Dennis Crum is a grower’s grower. The 21-year mainstay at Four Star Greenhouse spends a lot of his time on the telephone answering culture calls and flying around the country to work with growers, help them plan spring production, review their seasons and decide what to grow or replace. It’s all part of the partnership Four Star has established with its grower customers, but it’s also the role, among his many, that makes Crum the happiest. As the director of growing relations and the wearer of many hats, he says he’s first and foremost a grower at heart. He has mentored countless young growers and emphasizes hands-on education and training with his fellow production teammates.
“I try to stay as close to the greenhouse and growing as I can,” he says. “I never want to lose touch and become a talking head.”
Crum started at Four Star in 1992 to produce plants for the initial season of the Proven Winners brand. Since then, though he is an employee and director at Four Star, he has guided the growth and production of the brand with his depth of knowledge and development of the many programs supporting Proven Winners.
“Dennis has a true passion for the industry,” says Tom Smith, owner of Four Star Greenhouse. “He is extremely knowledgeable, and I think he knows the Proven Winners material better than anybody in the world. He has a great feel not only for what plants will sell well and make consumers successful in the garden, but also what plants will produce well for growers.”
Crum has worked with researchers industry-wide to create production systems that solve grower problems. From the trialing and development of Four Star’s exclusive Supernova liner and the operation’s outdoor growing program, both in cooperation with Michigan State University, to working with plant nutritionists Bill Argo and Paul Fisher to develop the Proven Winners fertilizer program, he is dedicated to helping growers succeed.
The Vigor Index for combining like plants together for successful containers was Crum’s idea, and currently he’s working on a bench-run collection to make it easier for growers to produce plants with similar cultural requirements in the greenhouse. He led the creation and implementation of the in-house laboratory at Four Star and worked closely with Agdia and other pathologists to develop the testing program and sanitation protocol, both at Four Star and at Proven Winners’ two stock production farms in Costa Rica.
Within the industry, Crum stays active through research, contributing production articles to Greenhouse Grower magazine, speaking at the OFA Short Course and in greenhouse production classes at Michigan State University. A Spartan alum, he is also on the selection committee for new horticulture faculty hires.
As part of the management team at Four Star, Crum controls the budgets at both the Indian Trail Road and Sigler Road locations, which he helped to expand from seven acres to 20. Crum also oversees three offsite programs at Sportel’s Greenhouse, Henry Mast Greenhouse and Pell Greenhouse. He also works with two stock facilities in Costa Rica on plant nutrition, production, quality and shipping issues. Crum was instrumental in streamlining shipping practices designed to deliver plants in their best possible condition and keeps the operation on track with technology. Most importantly, though, according to Smith, he keeps everyone smiling.
“I use Dennis a lot as a sounding board, both professionally and personally – he keeps me grounded,” Smith says. “He thinks through things very well and I truly appreciate his opinion. Overall, Dennis is just a lot of fun to have around. He makes work fun and he can always bring smiles to people’s faces. He likes to dish it out but he’s not afraid to take it and, especially on a management team, that’s a rare quality.”