About 20 years ago, Albert Grimm of Jeffery’s Greenhouses in St. Catharines, ON, Canada, saw that the horticulture industry was at a crossroads. There was a perception that it was a terrible field to work in, with few serious career prospects and jobs that were not competitive with other markets. Consequently, says Grimm, “our industry missed out on attracting highly qualified high-school graduates, and we were gradually facing a serious shortage of highly qualified growers.”
Rather than stand back and watch the future of floriculture crumble, Grimm instead decided it was time to change this image. Starting in his own backyard, he got involved at his local community college as an instructor and as a member of the advisory committee for the Niagara College Greenhouse Program.
“We offer post-graduate education programs promoting continued learning, and our local community college has arguably the best greenhouse horticulture program in the country, with graduates becoming highly recruited industry specialists,” Grimm says.
It’s all about fostering an identity of professional self-consciousness and self-respect among horticulturists, says Grimm, who also extends this mantra to his staff. He shares his knowledge and experience about all aspects of growing in great detail, while promoting self-development from the top down. Better yet, no task is beneath him, as he will often be seen out in the greenhouse watering, spraying, and getting his hands dirty.
Grimm is a member of the Canadian Greenhouse Conference Committee, dedicating time to host seminars at conferences locally and beyond. He helps plan and also participates as an instructor for evening workshops held at the local research station for all members of the industry wanting to learn more. In addition, he often brings local growers together in study groups, where the emphasis is on sharing information to strengthen the local growing industry as a whole. He encourages teaching tours of Jeffery’s Greenhouses, bringing in groups such as students, local and worldwide growers, and even government groups.
Grimm also wants to change consumer perceptions about plants.
“I believe we make a mistake when we merely try to sell plants. The value in plants is not in the plant itself, but in the lifestyle experience that they provide. With every plant that leaves our farm, we have one chance to provide a unique consumer with a pleasing experience. This consumer is more likely to spend money on repeat purchases, if our products are of adequate quality. Product quality demands more than visual appeal and includes extended shelf-life beyond the garden center and into the homes of consumers.”
Grimm’s own storied background helped forge who he is today. Growing up in Germany, he started out in a retail garden center, before working for two years in the greenhouse of a psychiatric hospital, assisting in horticulture work therapy for the patients. He came to Canada in 1986, and worked in a nursery and landscape operation on Cape Breton Island. After returning to Germany, he was employed by a Canadian Army Base, and worked as gardener for the homes of commanding officers. In 1998 he emigrated back to Canada and worked for two years in greenhouse tomato production in Quebec before joining Jeffery’s.
Grimm says he is excited about the new generation of growers coming into the industry, and the enthusiasm and experience they bring with them.
“The industry has changed enormously since I started working as a grower, and I know that in 30 years it will look entirely different from what we know today. There is so much uncharted potential that we are just beginning to explore. If we do it right, we have so much opportunity to improve the lives of people and make a living from doing so.”