and since corporations can remain in perpetuity, “Who knows what will happen?” she says.

Another important consideration was that Color Star is allowing Ellison’s current employees to stay on if they want to. “Part of our agreement is to keep the team members that we have, other than me,” says Ellison Kalil.
The loss of such a long-time supplier will be a jolt to some of Ellison’s long-time wholesale customers, since Color Star sells to Lowe’s and larger stores.

“We have some wholesale customers who aren’t really happy, particularly when you’re talking about poinsettias,” Ellison Kalil says. “We do more shapes, sizes and colors, and we’re really the only ones who do the Texas-sized. Some people have bought poinsettias from us for more than 40 years. We are their place to buy poinsettias, so there’s going to be an adjustment.”

Ellison Family Leaves Legacy In The Industry

Ellison Kalil says the business shaped her life, and she is proud of what her parents started.

“My mom and dad have had a tremendous impact on this industry, for example, the Ellison Endowed Chair of Horticulture, which Charlie Hall has used to make such a presence in the industry. They have been so active and so good in the industry, and hopefully I’ve had an impact as well. In that regard, I’m very proud of Ellison’s and what we’ve given.”
Ellison Kalil has indeed made a positive impact on the greenhouse industry, becoming involved at both state and local levels. She served on the American Floral Endowment Board, as chairman of the Advisory Committee for the Ellison International Chair in Floriculture at Texas A&M University and is active in the College of Agriculture Development Council.

Like her decision in 1993 to return to the family business, the decision to close it was not made lightly.

“In 1993, I was living in California and I didn’t like the person I saw, so I said, ‘Ok, man upstairs, what is it you want me to do?’” Ellison Kalil says. I didn’t get an immediate answer. At Christmas I came home and saw a half-acre of poinsettias in bloom and a wave of emotion hit me. But what I was actually saying was, ‘Oh God, please no – low pay, long hours.’ But I have never regretted it. I also knew He would give me the heads-up when it was time.”

That heads-up came this summer. “The last six or seven years family and friends have been kind of encouraging me to do other things with my talents and skills because it’s been a challenging time,” Ellison Kalil says. “I said, ‘I will know when it’s time.’ And, this year in July, I was walking through the greenhouse and it hit me out of nowhere that this would be my very last poinsettia crop. A week later, Kenny Verbeek asked if Color Star could lease the entire greenhouse operation because they needed the space. There are no coincidences.”

Asked what her future plans are, Ellison Kalil says she is waiting to see what her next adventure will be.

“I don’t have a retirement plan, so I will be looking for gainful employment. I’m not going to have any huge answers to what my tomorrow is, because I just need to celebrate today and savor the next two months. I won’t get that again,” she says. “It’s time to say goodbye, but we certainly intend to go out with a bang. We’re having our 22nd poinsettia celebration. For those who have meant to go and have been putting it off, it’s time to get here.”
Although so many family businesses in the horticulture industry have struggled to come to similar decisions, Ellison Kalil is comfortable with her choice.

“Now that all this is out, I believe doors will start opening,” she says. “This has been a tremendous journey of faith. And, at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with the greenhouse, although that’s the vehicle. The real question is, ‘How obedient are you going to be here?’ I think I’m being obedient, and that’s where I find my peace.”

Leave a Reply

4 comments on “Ellison Greenhouses Owner Talks About Transition To Color Star

  1. PJ Ellison Kalil has been so generous over the years to this community that I know there is going to be many doors opening to her and she will do an amazing job where ever she decides to land.

  2. PJ - While we had just a couple of brief interactions, your passion and enthusiasm was/is contagious. I thank you for the example you've set for so many, and I appreciate your witness for Christ as you walk in obedience to His calling. May you continually be blessed and I look forward to hearing where He's placed you next.

  3. For the last 3 years, BHS's Gathering Grounds has been graciously accepted into Ellison's Poinsettia Celebration. This group consists of students with special abilities who make and sell Independence Coffee as well as other other projects. Money raised is used towards employment skill materials and for social projects including helping others who are struggling, yet at the same time are trying to help themselves. I have also taken numerous pics of people attending the celebration and sent copies to them if they didn't have a camera. The friendships and the memories we have made have been a true gift from GOD. We thank PJ and the rest of her staff…and look forward to being there this year!

