Are Flowers Our Future?

Blueberries_webOver the past 30 years, we have witnessed the evolution of the bedding plant market, and the peaks and valleys of floriculture. With the boom of the organic market, demand for sustainably produced, local food, an influx of farmers’ markets and ultimately, an increasing army of grow-your-own foodies, many growers are converting some of their square footage to growing produce. From produce growers we came, to growing produce we are returning.

Peter Konjoian is one such grower, who made it official at the 2013 OFA Short Course, saying, “I am no longer growing flowers; I’m only growing food.”

Konjoian is a long-time grower of poinsettias and ornamental crops as co-owner of Konjoian Greenhouses in Andover, Mass., and a well-known consultant to ornamental growers through his business, Konjoian’s Floriculture Education Services. This monumental and very emotional change for him is a good barometer of the opportunities that exist in this market.

“For so many of us, this shift from flowers to food is much more than what these words state,” Konjoian says. “Many of us began our careers farming but when margins eroded and our industrial agriculture model took hold following World War II, we were forced to build greenhouses and grow flowers because they were more profitable. So this current shift may be a return to our roots and closing of a circle.”

Demand For Locally Grown Needs A Supply Source
The risky seasonal market to which ornamental growers have become accustomed can be offset by year-round vegetable and herb production to serve the demand that’s already present, Konjoian says.

“We have a lot of small and medium- size operations with a lot of empty greenhouses. Coincidentally, we have a generation of young adults that is educated and demanding healthier options in their diets,” he says. “Analogous to cheapening flowers we have created such a supply of cheap calories that our populace has become obese. In my travels and experience, I hear these young adults asking for locally grown, fresh food and are willing to pay more for it. I think that is quite encouraging and it is fueling the shift in greenhouse production to edible crops.”

Though many growers haven’t fully embraced the idea of growing produce, Konjoian says it may be just a matter of time.

“I sense a significant shift coming, perhaps in the vicinity of 25 to 50 percent of ornamental crop growers getting involved with edible crops. My reference point is circa 1995 when a round number of 10,000 operations nationally produced solely ornamental crops.”

Converting Greenhouses To Grow Food And Flowers
While there is a learning curve to switching to edibles, much of the risk some growers feel revolves around retrofitting greenhouses and following strict food safety mandates. However, for growing hydroponic vegetables, the change from ornamentals is quite significant.

“Supplemental lighting becomes a necessity rather than just an option and energy consumption must be managed well,” Konjoian says. “Most greenhouse food crop production is using hydroponic irrigation techniques. Growing without traditional soil and soilless media is a huge challenge for growers making the shift. Greenhouse owners and their growers need to learn how to forget quickly and relearn because I see many getting into this area of greenhouse production who have very little experience in traditional production. Sometimes these individuals are able to learn new techniques more quickly because they don’t bring outdated habits along.”

Advances in lighting technology for producing crops just about anywhere makes this production niche very compelling, Konjoian says.

“An exciting project I’m working on is researching prototypical LED fixtures that will allow indoor urban agriculture to occur without any natural light,” he says. “Think vacant warehouse settings and vertical farming with racks of LED lights, NFT hydroponics and the ability to tailor the crops grown to the local, ethnic tastes. How exciting is that?”

Cary Senders with iGROW, a company that produces induction lighting, agrees that advances in lighting could cause a huge shift in the way our industry uses greenhouses.

“The limitation of greenhouses is the sun,” Senders says. “But when light technology evolves, growers can be more productive with high-efficiency, low-cost lights, like iGROW.”

Senders says growing short stature plants like ornamentals in greenhouses is less efficient than constructing a vertical growing model, lighting numerous stacked platforms of plants.

“My vision is growers would use greenhouses as glass warehouses, layered with solar panels for an electricity base that would provide energy for high efficiency, low-cost lighting. Instead of using the sun as an illuminator, it would be used as a power generator for solar panels. The key to that being successful is low-heat, high-efficiency lighting.”

Food, Fiber And Beyond
Research underway at various universities is bringing woody crops like blueberries into the greenhouse as potted crops. Strawberries and raspberries are other priority crops, and local production carries a premium, says Peter Konjoian, a co-owner of Konjoian Greenhouses in Andover, Mass. Beyond food crops, other possibilities are emerging, as well.

