Karen Schneck is a first-year graduate student at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. When she finishes her education, her goal is to become a grower at a commercial operation, ideally producing annuals and perennials — plants she says she loves because they “make other people happy.” To prepare her for her dream job, she has interned at Skagit Gardens in Mount Vernon, Washington, and Plantpeddler in Cresco, Iowa. She’s also been awarded various horticulture-related scholarships over the past few years, including the Dr. P. Allen Hammer scholarship from Dümmen Orange and the 2018-19 Shinoda Foundation Scholarship.
Greenhouse Management: What made you want to pursue a career in horticulture?
KS: First, when I was very young, my mom and grandma had a huge flower garden, so I started to get that love of flowers and nature through them. And then as I got older, I got involved with 4-H, where I did the horticulture judging contests, the state judging contests where I got exposed to [Kansas State’s] horticulture, and then I was also involved in the plant science options in 4-H. I did all of the horticulture contests that I could and, through my school, I got some experience in the greenhouse. And with my [grandma’s garden club], I took a tour of a commercial greenhouse; that was my first with a commercial greenhouse. All of those things inspired me to take on horticulture as a career. I knew in high school that being a grower [was] the direction I wanted to go in.
GM: Do you feel there are enough scholarships and internships available for aspiring horticulturists? What could growers do to make an internship experience more worthwhile?
KS: No, I don’t. [What’s available now] is a good start, but there’s always, always room for improvement. Kids searching for horticulture opportunities in college — they need help in college, and I think, for some people, it’s more challenging. Any support that the industry can give to students is extremely necessary. And there are some fantastic scholarships out there and I’ve been honored to receive several of them. But I think there need to be more made available for more students. I think being open to the needs and customizations of the students [matters] because maybe some students are super interested in propagation or finishing or maybe they want to do some research. It’s about making sure your program is super customizable and open to the interpretation of the students. Adapt to them.
GM: What do you feel like the horticulture industry could do to get more young people interested in the industry?
KS: I think a lot of it has to start in middle school and earlier and throughout those formative years when [children] are searching out what they love and they are passionate about. I think there’s a lot of good being done with the Seed Your Future campaign and with youth organizations like 4-H and FFA. Those kids are so dedicated to what they do — the green industry needs those people. What really needs to happen is greenhouse owners and green industry professionals and garden centers need to focus in locally through those organizations.
Deciding on a covering system for a new greenhouse can be difficult due to the many options now available. The choice used to be glass, rigid poly or double co-poly film. Today, growers can incorporate energy conservation and shading into the mix. Energy conservation must be considered in many northern states whereas shading is more important in southern locations. There are three main factors that affect the choice: light, energy conservation and shading. Here are a few suggestions that may help you make a decision.
Winter light is still the limiting factor for plant growth in most areas of the U.S., even in the Southwest, where the average daily light integral (DLI) is only 20 to 25 mol/sq. m/day (endowment.org/dlimaps). In most current greenhouses only 50 to 60 percent of outside sunlight gets through to plant level.
Research continues to find better ways to capture and make use of natural light. Glass and plastic with nonreflective surfaces and better diffusion having up to 95 percent transmittance are becoming available. Using larger panes and smaller composite material structural members can also increase the amount of light reaching the plant level by up to 10 percent.
Although great strides have been made in improving the efficiency of artificial illumination, the increasing cost of electricity is offsetting some of the benefits. Connecticut power suppliers were given the go-ahead to increase electricity costs last year and the new policy went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.
Growers in northern climates are usually more concerned with heat loss during the winter. Energy requirements in cold weather are frequently 15 to 30 percent of production costs for many crops. To offset this, energy screen systems can be installed to reduce heat loss by 50 percent or more. New screen materials plus the use of multiple screens can also offset the loss of heat compared to having a single layer glazing.
Research has shown that using a translucent screen left closed both day and night on cold, cloudy days can both provide good light levels and save energy. The greater hours of use can more than offset the use of a screen having a higher U-value, but greater shading.
