Fueling Expansion

Fueling Expansion

Generation X growers are ready
for tomorrow’s challenges.

Pictured from left are John Bonner, sister Jill Cain with husband Todd Cain. When we visited, they were growing Easter crops in new greenhouses.In less than 10 years, Eagle Creek Growers in Mantua, Ohio, has emerged as a model mid-sized operation with room to grow.

The modern growing operation was founded in 1998 by Jill (Bonner) Cain about an hour’s drive southeast of Cleveland. She was fresh out of college, implementing a business plan she drafted for a course at Ohio University. Up until recently, Eagle Creek’s primary customer was Eagle Creek Garden Center, an upscale destination garden center she opened in nearby Bainbridge four years later. In 2003, her brother, John Bonner, and husband, Todd Cain, took over the wholesale operation while Jill focused most of her time on retail.

Both John and Jill are third-generation entrepreneurs in our industry. Their grandfather, John Gander, founded horticultural distributor BFG Supply, and their father, Dick Bonner, founded Dillen Plastics, which is now part of Myers Industries. They grew up in Northeast Ohio’s floricultural epicenter surrounded by many of the best in the field, including Green Circle Growers and Petitti Garden Centers. The pair is young enough to try fresh and innovative approaches but also wise enough to tap the expertise that’s available to them.

In the beginning, their own garden center was the dominant customer, representing 70 percent of sales. Now it only accounts for 15 percent of what Eagle Creek grows. The rest goes to independent retailers and hardware and grocery chains in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. Sales have been brisk, growing at an average of 32 percent a year the past three years.

“Our customer base ranges from Super Value to high-end garden centers,” Bonner says. “We grow a lot of different stuff. We grow standard baskets, Proven Winners in 10-inch and combos. We’re also rooting more and developing our own 10-inch line. We also contract grow 25,000 roses for Jackson & Perkins.”

The new Web site–www.eaglecreekwholesale.com–allows customers to check availability, view pictures, order what they want and select delivery day.

Heating Up New Houses

Eagle Creek Growers just completed a 2-acre expansion, bringing greenhouse capacity to 5 acres with nearly another acre for outdoor production. While the new structures are from Prins, an acre and a half are from DeCloet. Infrastructure has been laid to double greenhouse facilities to 10 acres.

Expanding from three to five acres has made a big difference, Bonner says. “It has gotten easier as we’ve grown,” he says. “We’re starting to realize economies of scale and are able to hire more people and delegate. It’s also nice to do what the big places do with tractors to move product around.”

All production is on ebb-and-flood floors. Bells and whistles include double heat curtains, Echo and Boomerang basket systems, boom systems, Priva Integro environmental controls, Flier automated transplanting equipment and True Leaf Technology water filtration equipment. Water is stored on site in two 15,000-gallon tanks. One is fertilized and one is clear.

You can’t beat basket systems for quick return on investment, Bonner says. “It’s a big return in space and labor savings,” he says. “We’re hung and sold by May first and then we rehang the place. We’re growing more and more baskets.”

All heating systems use radiant heat technology–floor heat as well as top heat–generated by a new alternative fuel-fired biomass boiler Eagle Creek installed last fall. It burns waste wood chips, saw dust and cow manure to fire a 300 horsepower Hurst boiler.

The system is self loading, using a “walking floor system” vibrating conveyor and inclined auger and horizontal stoker as a feed system. The cow manure comes from the nearby Bonner family farm, where 900 head of Angus cattle are being raised. One source of wood waste is local Amish carpenters.

Eagle Creek has set up a spinoff company to deliver these raw materials to themselves along with two larger area growing operations using biomass boilers–Green Circle Growers and Willoway Nurseries. They compare notes on optimizing results. The key is striking the right balance of dry and moist biomass materials.

Dry is better than wet to get the fire started but wet burns longer. “As the boiler gets hotter, we can burn wetter stuff,” Bonner explains. “I’m always asking can we burn more cow manure, because it’s free. The keys are what are you burning, where can you get it and how long can you get it for? We’re also getting a permit to burn recycled tires, which produce 10 times the BTUs of wood.”

EPA also monitors Eagle Creek’s use of this boiler and conducts a stack test once a year.