More From State of the Industry...
crider-rd2-internal_Rough-Brothers_featured

July 1, 2015

Rough Brothers Is Acquired By Gibraltar Industries

RBI Solar Inc., Rough Brothers Manufacturing Inc. and affiliates have been acquired by Gibraltar Industries, a manufacturer and distributor of products for residential and industrial markets, for $130 million. Capitalizing on its 80 years of design-build experience and leadership as the largest greenhouse manufacturer in North America, Ohio-based RBI has established itself during the past five years as North America’s fastest-growing provider of photovoltaic (PV) solar racking solutions. The transaction will enable Gibraltar to leverage its expertise in structural metals manufacturing and materials sourcing to meet global demand for solar racking solutions. The company also announced that it anticipates its second-quarter 2015 financial results will be in line with its previous expectations. “Acquiring RBI is an important step in the transformation of Gibraltar into a company with a higher rate of growth and best-in-class financial metrics,” says Gibraltar CEO Frank Heard. “This acquisition directly aligns with key end markets and product platforms […]

Read More

June 30, 2015

Opportunities Abound For Women In Horticulture, Says Dosatron International’s Lela Kelly

My love for horticulture goes back to my grandparents who were farmers in upstate New York. My family’s involvement in agriculture left a lasting impression that has spanned decades, and still drives my passion for our industry today. I started my career in horticulture when I owned a greenhouse, nursery and garden center in Sayville, Long Island, N.Y. We specialized in ground cover production, later branching out to producing perennials and bedding plants.     I then went onto wholesale hard goods distribution. In the 1980s, I was the first woman salesperson on Long Island. What an eye opener that was! New York is a very special place, different from anywhere else in the country. You cannot imagine how difficult it was walking into greenhouses and nurseries as a woman, in a man’s world. Luckily, I grew up in New York City in an Italian family, who taught me great […]

Read More
Medal of Excellence Award

June 30, 2015

Get To Know The 9 Variety Finalists For Editor’s Choice And Industry’s Choice Awards

Greenhouse Grower‘s Evening Of Excellence reception is rapidly approaching. Here, you can learn more about the varieties that are finalists for the Medal Of Excellence Editor’s Choice and Industry’s Choice Breeding Awards. Thank you to the 2015 sponsors of Greenhouse Grower‘s Medal Of Excellence Awards, Landmark Plastic, Nufarm and Stockosorb. Editor’s Choice Asclepias ‘Monarch Promise’ (Hort Couture) Basil ‘Balsamic Blooms’ (EuroAmerican Propagators) Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ (Sakata Seed) Dianthus Jolt Series (PanAmerican Seed) Salvia Grandstand Series (Green Fuse Botanicals) Scabiosa ‘Kudos Pink’ (Hishtil Nurseries) Industry’s Choice Basil ‘Balsamic Blooms’ (EuroAmerican Propagators) Bidens BeeDance Series (Suntory Flowers) Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ (Sakata Seed) Dianthus Jolt Series (PanAmerican Seed) Lobelia ‘Starship Deep Rose’ (Kieft Seed) Vinca Valiant Series (PanAmerican Seed)     Join us Monday, July 13 in Ballroom 2 at the Columbus Convention Center to find out which varieties will receive the coveted awards. The reception begins at 5:15 p.m. and the ceremony […]

Read More
Latest Stories

June 30, 2015

Opportunities Abound For Women In Horticulture, Says Do…

My love for horticulture goes back to my grandparents who were farmers in upstate New York. My family’s involvement in agriculture left a lasting impression that has spanned decades, and still drives my passion for our industry today. I started my career in horticulture when I owned a greenhouse, nursery and garden center in Sayville, Long Island, N.Y. We specialized in ground cover production, later branching out to producing perennials and bedding plants.     I then went onto wholesale hard goods distribution. In the 1980s, I was the first woman salesperson on Long Island. What an eye opener that was! New York is a very special place, different from anywhere else in the country. You cannot imagine how difficult it was walking into greenhouses and nurseries as a woman, in a man’s world. Luckily, I grew up in New York City in an Italian family, who taught me great […]