“My research greenhouse has recently seen experiments for agronomic clients including crops like field corn, soybean and cotton,” he says. “Really? Cotton growing in a Massachusetts greenhouse? That’s crazy.”

marijuana_webMedical marijuana is another huge growth area as a greenhouse crop, says Carey Senders of iGROW.

“Cannabis is going to be a big focus over the next several years,” he says. “Growers are testing it now. We are quoting several jobs installing iGROW lights for trials. Most growers are not going to shift production full-scale, but trials for smaller-scale production will determine if they can get the right quality for it to be an economical crop.”

Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and personal possession is decriminalized in 16 states. With the full legalization of recreational use in Colorado and Washington, Senders says he’s getting a lot of phone calls.

“Growers in Colorado are being contacted by investment groups, to act as consultants for setting up operations in Colorado,” he says. “With more legalization, there will be a shift among growers.”

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Are Flowers Our Future?

  1. There are also local big growing operations in many areas of the country that are looking at food production. Not all of them will be able to convert to Marijuana, especially with competition in that arena from the investment community. Small producers will again find issues with inefficiency as big growers find new ways to reach local markets – such as through Amazon Fresh and their competitors. Food is here and now and a part of keeping smaller producers in business. But they had better have a better plan than just producing food for their local market.

    Flowers are not a dead deal. But whether food or flowers, we ALL need discipline in the supply chain to NOT commoditize our industry in yet another way with the false assumption that lower prices create and drive demand and consumption. I say that knowing that this is the American way. Some choose to commoditize and sell as cheaply as possible, and others choose to add value and create perceived value and charge for it. The issue is to recognize that and choose one, or choose the other, but choose.

  2. Greenhouse technology is going to be a major influence on supply chains for food, flowers – anything that educated consumers want to see grown locally and sustainably. It’s going to change the way we look at food distribution and crop travel distances.

More From Vegetables...
PP&L CAST 2015 intros

April 22, 2015

6 Breeding Companies Serve Up New Varieties At Pacific Plug & Liner

Pacific Plug & Liner’s theme this year, Labyrinth, a conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants, was perfectly topped off (pun intended) with fascinators for the women and newsboy caps for the men. The PP&L team dressed their part to act out the gothic “conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants.” Truly, the displays looked like they practically popped out of a catalog, and the costumes were a nice touch. Retailers take heed, the fully merchandised displays at Pacific Plug & Liner are worthy of emulating. We’ll let the pictures tell the story of all the fabulous variety introductions presented at  Pacific Plug & Liner’s 2015 California Spring Trials, where Cultivaris, Cohen Nurseries, Histil Nurseries, Jaldety Nurseries, Southern Living/Sunset Collection and Pacific Plug & Liner all highlighted their 2016 introductions.  

Read More
Speedling 2015 CAST intros

April 22, 2015

Speedling Inc. Presents New Varieties From ABZ Seeds, Hem Genetics, Thompson & Morgan, Vista Farms & PSI

You name it, we saw it at Speedling's California Spring Trials location in San Juan Bautista, where five companies showed off their new introductions for 2016.

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Latest Stories

April 20, 2015

Three Michigan State University On-Demand Webinars Offe…

The first rule of effective insect and disease control for vegetables is to take action to prevent problems before they occur. But in order to do that, you need to have an effective pest and disease management strategy in place that incorporates best practices to ensure a successful outcome. Michigan State University offers three pest and disease management on-demand webinars that will get you started and keep you on the right track.

Read More
Asian-Vegetables-Lettue-Trio-American-Takii

April 16, 2015

American Takii’s Asian Vegetable Line Is Designed…

Unlike many of the other breeders displaying at Spring Trials, American Takii didn’t have many new introductions. But it did have a new program that has prompted many visitors to post to social media — its Asian vegetables. Takii, which is well known for its vegetable breeding, is in the process of vetting the eight to 12 vegetables it will include in the program, and it should have its list fully complete by fall 2015. It is selecting plants that will be easy to use in Asian cooking and will help it stand out from the many vegetable programs in the ornamental market. The Takii marketing team designed bright-red Chinese food takeout containers to act as plant sleeves and a small booklet with five recipes. Honey Chicken With Pak Choy looked especially tasty. Take a look at how the program looks and let us know what you think.       HilverdaKooij is a […]

Read More
Zucchini 'Brice' (Syngenta Vegetables)

April 14, 2015

18 New Vegetables For Easy Growing And Healthy Eating

Current breeding efforts have focused on vegetable varieties that cater to small space and urban gardening trends and offer consumers good performance with minimal efforts. As a result, new, easy care vegetable introductions packed with flavor and loaded with fruits have swept onto the market. Here are 16 of the newest vegetables already on the market or hitting the market in 2016.