The Hurst boiler is expected to save Eagle Creek as much as 70 percent on raw fuel costs depending on the market price of natural gas. Investment payback is between four and six years, depending on traditional fuel pricing.

“With our new boiler, heating the greenhouses is so much cheaper,” he says. “We usually have a bare house in the winter. We monitor what we put in the furnace everyday, and at the end of the week we calculate per ton what we pay and track average temperatures outside and in the greenhouse. It costs us between $90 and $100 per acre per day. Before we were spending $350 per acre a day.”

Progressive Promotion

With its innovations, Eagle Creek Growers is in a great position to promote itself as an eco-friendly company. “Our delivery trucks run on vegetable oil, we retain and recycle water. We continue to audit ourselves and be that type of company,” Bonner says. “We want to let the public know we have a responsible brand, especially younger people. We’re getting certified organic for our herbs and veggies. That takes a year. And we’re recycling pots and cardboard, too.”

He is especially excited about branding Eagle Creek plants in the Cleveland, Akron and Canton areas through a partnership with a regional grocery chain.

“We have a vendor-managed inventory program for grocery stores. We put up Poly-Tex displays with our banners in plants,” he says. “The banner says, ‘Delivered by the only oil you can eat!’ Next year, we will have pots and tags designed by John Henry. We will also be tying this all together with television ads. This is the beginning of our branding process.”

Leave a Reply

More From Greenhouses...
Great Lakes Expo

November 30, 2015

6 Reasons You Should Attend The Michigan Greenhouse Growers Expo

The Michigan Greenhouse Growers Expo, held Dec. 8-10 in conjunction with the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo, will feature an expansive trade show and several educational sessions aimed at greenhouse growers.

Read More
Colorado State University 2015 Container Field Trials

November 29, 2015

2015 Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colo.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

Read More
Coleus 'Colorblaze Velveteen' (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

November 28, 2015

2015 University of Tennessee Gardens (Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.

Read More
Latest Stories
Battlefield Farms in Virginia noticed an improvement in the quality of heuchera propagation plugs after using Philips’ LED production modules

November 23, 2015

LED Lighting May Be The Next Frontier For Plant Nutriti…

Philips Lighting’s senior plant specialist, Dr. Abhay Thosar, shares how the company is working with growers to help create custom plant recipes for streamlined production of better quality crops.

Read More

June 21, 2015

Greenhouse Project Moves Pavlodar (Kazakhstan) Closer T…

Despite regional challenges, greenhouse specialists Dalsem and automation supplier Hoogendoorn have collaborated on a greenhouse complex with the PTK company to bring Pavlodar (Kazakhstan) closer to self-sufficient, local food production.

Read More
Greenhouse Electrical System

May 26, 2015

Don’t Let Your Greenhouse Electrical System Come …

Ensuring your greenhouse has enough electricity to operate all the equipment that is installed takes planning and consideration of an operation's needs. Part one of two articles on greenhouse electrical systems covers choosing an electrician, meeting immediate and future needs and planning for back-up power.

Read More

May 22, 2015

Nexus Greenhouses Is Optimistic For Expansion Into New …

Cheryl Longtin and Mike Porter, who own Nexus Corporation, say they were excited to attend the grand opening of Gotham Greens’ new structure atop the new Whole Foods grocery store in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., when it opened in December 2013. The project is just one example of some of the new and expanding markets that Nexus Corporation has expanded into over the past few years. Jeff Warschauer, vice president of sales for Nexus, says the company has enjoyed getting to know and working with the founders of Gotham Greens, Viraj Puri and Eric Haley, and Jennifer Nelkin Frymark, the chief agriculture officer, on their innovative approach to business. “They are very excited and work hard internally – just great people,” he says. “From our perspective, it’s great to see that excitement and vision. The employees there are happy and there’s no turnover; they’re only adding new people […]

Read More

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environme…

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More

March 16, 2015

Cozy Acres Greenhouses: Operating With Zero Emissions

With the help of federal funding, Cozy Acres Greenhouses was able to take a greener approach to its latest expansion, building a zero emissions greenhouse that operates year round.

Read More
interior view EDDG vent_energy efficiency codes

March 16, 2015

Stricter Energy Codes May Impact Your Ability To Expan…

Energy efficiency building codes that greenhouses are required to meet could soon be much more stringent, unless the National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association is successful in its bid to gain exceptions on greenhouse owners’ behalf.