Read More

June 10, 2015

Women In Horticulture Should Celebrate Their Difference…

Maria Costa-Smith, executive vice president at Costa Farms in Miami, Fla., says she believes in equal treatment for equal work. She encourages women in horticulture to work hard, be team players, perform beyond expectations and add value to their organizations. Fulfilling Her Dreams Maria Costa-Smith grew up in the horticulture industry, and never doubted that she wanted a career in ornamental horticulture. Part of a family with a history steeped in agriculture, her grandfather, Jose Costa, was a farmer in Cuba, who sent her father, Tony Costa, to the University of Florida just before the Cuban Revolution to study agriculture. When the family uprooted in 1961 and fled to the U.S., they began growing tomatoes and citrus on a 30-acre plot of land in Miami, and soon after expanded into ornamentals. Thus, Costa Farms was established. Working on the farm with her father and grandfather, Costa-Smith says she was always […]

Read More
Pollinator-Conference-NC State

June 10, 2015

Experts Convene to Discuss How to Protect Bees, Other P…

A new conference organized by North Carolina State University (NC State) and Michigan State University (MSU) will focus on the need for bee-friendly ornamental landscapes and practical solutions for protecting bees and other pollinators. This autumn, researchers, educators and industry experts from around the country will descend on a small town in rural North Carolina to discuss a question with repercussions for both the economy and the environment: what can be done to protect bees and other pollinators? The conference is focused specifically on what can be done to not only conserve but also bolster pollinator populations in so-called ornamental landscapes, such as urban areas and manicured gardens. It is the brain child of two entomologists – Steve Frank of NC State and David Smitley of MSU. With pollinator declines in the news, public demand for bee-friendly ornamental plants is high, but much of the available research has addressed pesticides and […]

Read More
Terri McEnaney Bailey Nurseries headshot_featured

June 3, 2015

Bailey Nurseries’ Terri McEnaney Recognized By Mi…

Bailey Nurseries President Terri McEnaney was recently honored by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal in their Women in Business 2015 special issue. Those honored were chosen for the impact they have had on the business community in Minnesotoa, as well as their dedication to serving their community. McEnaney was honored for her leadership in growing the company significantly in terms of revenue, staff, global reach and brand development, as well as her strategic acumen and industry insight. Other honorees included executives from U.S. Bancorp, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Gilette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, the American Cancer Society, Cargill, 3M and Wells Fargo. “I am humbled to receive this honor from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal,” McEnaney says. “To be among this group of esteemed women is exciting. Seeing successful female leaders in other male-driven industries pushes me to continue working and encouraging women in horticulture to grow their passion into a long-term, fruitful career.” […]

Read More

June 3, 2015

Take Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Recap Survey

Please take a few minutes to answer Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Recap Survey. Your input will help us get a firmer grasp on how spring played out for growers and what we can expect in Spring 2015.

Read More
Bee on a Sedum

June 3, 2015

The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Launches With U…

The National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN) launched the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge on June 3, just in time for National Pollinator Week, held June 21-25. The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is a strategic effort to promote and protect the needs of pollinators in North America. Representatives of the recently formed Network joined First Lady Michelle Obama on June 3 for an event that’s part of her “Let’s Move” Initiative at the White House, to formally launch the Challenge. The launch of the Challenge is an unprecedented collaboration by dozens of conservation and gardening organizations, including green industry associations like AmericanHort, America in Bloom, Society of American Florists, American Floral Endowment, the National Garden Bureau and the American Horticultural Society. The organizations joined together to form the National Pollinator Garden Network and launch the new nationwide campaign – the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Designed to accelerate growing efforts across America, the Network is launching the […]

Read More
Status of Marijuana US Map May 2015

May 29, 2015

Marijuana Legalization Updates

As of April 2015, 23 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some capacity. At the federal level, several bills are currently awaiting action. Here is an update on current state and federal marijuana legislation across the U.S.

Read More
cannabis, marijuana plant

May 29, 2015

Making The Decision To Produce Medical Marijuana

Should horticultural growers consider cultivating medical marijuana? That’s up to the individual grower, of course, and certainly a number of growers already have jumped in. We at Meister Media Worldwide, publishers of Greenhouse Grower and American Vegetable Grower, do not necessarily endorse nor oppose the production of medical marijuana. But we do feel it is an option worth exploring. We intend our “Medical Marijuana” series of articles to give you information you need to make your own call. We hope you find it useful, and we do welcome your comments, thoughts and ideas as we continue to cover what we’re fairly certain is only going to be an increasingly viable and growing market for this emerging crop.

