Spring has arrived here in the mountains of Northern California. The Redbuds have just finished blooming and the native Ceanothus are in full bloom. Customers have returned, and many are anxious to get the garden going. Thank goodness for our trade and our communities that people have taken such an interest in food production. It’s a lifeline for some business that had depended on “ornamental” (plants that cannot be consumed) sales in the past.
In my opinion the trend towards bringing food production closer to the end user will intensify. The time will come when even city dwellers will have the option to rent an apartment in a building that, as part of the rental agreement includes a supply of food grown in the building. We could see the roof utilized when the weather is appropriate, and when it’s not a floor dedicated to the production of food under lights. Who will operate and grow this food? The next generation of horticulturist.
It’s a fantastic time to be involved in horticulture. That may sound odd given the number of closing garden centers and suppliers. Make no doubt that the trade is in the throes of huge change. We know that change often occurs during times of social and economic upheaval when the only choice is to “change or die”.
It’s a trade that’s made for the future, once we “in the trade” see that things have changed and doing business the way we learned may not work in this new environment. We must be open to new ideas, as well as new definitions of what it means to be a “gardener”. I think the plant businesses that will flourish will be those who recognize this, and not be held back by what we “think” a garden center should be. The key is to look at the change going on around us, and use it as an opportunity for making things better.
There is a lot of talk about changing the way food gets to market. It’s nice to see people who are willing to put the time, and effort to see if they can make it work. Farming, whether it’s “old school” dirt farming or soil less hydroponic farming is hard work. Will the younger generation be willing to put in the immense effort needed to bring our food to table?
South Fork Farm at Gold Hill is owned and operated by Jaclyn Moyer and Ryan Dorsey. The couple lease 12 acres from The American River Conservancy, which recently purchased the historic 272 Veerkamp property at Gold Hill. The property is the site of the first Japanese colony in North America, The Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony. As we drive by the farm twice a day on the way to and from work my curiosity brought me to the farm. I was met by Jaclyn and Ryan who took the time out of their busy day to show me around.
The farm is certified organic and a Community Supported Agriculture enterprise.We walked through the fields where their first crops we’re growing and being harvested. Since this is early spring there was lot’s of lettuce varieties as well as other leafy greens. Onions we’re planted as well as garlic. Inside a hoop house built over the soil we’re young seedlings of heirloom tomatoes, many of which will be planted in the hoop house so as to provide an earlier crop.
A wood fired oven has been built to bake bread that will be made out of heirloom wheat being grown on the farm. This is interesting in light of renewed interest in heirloom wheat. Some people feel it may be an answer for our current problems with obesity and diabetes, which we talked about last year. They have planted the majority this year in Sonora Wheat. According to slowfoodusa.org Sonoma Wheat“comprised the majority of production by 1880 in California’s Central Valley, where 2,550,000 acres of wheat were grown, the largest wheat enterprise in history at that time…Since the 1950′s “it has not been used in commercial production anywhere on the continent.”
The last couple of days we have driven past the farm where we could see smoke rising from the oven as it’s being “cured” in preparation for it’s first loaves, this fall. It will be fun to try the bread baked from this grain, and grown just down the road from us. I would like to see this type of enterprise replicated in other communities, both urban and rural. While there is like no doubt the commercial mega farms are not going away, the rise of these smaller farms producing organic food closer to the market should be a growing trend. Even more exciting is to find younger people like Jaclyn and Ryan who are willing to make the commitment to try this new enterprise. It’s from these efforts that we will carve out a new way forward in growing our safe food supply.
What could you give up and not miss? Is there stuff or an attitude that could be dropped for something better? We have been doing this not only at home, but throughout our business. In the past garden centers we’re the places you went for all things related to gardening. Now you can pick up some vegetable starts while shopping at Trader Joe’s, pick up trees at Costco, and finish off with fertilizer bought online. Who needs a one stop garden center?
