Greenhouse Grower named Tom Wheeler, director of growing at Bell Nursery USA, as its 2015 Grower of the Year during the Evening of Excellence program held July 13 at Cultivate’15 in Columbus, Ohio. Wheeler also received the Excellence in Leadership award for his work in the industry with neonicotinoids and his management skills at Bell Nursery.
Wheeler dedicated his award to the entire Bell Team, saying that he has been fortunate to be a part of a truly amazing team for the past 16 years.
“Sharing information, leading by example, acting like you own it, these are just a few of the ways we lead at Bell Nursery,” Wheeler said, upon receiving the award. “When you love the industry you work in, what you do and the people you work with, it is a real treat and a great honor to receive an award like this.
Wheeler manages Bell Nursery’s in-house production. He is also responsible for Bell’s network of farm families, which represent 50 acres of production in Maryland. Wheeler has substantially improved the quality of growing operations at Bell Nursery, to the point that shipped quality is the same from any Bell facility, regardless of location. Under Wheeler’s direction, Bell Nursery has been able to cut water usage at outdoor facilities by 70 percent by moving from sprinklers to drip irrigation. And he led the charge six years ago during Bell’s first ‘Veriflora Sustainably Grown’ certification, which the company continues to maintain each year.
In 2014, Wheeler designed a program to grow neonicotinoid-free to help Bell Nursery gain a better understanding of the difficulties this type of large-scale production might present. That experience has proved invaluable. Thanks to Wheeler’s leadership, Bell Nursery has been able to have a significant impact on the dialogue within the growing and retail community, as well as on a local, state and federal level. Wheeler has generously shared what he has learned with his peers, which has been instrumental in helping others gain a better understanding of the challenges they will face with less access to neonicotinoids and what alternatives are available to them.
“We wanted to prepare ourselves. But in no way do we want to send the wrong message to the industry,” Wheeler says. “We want the message from Bell to be to help fund the research, listen to what the research finds and support the science.”
Wheeler not only leads on the broader scale, he leads in a very individual way within his operation. He is a strong believer in developing employees for the long term. And he zeroes in on passionate, hardworking growers who are willing to learn.
“I definitely take pride in my part of the business — the growing side, the growing team and the product we put out,” Wheeler says. “I love the industry and hope it stays strong, all aspects of it.”
Greenhouse Grower’s Grower of the Year program is sponsored by BASF.