The finalists for this year’s Greenhouse Grower Head Grower of the Year award share several traits, including a team-first attitude, a focus on innovation, and, quite simply, a desire to do things better. Here’s your chance to get to know this year’s finalists, each of which have already won individual honors. The winner will be announced at Cultivate’18 during Greenhouse Grower’s Medal of Excellence awards.
Excellence in Production Management Award Winner: Nick Gerace, Welby Gardens, Denver, CO
Nick Gerace oversees all three of Welby Gardens’ locations for a total of 1 million square feet of growing facilities in the Denver area. He is responsible for all Hardy Boy finished crops (3,000 items), as well as all the Hardystarts young plants (2,000 items) sold to growers across the U.S. and Canada. As Head Grower, he has implemented full-scale growing procedures for all 27 growers at the three locations to ensure uniformity of practices throughout the operation.
Gerace has established several protocols to avoid cross contamination at any of Welby’s locations. He has maintained a rigorous virus-testing protocol, isolated infected cultivars, advised sales staff of current and future impacts to young plant customers, and helped to develop proactive solutions for disposal of affected plants as directed by USDA.
Gerace’s implementation of full-scale written procedures goes a long way to helping train new hires and encouraging long-term staff to adhere to high standards of production. He has managed to identify key individuals to assist in the training and motivation of staff, and established a three-tiered grower evaluation system, giving incentives for current and entry-level growers to progress up to greater responsibilities and financial incentives.
Welby’s Hardystarts young plant division has been growing at a rate of 15% to 25% per year for the past 10 years, and many of the facilities had to be upgraded from regular finish-plant production to higher propagation standards. Adding computer controls, lighting, booms, and movable benching where possible, Gerace has been instrumental in guiding this transition.
Gerace also helps manage Welby Gardens’ waste stream. All plants, pots, and pack refuge is recycled, and plants and packs that can’t be efficiently separated are stacked until plant parts are decomposed, then shredded, ground up, and separated to recycle both the soil and the plastics. Recycled soil is re-sterilized, re-tested, and amended for sale to local landscapers.
Excellence in Stewardship and Education Award Winner: Drew Koschmann, Walters Gardens, Inc., Zeeland MI
Drew Koschmann’s ability to focus on the details of perennial production at Walters Gardens is what sets him apart from other growers. He has directed numerous production trials to hone in on the best formula for growing each cultivar. In doing so, he demonstrates a hunger to learn and improve his craft. He seeks out advice from peers, colleagues, and customers, combining this with his own knowledge and experience to be able to implement the highest level of production practices needed to be a consistent industry leader.
Drew has built upon a solid integrated pest management (IPM) program at Walters Gardens by developing staff around him and increasing their knowledge of IPM practices. He is a steward of the environment, using biological controls whenever possible, and working with his team to improve scouting practices and preventative measures to minimize pest outbreaks. Virus testing and clean stock management practices are also used to ensure strong healthy production starter material. He continues to scour the industry for new and innovative ideas, whether at university seminars or visits to other growers to see what they are doing.
Drew is a teacher and a coach at heart. He passes on his knowledge for the betterment of the team. He encourages in place of criticizing. He schedules regular collaboration meetings with his team and asks for their feedback and ideas to solve problems. His team is motivated and invested in finding innovative solutions to crop issues and processes to be more efficient growers.
Drew travels and participates in multiple industry events such as Cultivate and the Perennial Plant Symposium, where he shares his growing knowledge with customers and colleagues. He plays a lead role in providing industry data to the Horticultural Research Alliance. At Walters Gardens, he spearheads the company’s internship program to encourage the next generation to get excited about growing.
Excellence in Process Improvement Award Winner: Hans Lenselink, Multiflora Greenhouses, Hillsborough, NC
At Multiflora Greenhouses, Hans Lenselink has created a growing environment that allows for expanded seasonal demand to support the company’s financial objectives and fuel the next generation of growth.
Lenselink was mentored at a young age in his native Holland by everyone from his parents to his siblings, and today, with the support of senior management at Multiflora, he focuses on continuing his education.
Lenselink has been instrumental in using technology as an enabler throughout the operation. The greenhouse is equipped with modern-day technology and equipment that allows each greenhouse to be climate-controlled independently. More recently, Lenselink identified, evaluated, and incorporated new technologies in the greenhouse that allow for greater levels of disaster recovery and more efficient heating.
Lenselink also implemented video surveillance throughout the greenhouse that has improved overall productivity, safety, and management oversight. The system also allows Multiflora’s sales organization to remotely present products to its customer base, so that the customer can be shown live product at various stages of growth. This has allowed for better decision making and increased credibility with buyers.
Lenselink is one of the key thought leaders in promoting new growth and innovation at Multiflora. He was part of the management team that pursued the acquisition of Austram, Inc., a leader in the home and garden center décor industry. His ability to create new combinations of Multiflora plants with award-winning planters from Austram has been a big hit with customers.
One other product innovation that Lenselink spearheaded most recently was driving a complementary new brand called Floraceutics, which centers around natural healing remedies using plants.