Read More
water

May 27, 2015

California Growers To Voluntarily Cut Back Water Use

Farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have agreed to reduce their water use by 25 percent in exchange for assurance that they will not face further curtailment during the June-September growing season. The proposal was approved by the State Water Resources Control Board on Friday, May 22. “This proposal helps Delta growers manage the risk of potentially deeper curtailment, while ensuring significant water conservation efforts in this fourth year of drought,” State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus says. “It allows participating growers to share in the sacrifice that people throughout the state are facing because of the severe drought, while protecting their economic well-being by giving them some certainty regarding exercise of the State Water Board’s enforcement discretion at the beginning of the planting season.” Growers who participate in the program could opt to either reduce water diversions under their riparian rights by 25 percent, or fallow 25 percent of their land. In both cases, the […]

Read More
Farwest2015

May 20, 2015

2015 Farwest Show Announces Second Annual Equipment Inn…

The second annual Equipment Innovation Day will be Tuesday, Aug. 25, prior to the 2015 Farwest show, which will be August 27-29 in Portland, Ore. Equipment Innovation Day, which was enthusiastically received in 2014, offers a real-time opportunity to see new heavy and automated nursery equipment in action. The demonstrations take place in manufacturing and nursery settings, adding value to the showcase. Attendees will be able to talk with participating manufacturers and learn first-hand from innovative growers who use the equipment in daily operations. The day-long event will be held at the main manufacturing plant of GK Machines, Inc., Donald, Ore. Further demonstrations of field equipment will take place at the nearby nursery of A&R Spada Farms, LLC. Bus travel to and from the event is planned, starting at and returning to the Oregon Convention Center. Attendees are welcome to provide their own travel to and from the site. Preregistration is required. The cost […]

Read More
CCGGA-Scholarship-Winners

May 20, 2015

Central Coast Greenhouse Growers Association Awards 201…

The Central Coast Greenhouse Growers Association (CCGGA) is awarding 20 scholarships this year to high school and college students. CCGGA-member nurseries raised money for the scholarship fund and each donated a portion of the fundraising sales to the fund, which is open to students currently enrolled in college for the following year. The scholarship program is also available to students of employees who work at CCGGA-member nurseries One of the organization’s goals is to continue encouraging future generations to enter the horticulture field and to promote higher education within the families that work in the local nursery business. The 2015 CCGGA scholarship recipients are: Aloysia Shea – Nipomo High School Andrew McHaney – CSalinas High School Angel Flores – Righetti High School Beatriz Barajas – San Jose State University Carolanne Garibay – Monterey Peninsula College Cladia Lavina – Salinas High School Erica Marquez-Ibarra – San Jose State University Jorge Zarate […]

Read More

May 18, 2015

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Top 100 Growers…

Greenhouse Grower‘s Top 100 Growers Survey revealed that our projections in the 2015 State Of The Industry report were correct: Growers, at least the large ones, are expanding. Greenhouse Grower’s annual Top 100 List ranks the largest U.S. growers by total square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouse space, although this year, we have also listed shade and field acreage, to give perspective on how large these operations are beyond the greenhouse. In total, the 2015 list represents 228,906,001 environmentally controlled square feet of U.S. production, a 5 percent increase over 2014. All told, 26 growers reported that their operation grew between 2014 and 2015. Several growers reduced their production over the past year, as well, and while some operations’ downsized numbers were significant, most were slight and probably typical of the give-and-take in the horticulture industry. Greenhouse Grower‘s 2015 Top 100 Growers Whitepaper includes all the results of the survey, […]

Read More
USDA Logo

May 13, 2015

New Report Shows College Graduates With Agriculture Deg…

A new report from the USDA shows high demand for recent college graduates with agriculture degrees, with an estimated 57,900  high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environment fields in the U.S. According to an employment outlook report released by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Purdue University, there is an average of 35,400 new U.S. graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher in agriculture related fields, 22,500 short of the jobs available annually. “There is incredible opportunity for highly-skilled jobs in agriculture,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Those receiving degrees in agricultural fields can expect to have ample career opportunities. Not only will those who study agriculture be likely to get well-paying jobs upon graduation, they will also have the satisfaction of working in a field that addresses some of the world’s most pressing challenges. These jobs will only become more […]

