Vegetables, Not Flowers, Are The Future For Peter Konjoian

Peter Konjoian
Peter Konjoian

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 ornamentals growers are converting some of their square footage to produce.

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.

We asked why he thinks food is a viable future for greenhouse growers and what challenges growers may face incorporating vegetables into their production systems.

Q: Over the next 30 years, what crops will become more relevant and profitable for growers?

Konjoian: It appears that the industry wide consolidation phase that we’ve lived through for the past 20 years is finally settling down. We have fewer operations producing ornamental crops today and economic signs are positive that those still in business will be able to regain their footing. While I continue to question why our industry needs to make flowers so cheap, I also understand that a free market economy tends to drive its buses in this direction.

So, we have a lot of small and medium sized 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. Analogous to cheapening flowers we have created such a supply of cheap calories that our populous has become obese. In my travels and experience I hear these young adults asking for locally grown, fresh food and they 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.

Farmers’ markets are exploding across the country and pull in more than local vegetable production. Meat, bread, honey; you name it and there’s a locally grown farmer to support.

Q: In your opinion, what percentage of current ornamental growers will convert their greenhouse space from growing flowers/ornamental crops to food crops?

Konjoian: 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.

Q: Beyond food and flowers, what fiber/medicinal crops could be grown viably and profitably in greenhouses?

Konjoian: Funny you ask this question. During my presentation at last year’s OFA Short Course titled “From Flowers to Food” I mentioned how my research greenhouse has recently seen experiments for agronomic clients including crops like field corn, soybean, and cotton. Really? Cotton growing in a Massachusetts greenhouse? That’s crazy.

There is very active research being conducted at various universities that is bringing woody fruit crops like blueberries into the greenhouse as potted crops. Another priority crop is strawberries. Local production carries a premium. Beyond this category, and you mentioned it, not me, is medicinal marijuana. Many believe this crop will soon become a legally produced greenhouse crop.

Q: What currently prevents growers from converting their greenhouses?

Konjoian: There is such a variety of systems and approaches to producing edible greenhouse crops that I see nothing unusually challenging about shifting from flowers to food. Supplemental lighting becomes a necessity rather than just an option and energy consumption must be managed well. An attractive aspect of shifting to edible crops is that the market demand is constant throughout the year. Growing flowers came down to making 80 percent of one’s annual income over a high-pressure six week period during the spring season. Such a risk is spread over twelve months with food crops.

Q: What technology will be necessary to grow these alternative crops?

Konjoian: Most greenhouse food crop production is using hydroponic irrigation techniques. Growing without traditional soil and using 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.

Q: With LED technology improving, what could greenhouse structures look like/evolve into over the next 30 years?

Konjoian: An exciting project I’m working on is researching prototypical LED fixtures that will allow indoor urban agriculture to occur without any natural light. 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.

Q: What ornamental crops will continue to be relevant?

Konjoian: I believe ornamental crops will continue to be relevant but at a slightly diminished level than in our industry’s glory days of the 1980s. Plant breeders will continue to provide excellent new genetics that will fuel production and consumption of flowers in our lives.

That said, I expect these same breeders to deliver new edible crop genetics so that we can grow whatever food crops we choose, based on local market demand, at any time of the year. As an example, I’d love to see a tomato cultivar bred that is determinate, say, growing to two feet in height at the most, and producing several hands of fruit. Picture this tomato configuration in a warehouse with multiple levels of production. How cool would that be?

For so many of us this shift from flowers to food is much more than what these words state. 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, for many of us this current shift is more of a return to our roots and closing of a circle.

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “Vegetables, Not Flowers, Are The Future For Peter Konjoian

More From Vegetables...
Bee Vectoring Technology Bumblebee

December 1, 2015

New Crop Protection Solution Uses Bees To Deliver Biocontrols To Flowering Crops

The new system from Bee Vectoring Technology incorporated a powdered crop protection material into the lid of commercial bumblebee hives. Bees pick up the product when they leave the hive and deposit it on every plant they visit.

Read More
Smith Gardens Marysville outdoor field production

November 30, 2015

Why Smith Gardens’ Marysville, WA, Facility Is A Great Place To Work

Labor rates in Washington State are some of the highest in the nation, making competition for labor fierce. This is why Smith Gardens in Marysville, WA, wants to strengthen its reputation as a great place to work.

Read More
Feature - Agave ‘Blue Waves’ (Rancho Tissue Technologies)

November 30, 2015

Spice Up The Garden With 12 New Succulent And Miniature Plant Varieties

New succulents and miniature plants for 2016 offer a variety of colors and foliage textures that add interest and visual appeal to any size garden — indoors or out.

Read More
Latest Stories
This row of tomatoes with large fruit load is part of an on-going project with DeRuiter Seed Co

November 20, 2015

What To Consider When Growing Vegetables Under Cover

Some critical points to think about before adding vegetables to your crop mix include market, crop choice, and labor.

Read More
Pleasant View Gardens Savor Pot

November 16, 2015

Pleasant View Gardens Launches New Savor Edibles And Fr…

This new line of nearly 150 vegetables and herbs is aimed at Millennials and will be available to garden centers in 2016.

Read More
Increased customer demand led Good Harvest Farms to add hydroponic lettuce in 2000

November 13, 2015

Ornamental Greenhouse Growers Must Do Their Homework Wh…

Good Harvest Farms began growing hydroponic lettuce 15 years ago. Owner Chris Powell says having a reliable market and emphasizing quality are critical.

Read More
To offer consumers an attractive crop, Local Appetite uses high tunnels to grow cherry tomatoes

November 13, 2015

Vegetable Grower Makes The Move To Protected Agricultur…

High tunnels have helped one Alabama grower produce high-quality crops year-round while providing a significant return on investment.

Read More

September 18, 2015

Grimes Horticulture And Seeds By Design Form Partnershi…

The new alliance will allow the two companies to take advantage of each of their strengths in breeding and marketing of new vegetable varieties for greenhouse growers and farm marketers.

Read More

August 4, 2015

New 2015 California Spring Trial Edibles For The Patio …

If you are looking to capitalize on the foodie trend and spread your risk beyond Spring sales, new vegetables showcased at 2015 California Spring Trials offer plenty of opportunities to focus on unique, flavorful vegetables and edible plants that also hold ornamental value. Here are a few of new varieties Editor Laura Drotleff and Group Editor Carol Miller discovered at Spring Trials that will help diversify your crop mix.

Read More

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

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 18 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

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