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Catching Up with the Class of 2015

by Chris Mosby

Our Generation Next members are ready to share 2015’s successes and 2016’s goals and expectations.

Nick Baker

Position: Head Grower and Production Manager, Baker’s Acres

Reflecting on 2015: “I didn’t have enough stuff. I ran out of certain annuals. I’m going to have to tweak some numbers for next year, if it follows the same path,” Baker says. “I’m noticing more young people coming into the greenhouse, more Millennials and 30-somethings; and they all want veggies and succulents. I think gardening is getting younger.” Baker’s also improved his social media skills, and the company has changed its TV ads to a new channel.

Lessons learned in 2015: Beneficials changed the way Baker grows. “I had to learn how to use those right and not fall back on spraying chemicals,” he says. “Consumers got really into it because I made it well known that that’s what we were doing. Everything seems to be leaning toward natural and organic and not buying from big chains.”

Looking to 2016: Baker says that next year, his portfolio of plants will be bolder, more colorful and easier to grow. He says he’ll offer more container options as consumers seem to prefer pick-up-and-go style plants.

Alan Barnitz

Position: Assistant Plug Manager, Bob’s Market and Greenhouses

Reflecting on 2015: “Our greatest success for 2015 would have to be being able to maximize our opportunities to move product when the weather was perfect in May,” Barnitz says.

Lessons learned in 2015: “The biggest lesson we have learned over the year is not pulling the trigger quick enough on equipment implementation,” he says. “With the labor struggles that we have in our area, we have to be on the front end on technology and equipment.”

Looking to 2016: “We are looking forward to 2016 as we plan to implement more technology to help make us even more efficient,” he says.

For more details about the Generation Next Class of 2015, check out our January 2015 issue on To see the each individual’s expanded profile, enter the person’s name in the search bar at the top right of the website.

Crystal Cady

Position: Owner, Sunflower Acres Farm & Garden

Reflecting on 2015: “After starting the business from scratch three years ago, we have invested every penny we made right back into the business,” Cady says. “Hard work truly pays off.”

Lessons learned in 2015: “The biggest lesson I learned this year is to seek answers and advice from multiple sources — not just one. You may get an answer from one person and run with it and later down the road find out it was the wrong answer, or bad advice, which could result in negative consequences,” Cady says.

Looking to 2016: “We hope to secure a retail location in town to allow us to take our business to the next level,” she says. “Farm property (acreage) is still on the horizon in the coming years, as that will allow us to grow into the master plan we have for the business. But in the meantime, we’ve got to find other solutions that allow us to keep growing!”

Matt Foertmeyer

Position: Head Grower and Production Manager, Foertmeyer & Sons Greenhouse Co.

Reflecting on 2015: The company’s sales are “exploding,” Foertmeyer says. As a point of reference, he says that when he started at the business, the company was selling 12,000 mums annually. Now they’re selling 90,000 mums a year. In addition to his work at Foertmeyer & Sons, Foertmeyer has spent much of the last three years working with two companies on designing a new irrigation boom for greenhouses.

Lessons learned in 2015: “I learned how much work it is behind the scenes to develop something like that irrigation boom. I’m not a software engineer. All of the intricacies that go into that project opened my eyes,” Foertmeyer says.

Looking to 2016: Foertmeyer & Sons is weighing how to meet increasing demand, and Foertmeyer says the company will need to make a wise decision on how it will expand. Foertmeyer himself wants to focus on his managerial skills. “I want to continue to get better at my craft. I’m always trying to do that. I want to be at the cutting edge of what our industry has to offer and I want to shape what that is,” he says. “I also want to be a better manager of people. Learning how to manage people is sometimes harder than managing a crop.”

Courtney Crawford

Position: Head Grower—Propagation, Millcreek Nurseries

Reflecting on 2015: “Our year went really well. We were busier than ever,” Crawford says. “Overall, there’s always things you want to do better, but we’ve had a pretty good year.”

Lessons learned in 2015: Crawford says that Millcreek grows a wide selection of annuals, edibles, perennials and herbs, and growing a new plant presents a unique set of challenges. “Even if you’ve seen something like that plant in the past, there are always new techniques to try,” she says.

Looking to 2016: “Being a young grower, there are still things I can learn and see. But I’m also getting to the point that I’ve been in the industry for a bit, so it’s been nice to collaborate with everybody who has been here and bring a new, fresh spin. That’s what I want for 2016, more teamwork and continue to develop new processes and expand,” she says.

Jared Hughes

Position: Owner, Groovy Plants Ranch

Reflecting on 2015: Hughes has had continued success with succulents this year, but plans to diversify his plant selection even more — but always within the realm of “unique and unusual.” “I didn’t go into succulents thinking they’d be popular forever,” he says. “I do love succulents, but it was very much taking advantage of the market opportunity to spring forward. It’s worked out well so far [and] we’re growing.” He also hosted several open houses for different gardening groups. “Turnout was just fantastic,” he says. “We’re getting people driving in some cases up to three hours from out of state to come here.”

Lessons learned in 2015: While it wasn’t a huge year for online sales, Hughes discovered that the market is there for his products. “It’s an easy way to sell unique plants and get top dollar for them,” he says.