In warmer climates, high summer temperature is of greater concern than energy savings. Typical material shading choices are in the 40 to 60 percent range, but materials with a shade factor as high as 86 percent are available. By using multiple screens, the benefits of both shade and energy can be achieved.
Put all this together to choose a covering system:
- For the glazing, select a lightweight material such as a corrugated polycarbonate or modified acrylic with a 90 percent light transmission. This allows a lighter greenhouse frame than if glass was chosen. A lighter frame means more light to the plants.
- Add a shade screen that diffuses the light and provides the level of shading that the intended crop requires.
- Install a transparent energy screen with 40 to 50 percent energy savings, translucent strips and a closed structure that can be left extended during the day without much reduction in light.
- If daylight exclusion is required, install a blackout screen material instead of the energy saving material. Most blackout screens have a greater energy saving rating. Select a material with one reflective aluminum surface. Face it up if to reflect summer heat; face it down to reflect winter heat or supplemental artificial lighting.
The above provides a good covering system that will give at least a 10-year economic life. With the rapid development of new materials and production concepts, such as photoselective glazings and photovoltaic electric power generation panels, any structure with a longer life may be obsolete in a few years.
John is an agricultural engineer, an emeritus extension professor at the University of Connecticut and a regular contributor to Greenhouse Management. He is an author, consultant and certified technical service provider doing greenhouse energy audits for USDA grant programs in New England. firstname.lastname@example.org
Words are just words, and to quote Gandhi, “actions express priorities.” And if there is anything, any task, any project, any responsibility, that I have enjoyed “teaching and sharing” ... it is just this. For some people, making lists and then accomplishing the goals and tasks, just seems to come naturally. For others, they will do it if constantly asked and required. And others, well they just “never” do it.
Whether at work, at home, coaching teams or planning the next event at your church, then the following steps are the same. Well, they are the same if a well-orchestrated plan is to play out and achieve the preset and desired goals! So, let’s begin with the end in mind, as Steven Covey has taught us. Let’s first define: Why am I even doing this? Where are we going? What will it look like? Feel like? Cost us? How long will it take? Who will I need help from? And of course, who will “own” this? Whatever “this” is? Who will be the “champion” of this project? This all starts with each and everyone of us as the “champion” of our own life.
At home, this might be planning where to move, now that the family is growing? Or maybe, what car to buy or lease. Maybe it will be where are we going on our next vacation? Now this one is a favorite example of mine when coaching my team at work. Why you may ask? Well, because I heard this story years ago and have found it to be true, over and over.
See, when people are planning a vacation, something that usually is so very emotional and important to us and our families, we really think it through and make plans that are very thorough. I have found when asking my team to “share their plans” ... man o man, they have plans!
They, like so many of us, have spent significant time determining a timeframe, budget, route of travel, places along the way, who is coming and more. They have solved the why, what and how of said vacation. Now this would make us believe, or at least it has made me believe, that this same process should be repeatable in other areas of life. Child-rearing? Marriages? Careers? Personal growth plans? Gaining a skill or learning a sport?
See, I believe this process helps define where we are going and as we progress through the steps and check the boxes, we feel accomplished, satisfied and proud of our achievements. All of this can happen without waiting for someone to tell us “good job,” we know we did a good job. We planned and we did it for us. This builds self-esteem and self-esteem promotes a healthy life.
Ok, so how does this work? It's simple, just not easy. It starts by making daily lists. Lists of all that we need to accomplish today. Repeat this process, experts tell us, up to as many as 200 times and then it will become a habit.
Once you are doing this daily, by habit, increase your lists to encompass several days or weeks in advance. Include work, family, personal, hobbies, etc. I suggest putting all activities in a form of calendar that works for you. I am partial to writing in a calendar, as studies prove that writing lists, not digital lists, have greater chance of success with us humans. But any list that creates success is a good list. A great help in accomplishing this is having an “accountability partner.” Maybe this is your spouse, friend or coworker. Make it fun. Maybe both of you have chosen to make this part of your lifestyle and can share this journey together, you know, like sharing a vacation.
