Growing Green: Ahead Of The Curve

Sustainability is a big buzz word in the media these days–but what does it really mean to grow plants that qualify as sustainable or earth-friendly? Certified sustainability goes far beyond reducing or eliminating synthetic inputs, according to Greg Trabka, sustainable horticulture specialist for Ball Innovations, a division of Ball Horticultural Co.

Ball’s Circle of Life program, which provides an assortment of regionally appropriate “green” flowers, vegetables and herbs exclusively to the independent garden center channel, is based on three principles that begin with reducing chemical dependency, he says.

“First, we ask growers and garden centers to produce plants using more environmentally friendly production inputs including organically based fertilizers and less harmful pesticides,” Trabka says. “Second, we reduce waste by incorporating biodegradable, compostable containers. Third, we support local production and distribution to encourage community development. Supporting local production eliminates carbon emissions from transportation and we’re also providing consumers with varieties that will perform well in their local areas.”

Growing plants for the Circle of Life program involves creating a living soil environment that hosts beneficial microorganisms, supported by organically based fertilizer. Ball recommends growers use Organic Biotech’s Plant Growth Activator Plus, as well as Daniel’s plant food and biological controls. Trabka says Ball’s trials have shown living soil with beneficial microorganisms makes plants healthier and stronger than plants grown conventionally in inert soil, not only in the greenhouse but in the garden, as well.

“It is essential to create a healthy environment for healthy plant growth,” he says. “When you have a healthy plant, it is strong enough to defend itself naturally from pathogens and therefore you don’t need as many chemicals.”

Circle of Life was launched in 2005 in four states–Washington, Minnesota, Idaho and Michigan–adding two additional states each year. Whereas the first year there were 30 participants, this year there are nearly 150 participants in the program and Ball is aiming to launch Circle of Life nationwide in 2008, according to Bill Doeckel, general manager of Ball Innovations, who is heading up many of the company’s efforts on sustainability. Ball supplies growers and retailers with Circle of Life point-of-purchase materials, press releases and template articles on the program’s efforts toward sustainability to send to their local newspapers.

“Our sales force has been trained on Circle of Life and is ready to help growers grow sustainably and work with them to get this program implemented within their local garden centers,” Doeckel says. 

Walking The Walk

Ball Horticultural Co. began to research developing earth-friendly plants for the horticulture market in 2000, but before it made any moves, the company made a grassroots effort to “get its house in order,” Doeckel says.

“It was important to us that we walk the walk before we started talking to our customers about sustainability,” he says.

Ball’s international facilities in Costa Rica and Guatemala are already certified sustainable through VeriFlora, the new sustainability certification program for fresh cut flowers and potted plants in North America ( Ball’s company in Colombia will be certified this summer, its Ball Tagawa operation will be certified this fall, and the company plans to keep going until all of its facilities are certified, Doeckel says. In the future, Trabka adds Ball will promote sustainability certification and may require it of growers who produce the Circle of Life program.

Ball Innovations, a new division that serves as an incubator for new ideas, projects and businesses for Ball Horticultural Co., was to a large degree formalized by Ball’s commitment to sustainability in horticulture. Doeckel says sustainability will play a large part in deciding whether or not to go forward with all of Ball’s projects in the future.

“As a company, we look at every new project now through a sustainability lens and if it doesn’t meet our criteria for sustainability, we won’t do it,” Doeckel says. “It’s part of our overall company approach now; we have a saying here that sustainability is a journey. It is our belief that by 2020, everything we do, including the entire industry, will be sustainable and it will be a moot point to even talk about it.”

With such a great deal of consumer attention focused on companies’ efforts to become more environmentally friendly, as well as low supply and high demand for conventional resources, Doeckel says the horticulture industry has no choice but to grow green. But, he adds, the industry should consider the opportunities to be proactive and provide earth-friendly options for concerned consumers.

“It’s a real opportunity for the industry to go down the path of sustainability,” he says. “If we don’t, we are going to risk opportunities as an industry, though we may not feel it immediately.”

Doeckel cites the recent article, “Beauty and the Plastic Beast,” in the Chicago Tribune, as well as Amy Stewart’s book, “Flower Confidential” as indicators that consumers are looking for a higher level of responsibility from the horticulture industry.

“It’s always better for us as an industry to come up with the solutions on our own than it is to be forced into them either through regulation or consumer scrutiny,” he says. “I would rather have the options first for the consumer.”

As part of its efforts toward sustainability, Ball Horticultural recently became the first large horticultural distributor certified to process and distribute organic seed by the Organic Crop Improvement Association under the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Ball provides more than 60 varieties of organic vegetable and herb seed.

“The progressive growers and retailers in the industry are really embracing the concept of sustainability right now,” says Doeckel. “We know many who are doing this and we see it as very positive.” 

