Sunlet Nursery in Fallbrook, CA, is recipient of Greenhouse Grower’s Excellence In Community Outreach award and one of three finalists for 2016 Operation of the Year. Owners John and Janet Kister say they have always felt it is important to give back to the industry and have taken advantage of many opportunities to serve the nursery industry.
John serves on the board of directors for The Kee Kitayama Research Foundation and the Center for Applied Horticulture Research, started by Ken and Deena Altman of Altman Plants.
Janet is heavily involved with the San Diego Farm Bureau. California’s Secretary of Agriculture, Karen Ross, appointed her to serve on a nursery advisory board (advising the state ag department on nursery issues), and she is treasurer on the board of trustees for the Joseph Shinoda Memorial Scholarship Foundation. She is also putting her entomology background to use as part of a statewide taskforce working to solve problems with the light brown apple moth.
While Janet has served very actively on several industry boards and has been a strong advocate for them, she does it without capturing the spotlight and recognition, preferring instead to keep her focus on Sunlet’s primary business customers.
When discussing color crop production, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t refer to Janet and her husband John. They both lead by example and set a high bar for quality.
“If it doesn’t make the grade, we don’t ship it,” Janet says. “We want our customers to love our plants. We also ship the product the way the customer expects to receive it, by getting to know them personally and learning what it is they are trying to achieve on their end. Then we match it.”
John works closely with the employees at Sunlet, who Janet says have made the company what it is today with their hard work. An assigned team works with a crop from the time it leaves propagation until it goes to the customer, which fosters a sense of ownership and pride in producing a quality product.
The Kisters started Sunlet Nursery in 1985 on the premise of consistently offering high-quality plants and new varieties to their customers. The operation has grown from 5 acres to 26 acres of indoor and outdoor growing space, and produces specialty flowering and foliage plants. Sunlet ships to independent garden centers, supermarkets, wholesale florists, and even some amusement parks, throughout the country.
John oversees nursery production, while Janet oversees the sales and financial side. With John’s experience in research and production and Janet’s in marketing and entomology, they complement each other quite well.
The Kisters are proactive owners. They had the foresight years ago to implement best practices and modern technology when it comes to water usage for production. They did it not in reaction to state government controls and mandates, but because it produced better crops and was the right (and profitable) thing to do.
Janet says over the years the nursery has cut back on water usage by 20% to 36%, and it becomes more difficult with each additional required water cut because there is a new baseline to work with, not to mention all the cutbacks add up. Sunlet Nursery installed drip irrigation with pressure-compensating emitters and computer-controlled watering cycles to be more efficient. A water plant on the property collects runoff, redirecting it for landscape irrigation.
The Kisters have also trained their employees on best practices for water conservation. For example, team members are taught to irrigate efficiently, consolidate product more often, and dump leftover plants, instead of continuing to waste water on them. Most recently, Sunlet prepared for a 15% water cutback with the installation of new, more efficient drip irrigation system.
Although the company was able to hit the required numbers, the cuts have not been without some sacrifice. The team has had to cut back on production and review its product mix to get rid of water-thirsty plants.
“When you cut water usage with these measures, you do save money on water and fertilizer, but with the expense of water in California, the cost savings doesn’t come close to the amount of money we put out for the irrigation capital improvement projects,” Janet says. “What it comes down to is, if we don’t find ways to cut back on our water use when we are dictated to like this, we are definitely going to have to cut production, and that is going to hurt our customers and the company’s bottom line.”