Read More
USDA Logo

May 6, 2015

USDA Awards $10 Million In Grants To Universities To Ad…

More than $10 million has been awarded to U.S. universities to address critical water problems, such as water quality and availability, in rural and agricultural watersheds across the country. The awards were made through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Water for Agriculture challenge area and the National Integrated Water Quality Program (NIWQP). “Water is our most precious resource, one that is essential for both human survival and well-being and for our ability to grow our crops and livestock,” says Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “By funding research, Extension and education for citizens and the agriculture community, we are able to proactively create solutions to water-related issues like drought and its impact on food security.” The AFRI Water for Agriculture challenge area was first introduced in fiscal year (FY) 2014, and these grants represent the first year of funding for the program. Funded […]

Read More
fngla

May 6, 2015

Florida Nursery, Growers And Landscape Association Name…

Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) has awarded a group of individuals through its FNGLA Industry Awards Program for their contributions to the industry. This year’s winners will be honored during FNGLA’s Annual Convention in Coral Gables on June 13, as part of FNGLA’s Annual Meeting. FNGLA’s Industry Awards Program acknowledges both FNGLA and industry service, with varying criteria geared for each award. Nominations are accepted from the industry-at-large and winners are selected by a committee of industry peers. The Wendell Butler Award and the FNGLA Hall of Fame are recognized as the most prestigious awards given by FNGLA. The Wendell Butler Award is presented for service to FNGLA and the FNGLA Hall of Fame Award is a lifetime achievement award. Nominations are accepted from the industry at large. FNGLA Hall of Fame Inductee: Hugh Gramling, Tampa Bay Wholesale Growers (Plant City, Fla.), retired Wendell E. Butler Award: Theresa & Kevin Riley, […]

Read More
water

May 6, 2015

Record Low Snowpack Continues In The West

Across the Western U.S., snowpack has melted sooner than usual, according to data from the fourth 2015 forecast by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “Almost all of the West Coast continues to have a record low snowpack,” NRCS Hydrologist David Garen says. “March was warm and dry in most of the West; as a result, snow is melting earlier than usual.” Historically, April 1 is the peak snowpack. This year, the peak came earlier. There was little snow accumulation in March, and much of the existing snow has already melted. “The only holdouts are higher elevations in the Rockies,” Garen says. “Look at the map and you’ll see that almost everywhere else is red.” Red indicates less than half of the normal snowpack remains. A consequence of the early snowmelt is that Western states will have reduced streamflow later this spring and summer. In Western states where snowmelt […]

Read More
RedPeppers_RosanaPrada_Flickr

April 29, 2015

Nature Fresh Farms To Build 175-Acre Greenhouse Facilit…

Growing fresh vegetables in the Midwest is about to take a major turn in a new direction as Nature Fresh Farms has announced a large-scale investment in northwest Ohio. The company broke ground on April 10 to begin construction on a 175-acre greenhouse facility in Delta, Ohio. “This is an exciting time for Nature Fresh Farms as we expand our operations to include a U.S. growing facility,” said Nature Fresh Farms President Peter Quiring in a press release. “This development will allow us to better serve our Ohio customers with locally grown produce, year-round and continue to grow our U.S. operations.” Contingent upon acceptable levels of incentives from the State of Ohio and other government authorities, as well as utility rates agreeable to Nature Fresh, the company would be poised to ship its first case of vegetables in December 2015. The greenhouse project will be completed in several phases over the […]

Read More
RISE logo

April 29, 2015

RISE Delivers Petition Urging President Obama To Protec…

Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE) delivered a pollinator petition to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, urging President Obama to create more habitat and forage areas for pollinators, and to consider all sources of information on, and contributors to the pollinator health issue. Nearly 600 citizens from across the U.S. signed the petition. “Our petition shows President Obama that citizens want a balanced and substantive conversation to happen on the pollinator health issue,” says Aaron Hobbs, RISE president. “The pollinator issue is very complex and research points to multiple factors affecting pollinators, including pests and parasites, microbial diseases, nutrition problems, bee management practices and climate change.” According to Hobbs, the petition highlights some of the steps the industry is taking to support pollinators. This includes creating pollinator-friendly habitats and forage areas through integrated vegetation management in utility rights-of-way and large tracts of land. “We do applaud the White House for including in […]

Read More