For the last 10 years, Parks Brothers Farm in Arkansas (No. 92 on Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 List in 2015) has been considering the possibilities for launching a line of organic vegetables and herbs, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the operation started to get serious about it. Parks Brothers received organic certification in October 2014, and debuted the Peace Farm Organics line this spring, says Sales Manager Leigh Ann Centeno of Parks Brothers.
The foray into organic growing is in response to customer demand over the years, Centeno says, and that’s not a trend that’s going away.
“Many growers dismissed it as a fad, but the consumer is becoming more aware of what they are eating and feeding their kids,” she says. “You can see a consumer-driven change happening at the grocery store with food labeling and organics, and more awareness about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).”
The Peace Farm Organics line is currently distributed to more than 20 independent retailers including garden centers, farmers’ markets and even feed stores throughout Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee and Nebraska. The reaction so far has been positive, Centeno says.
“Most garden centers were excited just to be able to buy them,” she says. “We started very small, so most people were only able to buy once or twice. We did find out that everyone is more interested in herbs than vegetables.”
There’s A Learning Curve To Growing Organic Edibles
Finding production information for someone starting out growing organic edible starts (vegetable and herb plants for gardeners) isn’t easy, Centeno says, because most growers interested in becoming certified are growing produce in the field, not products for garden centers.
Parks Brothers sourced seed from companies that are USDA Organic-certified, as well as Non-GMO Project Verified.
“Being non-GMO is just as important, if not more important, for the consumer as being organically grown,” Centeno says.
All of the crops are grown in a separate greenhouse with a separate injector for the Organic Material Research Institute (OMRI)-certified fertilizer. Only OMRI-certified potting soil, fungicides and pesticides are used.
“We were skeptical at first (of the OMRI-approved products), but they have been effective,” Centeno says.
To ship the plants, Centeno says a separate area is blocked off in the loading area, and the Peace Farm Organics plants are kept separate from other plants during the entire loading process. They’re then loaded onto the top shelf of the racks, so there is no possibility of drip from other plants. The shelves are wrapped in stretch film so other plants can touch them from other racks, and tied off with yellow hazard tape labeled, “Organics.”
Attractive POP Sells Itself — And The Plants
Nearly as popular as the organic plants — or perhaps even more, Centeno says — are the POP materials, inspired and created by Fayetteville, Ark., artist Stephanie Mallicote.
“We have been friends since our college days, and I knew that her style would be a perfect fit for Peace Farm,” Centeno says. “We had a lot of fun creating the logo, and everyone loves it. The POP has been so well-received that we really got more comments on that than the actual product.”
The grower supplies POP materials to retailers, including a large sign, bench cards and a t-shirt with the initial order of 10 flats or more. With several requests for more t-shirts, Parks Brothers will be selling them soon on the brand website, peacefarmorganics.com.
While the first year of the Peace Farm Organics line has gone well thus far, the operation will still evaluate its success, measuring how well it sells for the garden center customers. But Centeno says the operation is planning to grow more product next year, so retailers will be able to re-order throughout the season.