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 Management...
SNA Logo

June 19, 2017

SNA, MANTS Plan to Co-Locate Their Events in 2018

There is crossover appeal for participants of both events, according to show organizers, and this cooperation will bring value and potential new business opportunities for both audiences.

Read More
Heat Safety App

June 18, 2017

Protect Your Employees from Heat-Related Illnesses with This Updated App

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have released an updated app for smart phones that can help workers stay safe when working outdoors in hot weather.

Read More

June 1, 2017

Reimagining a Brand: How Did We Do With Greenhouse Grower?

Changing the design and content strategy of a brand isn't easy, but we think the new Greenhouse Grower will help carry our innovative industry forward and allow us to better serve your information needs.

Read More
Latest Stories
SNA Logo

June 19, 2017

SNA, MANTS Plan to Co-Locate Their Events in 2018

There is crossover appeal for participants of both events, according to show organizers, and this cooperation will bring value and potential new business opportunities for both audiences.

Read More
Heat Safety App

June 18, 2017

Protect Your Employees from Heat-Related Illnesses with…

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have released an updated app for smart phones that can help workers stay safe when working outdoors in hot weather.

Read More

June 1, 2017

Reimagining a Brand: How Did We Do With Greenhouse Grow…

Changing the design and content strategy of a brand isn't easy, but we think the new Greenhouse Grower will help carry our innovative industry forward and allow us to better serve your information needs.

Read More
June 2017 Cover feature Image

June 1, 2017

Greenhouse Grower is Evolving With You

For 33 years, Greenhouse Grower has been the most trusted, independent resource for our industry and your operation. We’ll keep evolving to remain an indispensable partner for you in the months and years to come.

Read More

May 31, 2017

Customers Come First at Prides Corner Farms

This people-focused grower serves a diverse set of customers, successfully giving each one individual attention without sacrificing efficiency.

Read More
Art VanWingerden

May 31, 2017

Art VanWingerden on the Importance of Investing in Your…

When it comes to reinvesting in structures, Art VanWingerden of Metrolina Greenhouses says it's important maintain the longevity of the building so it will last to the next generation and the generation after that.

Read More
Stepables Tough-Ten Tags

May 25, 2017

Jury Awards Damages in Stepables Photo Copyright Case, …

According to a press release from Under A Foot Plant, Co,, a jury awarded Under A Foot Plant (which owns the Stepables product line) $900,000 in actual damages for The Perennial Farm’s use of Stepables’ copyrighted photographs.

Read More

May 25, 2017

AmericanHort Hosting Advocacy Visit to Capitol Hill in …

AmericanHort has announced it will be hosting Impact Washington, an inaugural advocacy and policy summit, in Washington, DC, Sept. 12-13.

Read More

May 23, 2017

USDA-APHIS Bulletin on Unauthorized Distribution of Gen…

On May 2, 2017, USDA-APHIS was informed that an orange petunia variety was potentially genetically engineered and had been imported and moved interstate without required authorization by APHIS. This led to testing of numerous petunia varieties, which confirmed this particular variety and several others are genetically engineered, and meet the regulatory definition of a regulated article under APHIS regulations. APHIS continues to work with the industry to ensure unauthorized GE petunias are not distributed in the United States.

Read More

May 23, 2017

6 Simple Ways to Acquire New Customers

Even the most successful brands need new customers if they want to grow their business, or stay profitable.

Read More
Dr. P. Allen Hammer, Dummen Orange

May 22, 2017

New Dümmen Orange Scholarship Honors Legacy of Dr. P. A…

“Our industry’s future depends on attracting and supporting bright, hard-working students into horticulture programs across North America, and the support of Dümmen Orange will aid that effort,” Hammer says.

Read More
The Greenhouse and Hoophouse growers handbook

May 19, 2017

New Book Highlights the Benefits of Growing Vegetables …

Andrew Mefferd’s new book, “The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook: Organic Vegetable Production Using Protected Culture,” covers the many benefits of protected culture food production, from being first to market, to more effective pest control.

Read More
MedMen New Facility

May 18, 2017

MedMen Cannabis Production Facility in Nevada Nearly Co…

Construction is expected to be completed this summer on the facility, which will include a 26,000-square-foot greenhouse and a 19,000-square-foot extraction and production wing.

Read More
New Frontier Cannabis Industry Annual Report

May 18, 2017

New Frontier Publishes Annual Report on the Cannabis In…

The 2017 Cannabis Industry Annual Report provides an up-to-date perspective on the growth and transformation of the legal cannabis industry, and what it means for each segment of the market, including producers.

Read More
ISO Cutting Machine

May 16, 2017

The Top 100 Growers are Investing in More Technology to…

Labor has traditionally been among growers’ most significant costs, but the continued rising costs and lack of available labor are currently two very heavy burdens that growers have to bear. As the labor supply dwindles, the Top 100 Growers discuss their next steps toward investing in technology to streamline efficiency at their respective operations.

Read More
Flores El Capiro, AIPH Grower of the Year 2017

May 16, 2017

Entries Now Open for International Grower of the Year A…

The International Association of Horticultural Producers’ International Grower of the Year Awards, sponsored by Royal Flora Holland, will take place at IPM Essen 2018 in Essen, Germany.

Read More
Cannabis Crop Protection

May 14, 2017

2017 Cannabis Regulatory Outlook: A Game of Wait and Se…

Medical and adult use legalization measures are on the legislative agenda in a total of 37 states in 2017 — and there's a sentiment gaining steam that the new administration may not be so scary after all.

Read More
2016 Top 100 Growers List

May 12, 2017

How the Top 100 Greenhouse Growers Tackle Managing Cost…

The country’s largest growers continue to strive to maintain a balance with price and costs while making sure they stand out from the competition.

Read More