Looking forward: “We’re in the process of buying a new facility about 20 minutes from our location here,” Hughes says. Much of his plant production will move to the new, three-acre property with both production and retail space. While the deal wasn’t finalized quite yet when we talked with him, Hughes is optimistic that everything will go smoothly. “All kinds of things are up in the air right now,” Hughes says. “We’re just trying to find our way through. It’s definitely an interesting time for us.”

Miles Jonard

Position: Production Manager and Head Grower, Solstice

Reflecting on 2015: Solstice, already a strong presence in the medical cannabis arena, is entering the recreational cannabis market. The company is opening a new production facility that will quadruple its indoor growing production capacity, Jonard says.

Lessons learned in 2015: “I learned the importance of keeping an eye on all the products you’re using, which is 101. But you also have to learn how to make good decisions and good changes on what you’re doing moving forward,” he says.

Looking to 2016: “Personally, I would say I’m interested in continuing with breeding programs, pushing for higher yields (of course), and pushing the limits for indoor production with denser buds, and then opening this new facility,” Jonard says. “My job will change a little bit, [and] we’re bringing on new people. We want these new people to bring their experience in horticulture and cannabis [to our business].”

Allison Justice

Position: Co-Owner/Lead Grower, Hope Greenhouses, LLC

Reflecting on 2015: Justice, a major advocate for the implementation of biological agents, has distributed her Biological Defense Systems (BDS)—a “rear-your-own” nematode kit to major players, i.e. Battlefield Farms. Battlefield now treats more than 200,000 square feet with BDS treatment alone for thrips, shore fly and fungus gnats.

Lessons learned in 2015: “I have learned a great deal this past year in terms of business and time management. As a new greenhouse grower, creating an accurate business forecast is important and also very challenging. Advice given by industry veterans has taught me that forecasting should be determined by the combination of last year’s sales along with pre-orders,” she says.

Looking to 2016: She’s also planned to expand her plant selection. “We are starting to grow hardy (up to zone 6) fruits that require grafting. We also have begun our pomegranate breeding program where we are crossing some of the more popular commercial varieties to door yard varieties (unknown local varieties that are very cold hardy but do not have good fruit),” Justice says.

Gladys Opiyo

Position: Production Manager, Timbuk Farms

Reflecting on 2015: Opiyo says finding the right people, and placing them in the right place to achieve their greatest potential was one of the biggest challenges she had in 2015. It was also her most successful season, even better than 2014.

Lessons learned in 2015: “Be able to delegate, and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Opiyo says.

Looking to 2016: “I’m sure we are up for an exciting season, I did regain lots of my energy during the summer!” Opiyo says.

Alex Traven

Position: Head Grower, Peace Tree Farm

Reflecting on 2015: “This year has been one of tremendous growth and learning for me and everyone at Peace Tree. I gained new technical skills, experience and knowledge, including how to fix and troubleshoot equipment and infrastructure, many specific insect ecology interactions, cultural practices of new and unique crops, and much more. However, this year’s most enduring lesson was about company culture,” Traven says.

Lessons learned in 2015: “We had a lot of personnel changes at Peace Tree, which was a great challenge but offered us the unique opportunity to recreate and redefine our company culture,” he says. “These days, our team is functioning efficiently and effectively, communicating clearly, and most importantly, we have a greater sense of purpose and comradery toward achieving our mutual goals.”

Looking to 2016: 2016 promises to be a new chapter for Peace Tree, Traven says. “I’m excited for the team to continue to take on more responsibility, and to continue to produce and perfect truly exceptional plants. We are enthusiastically moving into production of greens, cut herbs, and other high-quality food, and we are happy to be expanding our offerings of edible plants to include new unique culinary experiences.”

Graham Tucker

Position: Director of Agriculture, BrightFarms

Reflecting on 2015: Tucker says the company successfully proved its model at its Yardley, Penn. and began production at its Elkwood, Va. facility. Tucker has also been training two new growers, both of whom are operating their own facility.

Lessons learned in 2015: Tucker says he’s learned the most about tomato production and team building.

Looking to 2016: “We will be ramping up and stabilizing production at our Capitol greenhouse, commencing production, ramping up and stabilizing production at our Chicagoland greenhouse, starting in the spring,” he says. “I look forward to the challenge of working with multiple growers in different climates and different types of facilities while producing a consistent high-quality produce for our clients.”

Jeremy Windemuller

Position: Trials Manager, Walters Gardens

Reflecting on 2015: “We have high expectations for next year, orders are rolling in like crazy. We’ve been busy with a lot of new genetics,” he says. Windemuller’s own nursery (exclusive from Walters) also had a great year. “We’re looking at expanding the landscape side of business this year. We’re also growing more perennials and looking at adding more shade houses.”

Lessons learned in 2015: Windemuller says that with each passing year, he’s able to more clearly plan Walters’ business strategy and tactics. “Investing in your business and growing is always a wise thing. I don’t want to do it on a crazy scale. We just want to be wise about the expansions and see what sets ourselves apart from the competition,” he says.

Looking to 2016: “I see a really good season in 2016. I see there’s still demand for nursery and greenhouse products, particularly the perennial industry,” Windemuller says. “I think that we’ll get higher-quality genetics and offer higher-performing plants. I like the plants with great garden performance. The easier we can make it grow our plants, the more they’ll buy.