Meeting Organic Demand

Last year, Plug Connection, a young plant producer in Vista, Calif., became organically certified through California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and USDA to offer its new line of finished herbs and vegetables, Organiks. When Plug Connection President Tim Wada and New Product Development Manager Juan St. Amant displayed Organiks in 3 ½-inch pots at Fashion In Bloom, the East Coast event for retailers last fall, the enthusiastic response and subsequent demand for the new line was overwhelming, according to Joe Messer, Organiks division manager.

“Retailers told us they can’t buy quality herbs and vegetables in the fall because most growers stop producing those crops in the spring,” Messer says. “The fact that our products are organic was even more intriguing to them.”

Plug Connection sent 350 of its sample Ship & Show boxes to members of Garden Centers of America the weekend before Memorial Day this spring, with tremendous feedback, Messer says. The combined shipping and pop-up point-of-purchase box offers easy merchandising with green benefits.

“We offer organic plants in biodegradable pots in a box that retailers can literally flip the top open and it’s a self-sustaining POP presentation right there,” he says.

As a result, Plug Connection is developing what Messer says is a business plan with multiple channels that continues to grow as the company learns more about organic production and marketing. Currently its products include plugs for finish growers and finished plants for independent garden centers and traditional retailers like grocery store chains, Trader Joe’s and Smith & Hawken.

Messer says Plug Connection is committed to working with other growers to help them through the process of becoming certified organic producers. While Plug Connection does have a market for its own finished plants, Messer says the company does not cater to the big boxes and he isn’t concerned about overlapping its customer base with that of its grower customers. In addition, Messer says Plug Connection does not currently have plans to produce organic ornamental plants.


Leave a Reply

More From Plant Culture...
Feature image The 2015 Perennial Plant Of The Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’

August 27, 2015

The Perennial Plant Association’s Regional Symposium Will Be This October In Dallas

The Perennial Plant Association plans to hold its Regional Symposium October 5 in Dallas, Texas, in conjunction with the All-America Selections/Home Garden Seed Association's Summer/Fall Summit held October 5 to 8.

Read More
september_grow_rodale institute

August 25, 2015

Hospitals Are Getting Into The Organic Food Business

Growers investing in the organic food movement could serve a growing new area with vegetable transplants and starts, as well as produce, as hospitals begin to prescribe healthy diets and nutrition, and even go so far as to grow their own food. As part of a new phenomenon among progressive hospitals, health professionals are beginning to realize that without health and nutrition, programs and techniques may be done in vain or worse — obsolete. As more patients seeking a healthy diet turn to nutritionists, who recommend sugar-free, alkaline diets to prevent disease and aid in recovery, hospitals recognizing this trend are taking action. St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa., recently contracted with the nearby Rodale Institute to manage an organic farm, established in 2014. The hospital, part of a six-campus network, aims to provide excellent healthcare, part of which includes educating patients about the benefits of a plant-based, organic diet. […]

Read More

August 21, 2015

Proven Winners Announces Roadshow Events For 2015

Proven Winner's Roadshow Events, held across North America, provide growers and retailers with the opportunity to learn how to grow Proven Winner's newest varieties and receive information about industry trends.

Read More
Latest Stories

August 19, 2015

Greenhouse Growing Recommendations For Lobularia

Modern-day Lobularias are garden classics with good vigor and long bloom times. These growing recommendations will help keep your crop in prime condition.

Read More
Mike McGroarty, owner of Mike’s Backyard Nursery

July 29, 2015

Backyard Success: Mike McGroarty Educates Aspiring Grow…

Mike’s Backyard Nursery sits on a long, narrow, 5-acre property located in Perry, Ohio. There, customers can find a variety of flowering shrubs available, all in 2-quart pots, and all for sale for $5.97 each. Owner Mike McGroarty, a lifelong resident of Perry, says the town has a lot of plant nurseries, including 100 wholesale growers within a 10-mile radius of his house. That doesn’t discourage McGroarty, because he knows that while there are a lot of nurseries in his area, no one else is doing what he is doing. McGroarty has learned about plants — and marketing them to his audience — through decades of experience. He has never hesitated to pass along his knowledge to other growers looking to start their own backyard operations, and has created an entire program to educate aspiring growers. McGroarty Likes To Practice What He Preaches McGroarty’s operation serves as the laboratory for […]