Read More

March 13, 2015

GGS Helps North Creek Nurseries Take Efficiency To A Ne…

North Creek Nurseries recently built a new GGS gutter connected poly greenhouse range with the intent of saving energy and implementing Lean Flow Practices. The aim was to help North Creek improve the quality of products and meet increased customer demand, while at the same time saving money on labor.

Read More
Retail Greenhouse

March 12, 2015

The Right Greenhouse For Any Grower

Selecting the right structure for your operation can be difficult. With so many options, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The good news is that greenhouse manufacturers are experienced in the art of matching customers with the ideal product. Here’s their advice for how to pick your next structure.

Read More
Fall Creek Farm and Nursery Expansion

March 12, 2015

Conley’s Helps Fall Creek Farm And Nursery Increase Blu…

In order to meet its customer’s increasing demands for domestic blueberry production in the United States, Fall Creek Farm and Nursery needed much more indoor growing space. The company selected Conley’s for a recent expansion of Conley’s Gable Series 7500 in a two-phase project. The first 14-greenhouse range sold by distributor Horticulture Services, measures 170,000 square feet in size and finished construction in 2013.

Read More
Emerald Coast Grower's Atlas Greenhouse

March 12, 2015

Emerald Coast Growers Steps-Up Production Efficiency An…

Emerald Coast Growers, a supplier of perennial starter plants and ornamental grass liners, is not averse to expansion projects. In 2010, it celebrated its 20th anniversary with an expansion of its perennial production space. More recently, the company has been in a nearly continuous phase of construction and improvement projects.

Read More
ArmstrongGrowers Hanging Basket Area

March 12, 2015

Armstrong Growers And Pike Farms Grow With Sustainable …

Rebuilding and retrofitting greenhouses has been key to Armstrong Growers’ expansion on the West Coast, and Pike Farms will follow the same business model on the East Coast. The four-acre wholesale operation that is currently Pike Farms produces only about 5 percent at the most of Pike Nurseries’ retail garden center needs; however, that’s going to change in the next couple of years.

Read More
Metrolina Greenhouses Loading-Dock

March 12, 2015

Metrolina Greenhouses Expands With High- And Low-Tech …

Heralded as one of the most automated greenhouse operations in the U.S., Metrolina Greenhouses continues to build in Huntersville, N.C., and York, S.C. Art Van Wingerden, chief operating officer and co-owner of Metrolina Greenhouses, estimates that as his big box customers continue to grow at a 3 to 5 percent rate, so will Metrolina Greenhouses’ growing facilities to keep up with demand.

Read More

March 10, 2015

Greenhouses Are More Efficient For Marijuana Production

At least 30 percent more efficient and productive than warehouse growing, greenhouses are the way of the future for commercial cannabis production, experts say. Cannabis growers and advisors are starting to move production out of the warehouse and into the greenhouse, to benefit from the efficiencies that the sun’s natural light and environmental controls provide.

Read More
Pleasant View Gardens New Expansion

March 10, 2015

Pleasant View Gardens Transitions Old-School Hoop Hous…

A new production expansion optimizes labor efficiency and adds growing space, while optimizing energy use.

Read More
Rough Brothers aeroponic greenhouse project

February 24, 2015

Rough Brothers Takes A Hands-On Approach To Several Pro…

Two projects Rough Brothers worked on for Altman plants in Giddings, Texas, and Scissortail Farms in Tulsa County, Okla., show that pre-planning on the grower's part opens the way for a smooth-running expansion project.

Read More
Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing's Rainbow Super Structure

February 23, 2015

Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing Says Every Customer’s G…

Well-suited greenhouses that function efficiently for customers arise from involving them in the design process from start to finish. Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing put this philosophy on a greenhouse design for a wholesale grower looking to expand his annuals operation. The grower's needs were simple, yet daunting: design a greenhouse that delivers the perfect growing environment, but keep maintenance and operating costs low.

Read More
National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association

January 27, 2015

Stricter Energy Codes May Impact Your Ability To Expand

Are you aware stricter energy codes may be on the horizon that will certainly impact your business in a big way? Here's a Q & A from the National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association that helps explain the dangers of the coming energy codes and what we as an industry can do to prevent them.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]