Lot’s of garden shops have categories or departments that are relics from the past. Perhaps its that that tool department that always needs dusting, or rose department that always needs pesticide applications? Don’t even get me started on that gift department. Some stores do well with their gift department, and others do well with tools, but they might not be for you.
I find it useful to also ask regularly what department, item, or attitude could be discarded to the benefit of the company, and ourselves. We recently went paperless, and it’s only made things easier. When we get invoices, business cards, or other papers we need to save they are scanned and stored digitally in “the cloud.” I still have the information we need, but without the paper filling up filling cabinets and space. Gifts are another area that never worked for us, so we have no gift department! I don’t miss dusting them at all.
It’s harder for those of us that have been in the trade for awhile to discard what in the past was a given at a garden store. What department, method, or attitude could you discard right now without hurting business? Better yet what could you discard and improve business? We added a hydroponic/ indoor garden department since it was a needed in our particular region of northern California. The customers have responded, and we live to do business another day! It took the place of an indoor area that in the past would have been used for gift items. Now we don’t have to dust as often.
As the pace of change increases it often becomes difficult to “keep up”. So much has changed in the gardening businesses that even veterans of the trade are having a hard time adjusting. I believe the key is to enjoy what you do right now. That’s really the only way to stay sane in today’s world.
Milton Glaser is a 83 year old graphic designer most famous for the “I (Heart) NY” logo. Two things stood out for me in this article at coolhunting.com. The first is about not following the trends. He say’s, “I don’t follow any designers, it’s not my character. I mean there are a lot of young, good practitioners. I actually should be more conscious of what’s going on in the field but I’ve never used the field as my resource, I use history—and an awful lot of history I still don’t understand”.
The second concerns loving what you do, and ignoring the pace of change. “If you spend your life doing what you love, the speed at which the world goes on and changes around you is irrelevant.”
Great advice. Ignore trends, and do what you love.
The picture shows the “garden center” at our local Whole Foods. They have had the metal racks with the plants on them in years past. They have sold soil amendments, too. This year was the first time they decided to put their banner up proclaiming the front of the store a “garden center”.
It’s come to the point where anyone selling a few plants or soil amendments can call themselves a garden center. As the younger generations and new gardeners start to experience their first “garden center” the idea of independent garden centers will diminish. Who needs a real garden center when they can buy the organic, locally produced vegetable starts at the grocery store (garden center).
This trend is here to stay. It means the number of independent garden centers will continue to decrease as businesses attach small garden outlets to their stores, and call them garden centers. The memory of what garden centers were will soon fade, as more and more of us buy our garden supplies at Whole Foods, Costco, The Farmers Market, Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, The Hardware Store, The Hydroponic Store, online, etc.
Yes, there is still room for indie garden centers, but their numbers will be much decreased. The new era of garden retailing is here to stay. Where do you and your business fit in?
What’s the most valuable asset a garden store possess? The land it sits on? It employees? The merchandise or plants? It’s resale value? I contend the most valuable asset is the garden centers ability to generate and nurture its own enthusiastic customer base. As the cost of producing plants drops, and the quality continues to rise you will find excellent plants even at the mass merchants. Quality will no longer be the exclusive domain of independent garden shops. More and more we find good quality plants available at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, the box stores, Costco, Ikea, and any number of other outlets not traditionally associated with gardening.
A persons initial interest in gardening may be sparked by any number of reasons, but we can no longer expect the interested gardener to shop at a independent garden center or IGC. They are just as likely to pick up their plants at Costco, at a price that can’t be beat. We no longer depend on the natural and societal pressures that compelled many to garden in the past. What we need to do is to help create a whole new generation of enthusiastic gardeners. This can be accomplished by the smallest garden shop utilizing the power of social media. The ability to communicate with a large number of people “levels the playing field” between the large concerns and the smallest ones.
Once we have helped the new, now enthusiastic gardeners, we will have to nurture them. They won’t just show up at the door next year if we don’t give them a compelling reason to “keep it up” and reap the benefits. To many other fun or necessary things to do in life to occupy their time. We need to build our own communities of enthusiastic gardeners, and then give them the tools (social media perhaps) to help spread the word.