Read More
cannabis, marijuana plant

June 27, 2015

Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use On Cannabi…

As most growers know well, the federal government regulates all insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and other commercial chemicals used on agricultural crops. Therein lies the problem with use of chemicals on cannabis crops – so far, the feds want nothing to do with legalized marijuana. According to “Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use On Cannabis,” a June 17 article on the National Public Radio (NPR) network by Agribusiness Reporter Luke Runyon, the lack of regulated chemicals for cannabis has left growers to experiment on their own. “In the absence of any direction the subject of pesticide use on the crop has just devolved to whatever people think is working or they think is appropriate,” said Colorado State University Entomologist Whitney Cranshaw in the NPR report. “Sometimes they’ve used some things that are appropriate, sometimes unsafe.” Denver officials held tens of thousands of marijuana plants earlier this year due to safety concerns, but […]

Read More

June 16, 2015

The Butterfly Effect: Insect’s Wings Key To Azalea Poll…

A researcher from North Carolina State University (NC State) has found that in the case of the flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), all pollinators are not created equal. In fact, due to the flower’s unique reproductive structure, butterflies — and specifically, their wings — are the key to pollination. The flame azalea is commonly found in the Appalachian Mountains, ranging from as far north as New York to Georgia in the south. Like most azaleas, the flowers are large, and have an unusual structure: both the anther (male) and stigma (female) parts are very elongated and separated from one another. NC State biologist Mary Jane Epps was interested in how the azalea’s flower structure affected its pollination. “In order for a plant to reproduce, a pollinator — usually an insect — has to spread the pollen from the anther to the stigma,” Epps says. “In the case of the flame azalea, […]

Read More
Bee on a Sedum

March 17, 2015

4 Key Pollinator Research Projects To Be Funded By Hort…

The Horticultural Research Institute will grant $125,000 in financial support for four key projects as part of the Horticultural Industry Bee & Pollinator Stewardship Initiative. The Initiative has three primary goals. First, to convene a task force to develop a bee and pollinator stewardship program, including creation of best management practices for plant production. Second, to identify and fund research that will help answer key science questions and fill gaps needed to design and refine the stewardship program. Third, to seek to positively position the horticultural community and its customers by collaborating with other compatible groups interested in augmenting pollinator habitat and protection.

Read More

March 11, 2015

Pollinator Initiative Promotes Bee-Friendly Talking Poi…

AmericanHort and the Society of American Florists are working tirelessly with the ornamental industry's Pollinator Stewardship Initiative on a number of new projects.

Read More

February 11, 2015

Infusion Technology Boosts Seed Performance, Study Sugg…

Seven-year-old wheat seed germination can increase by as much as 83 percent, according to a Vital Force Technology Study that looks at the effects of energy infusion technology on plant vitality.

Read More

February 3, 2015

American Floral Endowment Accepting Research Pre-Propos…

If you are pursuing a floriculture research project, now is the time to apply for funding through the American Floral Endowment. Research pre-proposal applications for 2015-2016 funding are due to AFE by June 1, 2015.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Marijuana’s Trajectory And Ascent To Horticultural Cr…

Marijuana growing is poised for change as growers and researchers focus on improving production practices.

Read More

December 9, 2014

Greenhouse Production: Two Years Of Basics & Beyond…

Greenhouse Grower's Basics & Beyond articles cover some of the latest news and research going on in greenhouse production. Here are article links for the last two years.

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

November 24, 2014

GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile &…

The social garden app GrowIt! takes the Gold Winner award at the design100 2014 Mobile & App Design Awards.

Read More

November 10, 2014

The Perennial Farm Joins HGTV HOME Plant Collection

The Perennial Farm joins the HGTV HOME Plant Collection growers' network for 2015.

Read More

November 4, 2014

AmericanHort Publishes Revised American Standard For Nu…

AmericanHort announces the revised American Standard for Nursery Stock (ANSI Z60.1) is now available for industry use. The Standard reflects the consensus of the industry regarding how nursery stock — living plants other than annuals — should be specified and sold within the trade.

Read More

September 26, 2014

Master The Art Of Watering

Watering is elemental to healthy plants, but one of the hardest concepts for new employees to master in the greenhouse. Recommend these tips to start them off right.

Read More

September 16, 2014

Ball FloraPlant’s Las Limas Facility Provides Gro…

Ball FloraPlant’s Las Limas farm in Esteli, Nicaragua, is one year away from full production, but sales and quality from the two-year-old facility are right on track.

Read More
Erysimum 'Cheers' from Darwin Perennials

September 15, 2014

Darwin Perennials Takes Production Offshore In Bogota, …

With its recent purchase of a farm in Colombia, Darwin Perennials is ready to amp up supply of its perennial genetics, to provide growers with tried-and-true varieties and comprehensive production specifications.

Read More

July 23, 2014

Plan Now To Prevent Bract Edge Burn On Poinsettias

Reduce fertilizer and water, and allow your poinsettias to develop slowly during the final four weeks of production to avoid bract edge burn.

Read More

July 11, 2014

Growing Your Crops Above Their Base Temperature

Lowering temperature set points in the greenhouse may help you combat rising heating costs.

Read More