2014 Head Grower Of The Year Ivan Tchakarov: An Enthusiastic Leader

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Metrolina Greenhouses’ Director of Growing Ivan Tchakarov is Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Head Grower of the Year.

From humble beginnings, Ivan Tchakarov reached his current role as Metrolina Greenhouses’ director of growing through years of hard work and dedication.

He is known for his positivity, as well as his modesty and willingness to share his knowledge and work with his team to overcome challenges.

Those traits were evident when Tchakarov was named Head Grower of the Year at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence, held July 14 at Cultivate’14 in Columbus, Ohio. The Grower of the Year Program is sponsored by BASF.

Tchakarov says he felt shocked and overwhelmingly happy when he heard his name called as the winner.

“I wanted to be sure to express my gratitude to all those with whom I’ve worked closely for the last 15 years, who have helped me along the way, as well as my family and friends who were there at the award ceremony to support me,” he says. “I hope I conveyed my thanks to everyone who made such a great contribution to my life and career achievements and did not mind taking my phone calls mornings, nights and weekends for advice. It was a privilege to stand in front of the people of this wonderful industry and receive the award.”

Pursuing His American Dream

Tchakarov is originally from Bulgaria, where he received a degree in horticulture and agriculture. From the beginning, Tchakarov says he knew horticulture would offer a good career path for him.
“Our industry produces beautiful products, and I’ve always wanted to do something that makes people happy,” Tchakarov says. “The university I attended in Bulgaria has an excellent horticulture program, so it was an easy decision for me to pursue this field.”

Tchakarov Family Christmas 2013

Tchakarov with his wife, Daniela and daughters, Jovana (left) and Alexis (right).

Also, horticulture is a profession that can be practiced almost anywhere in the world, and Tchakarov says he knew the opportunity to travel would be a good thing for him.

He moved to England in 1994 and worked at Burelane Farm in Cambridge and Trent Valley Growers in Derby County before coming to the United States.

“The decision to come to the United States — the land of opportunities, where hard work and dedication are rewarded — I wanted that life in America,” Tchakarov says.

Tchakarov first came to the U.S through The Ohio State University’s foreign exchange program, with $53 and an extra pair of jeans, not knowing anyone or anything.

“Life is full of challenges, but coming to the United States was a great opportunity for me, and it was a chance I was willing to take,” he says. “Years later, I am a U.S. citizen with a wonderful family and successful career. My life is here in the United States and always will be.”

Tchakarov enjoys the whole experience of growing — the journey from a tiny seed, cutting or corm to the beautifully displayed racks and tables at the store, and finally into the homeowners’ gardens.

“This is what gives me inspiration and fuels my creativity,” Tchakarov says. “It makes me strive for excellence and always to try harder each and every day.”

Tchakarov is passionate about his work, has a never-ending curiosity driving him to find new and better ways. He has the leadership skills to help others achieve their best.

“Being flexible, forward-thinking and open to change is so important in order to succeed, but it can’t be done without an excellent team beside you, working together day in and day out to accomplish the goal of growing and delivering the highest quality plants possible,” Tchakarov says.

“This is a great honor and a privilege for me and my team and colleagues at Metrolina. It is one more excellent example that this country truly is the land of opportunity, and great rewards await those who work hard and respect others.”

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Tchakarov (center), along with (from left to right) Abe, Art, Michael and Thomas Van Wingerden of Metrolina Greenhouses, after being awarded Head Grower of the Year at Evening of Excellence at Cultivate’14.

A Career Built On Hard Work

In 1999, when Tchakarov was studying at The Ohio State University, he came to Metrolina Greenhouses for an 18-month internship, during which he worked in the tissue culture laboratory.

Tchakarov was hired on as a plug grower and became director of propagation in 2006. Five years later, he was promoted to director of growing, in charge of all production across Metrolina’s 330 growing acres.

“He immigrated to the states and moved to the position of head grower at one of the largest, most advanced greenhouses in the world,” says Greg Gabrels, of Sakata Seed America. “He did this through hard work, smart work and teamwork.”

Tchakarov spent 10 years developing plug procedures from start to finish. His emphasis on plug culture, scheduling, implementing new ideas and techniques and setting specific crop schedules for every crop Metrolina grows, helps keep the notoriously high-efficiency greenhouse operation running smoothly.

“He works with the many resources available to him at Metrolina to grow some of the best quality crops you’ll see anywhere, and in bigger numbers than most,” Gabrels says.

However, Gabrels noted that Ivan will not take credit for his achievements at Metrolina. Instead, he will always credit his team.

“Learning the industry, working closely with my team and helping to build the next generation of leaders for Metrolina makes me proud,” Tchakarov says.

Tchakarov also contributes greatly to the company’s management team, says Ann Yonkof of Express Seed Co. He works with other departments to make sure new procedures work for everyone included, as opposed to operating the growing department as an island.

Tchakarov Leads In Innovation At Metrolina

Metrolina Greenhouses is known for being at the forefront of modern technology. It is constantly innovating and adapting new techniques and tools such as web-based data sharing for real-time production updates, Yonkof says.

“Metrolina is applying these same principles of efficiency and high-quality production as it works toward transitioning its annual and perennial facilities into one outstanding, seamless operation,” Yonkof says.

Tchakarov aids the innovation by constantly being open to new ideas and ways to improve upon old ideas.

“He is an innovator, always asking the question ‘Can we do it better?,’ then researching and using what technology has to offer in order to find the best, most efficient solution,” Yonkof says.

Rick Grossman of Express Seed Co. says Metrolina is “arguably the most technologically advanced greenhouse operation in North America.”

Metrolina has continually invested in automation for more than 40 years, constantly improving its ability to deliver high quality production to retail customers. Grossman says Metrolina is a rare example of a company executing its vision on many levels within the company, including production, sales, marketing and logistics.

“Without high-quality plants grown by Ivan and his dedicated growing staff, Metrolina would not be so successful, Grossman says. “Ivan is not afraid to challenge the status quo. If there is a better way, he will seek to understand and implement it.”

Gabrels calls Metrolina “the poster child for technology and innovation.”

“But tools are only as good as the people who put them to work,” Gabrels says. “Ivan knows how to use the cutting-edge tools to drive quality production on schedule.”

Tchakarov says he enjoys the challenge of revising and adjusting scheduling and plant manipulation for more efficient use of the employees’ time and efforts.

“I am extremely proud of using technology to convert our database to web-based access protocols that are updated daily instead of yearly,” Tchakarov says.

“Metrolina’s middle name is ‘quality’ and this is what sets us apart,” Tchakarov says. “Implementing new technologies, researching and staying up-to-date on best practices and working together as a team enable us to find, schedule, produce and ship the best crops on the market.”

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