Harnois Industries: Adding Structure Creates Niche Opportunities

Hoop houses alone failed to meet Judges Farms herb-growing needs.

Martin Griswold from Judges Farm in Old Lyme, Conn., is not, by his own admission, a greenhouse grower.

“I am an outdoor perennial grower,” he says. “We do have a few simple hoop houses for overwintering, but they’re really just posts that you pound into the ground and put plastic on,” Griswold says.

In 2011, Griswold and his brother Matt were looking for ways to increase their market share and expand their operation. “We wanted to piggyback as much as possible on our already well-established perennial business, while developing a new line that would differentiate ourselves from the competition” Griswold says.

Seeing that vegetables and food crops were gaining a lot of interest from consumers, he noticed a niche they could fill without too much difficulty: fresh herbs.

For Judges Farm’s fresh herbs to be ready for delivery at the same time as his perennial crops, the operation needed to start herbs in February. That called for more sophisticated protection than hoop houses.

Three greenhouse manufacturers were called upon to provide a bid and organize visits to existing greenhouses. “When I walked into Karabin Farms, a Harnois greenhouse owner in Connecticut, the greenhouses just seemed sturdier, with superior galvanization,” Griswold says. “At almost 10 years old, they showed no signs of rust. I was required by our building inspector to build a greenhouse that could withstand 120 mph, hurricane winds. It looked to me like the Harnois greenhouses would be able to do that.”

Judges Farm decided to go with two 30-by-120-foot gutter-connected structures that were fully equipped with single roof vents, side roll-up vents, heating and climate control. Judges Farm built the structures themselves to save money but if he had to do it again, Griswold says he would have subcontracted the construction.

“From start to finish, we built the greenhouse in three months with very limited experience,” he says. “I still think it’s not bad, but we were not as efficient and prepared as a crew that is used to putting up such a strong structure.  Let’s just say it has nothing to do with pounding posts in the ground.”

Last February, Judges Farm started 40 varieties of fresh herbs, and the crop will be repeated as needed until the end of June – depending on demand.  Then, Griswold will use the greenhouse to propagate his own perennial seeds until the beginning of September.  

“We’re still looking for a fall crop that would be a good fit for our customer base, and we would use the greenhouse space until early December,” he says. “Then we’d close everything up for the dead of winter until we start again.”

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