Micandy Gardens Uses New Technology And Energy Efficiency To Stay Ahead Of The Curve
When you’re part of a successful, decades-old family business, it might seem difficult to come up with new ways to stay innovative and change with the times. Fortunately, this is not the case at Micandy Gardens in Hudsonville, MI. In fact, the drive to continuously adapt is simply a way of life at Micandy, starting with its owners and extending all the way through its “family” of employees.
The 52-year-old greenhouse operation, which encompasses almost 580,000 square feet of production of a wide range of crops, was started by Micki and Andy Buist (the “Mic” and “Andy” of Micandy) after Micki’s grandfather suggested he “give the greenhouse business a try” upon graduation from high school. After their first season of growing bedding plants, the Buists purchased the property they had been leasing to grow on, and since then the business has expanded each year.
Today, under the leadership of Andy, Micki, and their daughter Marcelyn Buist-Byl (far left in above photo), who serves as President of Micandy Gardens, the business supplies products for The Home Depot and other retailers, and also contract grows for several young plant growers.
Getting Energy-Efficient Certified Was A Snap
Like many other growers, Micandy is always looking for ways to become more efficient, especially when it comes to its use of energy and water. This past year, the company focused on environmental stewardship through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, which is administered by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and reaches into the state’s broader farming community.
“A number of things have to be done correctly to become environmentally assured,” says Andy Buist. “There were a lot of things we had to change, but our base philosophy didn’t have to change too much. We have always felt inclined to do what we could to protect the environment.”
The main challenge, Andy says, was keeping up with regulatory hurdles. Here are just a few steps the company took:
• Micandy uses well water, and the pumps are three-phase variable speed pumps. “They ramp up, start at a low volume, and slowly increase to full speed if needed,” Andy says. “That’s contrary to a normal water pump that takes about 20 or 30 times the amount of power just for the initial blast, then runs at full speed regardless of how much water you use.”
• Instead of putting up glass houses, Micandy went all double poly with air inflated in between.
• “We are changing our heaters over to more energy-efficient units, especially on stage one, which does about 70% of your heating,” Andy says.
• The irrigation boom system is set up so that water runs only where the crops are.
• Fertilizer tanks have secondary containment to manage runoff issues.
• Most plastic and cardboard is recycled, and composting is emphasized.
Thanks to immediate buy-in from their employees, Marcelyn says composting and recycling have become a way of life at Micandy.
“The younger generation is very conscious about being earth friendly, and they make up a large percentage of our employee pool,” she says. “Once one person initiated recycling, then plastic and greenhouse film recycling took off, as well.”
LED Lighting Saves On Electricity
Micandy is also transitioning much of its lighting from incandescent to light-emitting diode (LED) systems.
“The biggest portion in the greenhouse that we have changed over to LED lighting is night interruption lighting,” Andy says. “When we looked at how much electricity it was going to take for the amount of space we wanted to cover, we found we would have to run a whole new set of wiring a long distance to get where we wanted.”
With the old fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, one line of lighting took about 1,250 watts of power to run.
“We saw that if we went to LEDs, we could do it in 110 watts,” Andy says. “I’m not so sure it would pay to take out the old bulbs if you’re only looking at the cost of the bulbs. But when we saw that we would have to install more electrical units to keep up with the integrity of the system, that’s when it made sense.”
The use of LED lighting at Micandy will likely continue to expand, especially in propagation facilities.
“We found that by using LED lights, we could cut down on the time it takes to root our cuttings,” Andy says. “It extended the day to 16 hours. Once we saw that, it was an added bonus to what we were already doing.”
Switch To Neonic-Free Has Been A Positive Change
Like a number of its peers, Micandy has shifted to become neonicotinoid-free in its pest management program. It was a two-pronged decision, says Marcelyn, who notes that The Home Depot and several of Micandy’s other retail customers — as well as its young plant producer partners — have been facing increasing pressure to make the switch.
“We’re in the business of providing beautiful plants for people to enjoy and better their lives, and we want to be good stewards of the earth in doing so,” Marcelyn says. “We looked at it and said that if there is a group of our customers that is emotionally tied to bees and pollinators, we want to do the right thing by everyone and do our part to go neonic-free until there’s more research done.
“Being a young plant supplier, we need to do right by them and provide them with a starting plant they can feel confident in,” Marcelyn says.
In the greenhouse, both Andy and Marcelyn say eliminating neonics has been a positive change.
“We have to make a conscious effort about managing insects versus just following a weekly protocol,” Andy says. “We have to be proactive and pay closer attention to how we manage pests.”
Micandy Is A “Boutique Greenhouse”
Young plant production has increased at Micandy because of the quality and care they put into their plant material, Marcelyn says.
“The use of LED lights has helped us improve the consistency of our product quality. Our grower attention to detail with the quality of the plant, and employees working with the plant material, has all led to higher quality in our products, and our customers have become more satisfied.”
“We’ve been approached by a couple of companies asking us to root material for them that they can use internally and for their customers, and this area will likely expand.”
Micandy has seemingly become known to its customers as a boutique greenhouse.
“Part of that is because we are dominant on the female side, so we like to look for the different and unique,” Marcelyn says. She recalls stories of Micki seeking out new, exciting things to grow, and then asking Andy if he can grow them.
His usual response? “Of course we can!”
“Because we are accustomed to growing unique items, it’s not necessarily a challenge for us,” Marcelyn says. “We do it every day, and our production crew always rises to the occasion to figure out new things. Not all operations have the facilities, space, or passion to do that. That’s one thing we can provide to other growers who don’t do it themselves.”
Get To Know The Next Generation
According to Micki Buist, the next big opportunity at Micandy lies in creating an interest in how Generation Y will use plants in their lives going forward.
“They are coming into the age of purchasing and having families and homes,” Micki says. “What does that look like, and what can we do in our operation to not only understand what they’ll be interested in, but possibly to educate them and figure out how our products work with them?”
To take advantage of this growing market, Micandy is focused on using social media to promote its products, and how flowers can enhance people’s lives. Whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even their own website, “we’ve gotten more direct customer connections through social media than what we used to do previously,” Micki says. Micandy even works with younger employees at The Home Depot to help get them excited about plants.
“When they’re excited, that trickles down to their customers, as well.”
The future at Micandy looks very positive, which Marcelyn says is due to a sense of family that extends beyond the Buists to include all employees.
“It’s a family-owned company, but our perception of family goes beyond bloodlines,” she says.
Moving forward, any future expansion will be dictated by the long-term relationships Micandy continues to have with its customers.
“We want to optimize our current facility within the greenhouse and within the property itself,” Marcelyn says. “Our customers will determine if, when, and how we continue to expand.”
Giving Back Matters At Micandy
One of the main goals at Micandy is to give back to the community, and this sense of community even has a global reach. Andy and Micki Buist’s son, Randy Buist, is president of an organization called Kenya Matters, a non-profit organization committed to demonstrating compassion in action through the support of orphan children in Karai, Kenya. Kenya Matters addresses the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of orphans through empowering local African leadership with self-sustainable enterprise projects in partnership with an active donor community in the U.S.
The entire Buist family has gotten involved in Kenya Matters.
“We take kids in, and create a home and community where they can be adequately nourished in body and soul,” says Micki. “They work in the garden, and we teach them how to take care of the earth.”