Read More

April 13, 2015

Keeping Your Greenhouse Vegetables And Fruits Safe: Ove…

This is the first installment of a four-part series that will bring you up to speed on what it takes to fulfill food safety mandates for greenhouse production.

Read More

April 10, 2015

5 Selection Principles For Vegetables That Sell

You gain a competitive edge when you select vegetable varieties that are right for your greenhouse and right for your customers. Here are five pieces of advice from breeders to help you stay ahead of the game.

Read More
Basil_Persian-AAS2015_620x329

March 31, 2015

California Summer Vegetable Trials To Be Hosted By Nati…

Vegetable breeding companies will come together this August to host the Summer Vegetable Trials in California. Like the long-standing California Spring Trials that are held annually in California, attendees will have the opportunity to visit breeding companies' trial sites in seven locations throughout the state, from August 20-21, 2015. National Garden Bureau (NGB), the non-profit organization promoting gardening on behalf of the horticulture industry, is organizing and publicizing this event on behalf of its members.

Read More

November 24, 2014

Root Crops And Plug Trays: A Perfect Match

Growing a plant to maturity in plug trays might be foreign to ornamental growers, but with a little help from plug tray manufacturers and breeders, there is little to hold growers back in this root crop category.

Read More

November 14, 2014

First Vegetatively Propagated All-America Selections (A…

All-America Selections (AAS) honors two vegetatively propagated impatiens with AAS winner status.

Read More

October 8, 2014

Gotham Greens To Build Rooftop Farm In Chicago

Gotham Greens announced October 7 that it has partnered with Method Products, an eco-friendly cleaning product company - to build what they are calling the "world's largest rooftop farm" at Method's new manufacturing plant in the Pullman neighborhood, on Chicago's south side.

Read More

August 19, 2014

A Look Ahead At Food Safety For Commercial Greenhouse V…

If you grow food in your greenhouse that is sold for consumption, food safety regulations will affect you. Here is a recap of Debbie Hamrick’s (North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation) Cultivate'14 presentation on food safety for commercial greenhouse vegetable production.

Read More

July 22, 2014

Bright Farms Launches Crowdfunding Campaign To Build Ur…

Urban farming pioneer Bright Farms is attempting to crowdfund what it hopes will be the "world's most productive urban farm," in Washington, D.C.

Read More

July 18, 2014

Meeting The Demand For Edibles: Go Green Agriculture In…

Read about how Go Green Agriculture Inc. took its business from the classroom to commercial reality in one of four articles on how growers are appealing to the growing interest in edibles.

Read More

July 18, 2014

Meeting The Demand For Edibles: Peace Tree Farm

Interest and response to Peace Tree Farm’s annuals and foliage plants continues to increase, but herb and vegetable starter plants is where the company makes its money. Read about it in one of four articles on how growers are appealing to the growing interest in edibles.

Read More

July 18, 2014

Meeting The Demand For Edibles: High Meadows Farm

Grants brought opportunities for High Meadows Farm to start growing raspberries and tomatoes. Read about it in one of four articles on how growers are appealing to the growing interest in edibles.

Read More

July 18, 2014

Meeting The Demand For Edibles: Altman Plants

Read about Altman Plants' venture into greenhouse vegetable production in one of four articles on how growers are appealing to the growing interest in edibles.

Read More

July 15, 2014

Cultivate’14: Vegetable Production Tour Highlight…

Check out photos from Greenhouse Grower's visit to CropKing Inc.'s research greenhouses as part of he vegetable production tour at Cultivate'14.

Read More

July 8, 2014

Veterans Are Well-Suited For Grower Jobs, And AgVets Is…

AgVets is breaking ground this summer with the first of up to 30 hydroponic greenhouse operations located throughout the country to provide produce to lower- and middle-income consumers.

Read More

June 27, 2014

Growing Beyond New York, Gotham Greens Is Developing Pr…

Gotham Greens is considering the potential for partnering with growers for new ventures in cities across the U.S.

Read More