The finalists for this year’s Greenhouse Grower Operation of the Year award share several traits, including an innovative approach to production, a commitment to sustainability, and a drive to build long-term success for both their respective companies, and for the plant industry as a whole. 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 Quality Award Winner: Barlow’s Flower Farm, Sea Girt, NJ
Barlow’s Flower Farm considers itself a small operation, and as such, its primary focus is to lead with quality. Nothing goes on the shelves unless it is perfect, and the company is committed to allocating more space and more time with its products to win the quality game. There are no quick crops, and Barlow’s grows at least 75% of what it sells.
Barlow’s uses biocontrols to control insects, and over the past five years, the company has reduced its use of pesticides by more than 95%. It has also converted many of its greenhouses from fans to passive ventilation, with very good results.
Led by second-generation owner Stephen Barlow, Barlow’s Flower Farm began as a farmhouse (built in 1807), with one retail greenhouse and 10 small production greenhouses. As sales grew, existing facilities were moved or converted to increase both indoor and outdoor retail space, and each year saw new production greenhouses erected.
During the fall of 2004, Barlow Flower Farm became Barlow’s, and the two original retail greenhouse structures were removed and replaced by a 10,000-square-foot European glass greenhouse. Along with the retail renovation, Barlow’s increased the number of growing greenhouses to 28 and the outdoor growing area to 1.5 acres.
Today, the company specializes in propagating seeds and cuttings, and it continues to be one of New Jersey’s largest retail annual growers. Stephen and his wife, Leslie, have been joined in the business by their son, Stephen Barlow III, who is the President of Operations and General Manager.
As a small grower, Barlow’s does its due diligence to making sure it is investing in the right type of technology. The company has incorporated transplanters and other assist tools, and recently began selling plants online through an e-commerce section on its website.
Excellence in Sustainable Production Award Winner: Civano Nursery, Tucson, AZ
Civano Nursery, which produces drought-tolerant blooming perennials, as well as nursery trees in greenhouses with retractable roofs and sides, has one main directive: try anything, do anything, even if it costs more, to produce the very best quality plants.
Civano does this in a way that also promotes sustainability. The company has partnered with Tucson Electric Power (TEP) to turn its green waste from trimming powerlines and landscaping into a valuable product. All of the tree trimmings done by the electric company and its subcontractors are chipped and brought to a compost site. Once it arrives, it’s put into a horizontal tub grinder, then lined out in windrows that each contain about 200 cubic yards. Another machine goes through regularly and aerates and waters them to keep the beneficial bacteria alive.
Each year the nursery uses about 12,000 cubic yards of the compost to pot up its plants. TEP saves money and keeps thousands of pounds of green waste out of the landfill and in turn, it lets Civano compost on its land. It’s a unique relationship that not only has great economic value, it also highlights TEP’s and Civano’s dedication to responsible land stewardship.
Civano’s Sahuarita Farm, is a distinctive site chosen with great care. It has top soil 9 feet deep with good drainage, and is completely flat. Black pots on the ground can reach about 180 degrees, which forces plants to shut down. Because of this, part of the site has pot-in-pot planting, to help conserve water.
While many nurseries decided to hunker down during the economic downturn, most of Civano’s expansion took place during this time, and the risk has paid off. Today, Civano is always looking for new ways to innovate, while keeping its core values of quality and sustainability front and center.
Excellence in Innovation Award: Mastronardi Produce, Kingsville, ON, Canada
One of the first produce companies in North America to use greenhouses and hydroponics to grow produce year-round, Mastronardi Produce has since separated itself from the competition through its high-quality production practices and its consumer packaging.
Mastronardi uses a quality traceability program that ensures its customers receive the best product available. When the company converted from clam shells to a tray-sealing format, it moved the industry years forward and helped bring the North America tomato market into the standards set by its European counterparts.
Mastronardi’s innovations in packaging and graphics are world-class. In 2017, the company introduced ready-to-eat snacks for those on the go, and its Sunset Sweet Bites pail took home an award for being “most likely to increase consumption of fresh produce.” Mastronardi also introduced an entirely new way to incorporate fresh produce into pre-packaged meal solutions with its “You Make Me” Pasta Kits that enable consumers to prepare a healthy meal at home in 15 minutes or less. Mastronardi Produce is also an industry leader in creative merchandising solutions at the point of sale.
This past year, Mastronardi was chosen by the producers of “We Are the Best,” a series of 52 videos supported by the Government of Canada in honor of the country’s 150th anniversary. The video delivered a behind-the-scenes tour of Mastronardi’s state-of-the-art greenhouse operation in Kingsville, ON, and demonstrated the benefits of greenhouse growing to thousands of viewers.