The Petaluma Seed Bank (which only sells hybrid seeds, no plants) is a great example. What the Petaluma Seed Bank and their owners Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds have done is tap into the zeitgeist of the times. They create their own buzz via their catalog, online presence, and events to keep the gardeners interested. They have both brick & mortar as well as online sales. They are political (anti GMO), and donate time and money to their (and their customers) causes. They grow their own food on their own land (they walk the talk), and then discuss the results and possibilities with their customers. They have created a community of enthusiastic customers who share their love of the business.
We don’t just sell plants and fertilizer anymore. We will have to create,organize, and nurture communities of like minded people who share a common goal, or interest. In our case that revolves around horticulture in general, but could also go off in a hundred different niches. Find your niche, and become the best in that world.
I was asked if their was much of a future in horticulture. They we’re interested in whether to pursue it as a career. This is what I wrote back.
The future of horticulture is the future of man. They cannot be separated and as such horticulture will become even more important to our lives in the future. The future for the horticultural sciences has never been brighter. Like many subjects the field is changing rapidly and what worked in the past sometimes does not work in the present. Many of the traditional connections that people made with horticulture are changing. To be successful as an entrepreneur of the horticultural field requires the ability to change quickly as your market changes. No longer is their a set path for anyone to follow.
A whole new generation of gardeners needs education, the tools, and the inspiration to take us further into the 21st century. The possibilities for producing food closer to those who need it, as well as food safety will open whole new areas for urban horticulture, hydroponics, pomology, herbology, etc. As more people discover the benefits of plants new ways to utilize them will need to be developed. Miniature gardening, vertical gardening, water gardening, locally supplied flower gardening, and more.
I have never been more optimistic in the power of horticulture to change the world for the better. Many of the traditional players in horticulture are disappearing, only to be filled by new players with different methods.
After over 50 years at their location on Skyline Blvd., Yerba Buena Nursery is moving! The California native plant nursery is headed to new digs in Half Moon Bay along Hwy. 92, near Pastorino Farms. Anyone who has visited their Skyline location can attest to it’s beauty, yet it is a bit out of the way. Only people looking for the place would likely have ended up there. With this new location on a heavily traveled road they will have a chance to draw in more casual visitors.
I have only been to Yerba Buena Nursery a couple of times. It’s been quite a awhile since I can remember being waited on by the founder, Gerda Isenberg. Gerda was a pioneer in the California native plant world. I was working at Christensen’s Nursery in Belmont, just over the hill from Yerba Buena. We took the drive up Skyline Blvd. searching for the nursery, as it was at the time the only native plant nursery around. This must have been the early 80′s, and I can remember driving down a long dirt road to a nursery carved out of the surrounding redwoods. Gerda was there doing nursery stuff, and tea was being served. It seemed like a magical place.
Even though the Skyline location was where it all started and has the memories, it will be easier to visit the new location. It’s also nice to see Half Moon Bay continue it’s reputation as a nursery town. We will make a point to visit the next time we’re headed coast side.
St. Brighid is one of Ireland’s patron saints, and today she is celebrated.This day also signify’s in Gaelic, the beginning of spring. It’s one of those ancient celebrations that can trace it’s roots back into Pagan days. Interestingly, it may be a forerunner of our Groundhog Day. In the old tradition people would watch for serpents or badgers leaving their winter dens. A Scottish-Gaelic poem about the day,
Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.
“The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bríde, Though there should be three feet of snow On the flat surface of the ground.”
I had never heard of St. Brighid’s day. A nurseryman in Ireland commented on my picture of Snowdrops blooming at the nursery. He said his too we’re in bloom, and mentioned the celebration. I like it as it connects me with a time long ago. It marks the changing seasons with celebrations based on the light in the sky, and not on whether it could be moved to a Monday so as to avail ourselves of a three day holiday. St Brighid’s day always falls on the 1′st of February.
It does seem to be getting a little brighter at 5 pm.