Now, once you have accomplished making lists as a habit, you should go celebrate. You are now one of the 10 percenters. You have achieved a skill and habit that will allow you to make your life more fulfilling and rewarding. So, if you haven’t already made a list of big goals, or sometimes called big hairy audacious goals (BHAG), now is the time. Make lists of personal, work and family goals. They are goals that will take months, years and maybe a lifetime to achieve. Don’t set easy-to-achieve goals, like I’m going to lose five pounds. And don’t set goals that are out of reach, like I’m going to fly to Pluto. I was going to say the moon or Mars, but that might happen if you are young enough and you are reading this.
The object is to define your:
- Beliefs (goals)
- Behaviors (what and how you will get to your goals)
- Results (celebrate your achievements)
In closing, if you are already a list-maker, planner, calendar-user, goal-setter, visionary, high-achiever, then there is possibly only one thing to add to your list. I would say that would be teach and coach others how to get results and feel as good as you do when you are celebrating. If you are not a list-maker today, and want to be:
- Step 1 — Buy a calendar or find an app or use a Post-it note and write on it every morning.
- Step 2 — Make today’s list.
- Step 3 — Do it!
Also, find an accountability partner or a mentor, someone in your life who is a list-maker and is willing to help you by sharing how they do it and the results they achieve. Finally, read up on it as there are lots of books and blogs on the topic, just find one that speaks to you and get after it! You will turn from “Words are just words” to “Words create lists of actions/behaviors that create our desired results”!
Troy Clogg is the Founder and President of Troy Clogg Landscape Associates and a frequent contributor to sister publication SNOW magazine.
On the cusp of another busy spring season, greenhouses are struggling to staff their expanding businesses. Due in part to a national unemployment rate hovering around 3.9 percent at press time (compared to 10 percent a decade ago), attracting and maintaining staff is a major pain point for growers.
See how three greenhouses are increasing the odds of filling seasonal positions.
N.G. Heimos Greenhouses and Millstadt Young Plants: Focusing on foreign labor
During the 2017 growing season, head grower Amy Morris struggled to fill 90 seasonal positions at N.G. Heimos Greenhouses and Millstadt Young Plants.
New hires, complaining about the heat and manual labor, often quit after a few weeks; some lasted just a single shift. The Millstadt, Illinois-based grower hired a total of 432 workers to tend to 100 acres of bedding plants over the course of the season.
“It was such a bad season with labor that our [permanent] staff were working 80 hours per week to cover the shortfall,” Morris recalls. “We knew we had to make a change.”
For the 2018 season, N.G. Heimos Greenhouses and Millstadt Young Plants hired workers through the H-2A visa program.
The greenhouse covered the cost of the visas, transportation from Mexico, housing and required extras such as transportation to local supermarkets for 60 temporary agricultural workers.
The impact was immediate: Order accuracy skyrocketed, no one complained about the heat or hard work and 100 percent of the temporary laborers completed the entire season, Morris says. She plans to continue hiring workers under the visa program and hopes to see many familiar faces when the crew arrives this spring.
“We’re hoping to rehire the same guys,” she says. “It’s 100 percent better to get the same group season after season.”
Morris still hires domestic workers, but she knows walk-in applicants will never fulfill her need for committed seasonal staff.
“Last season, we had 10 to 15 Americans come in looking for jobs; we hired eight. Only one lasted longer than a week,” she says. “With H-2A workers, we have confidence the work will get done.”
It takes an estimated 150-plus hours of paperwork to hire foreign workers on H-2A visas and requires a significant investment for growers, but Morris believes the effort is worthwhile, explaining, “The [return on investment] is huge.”
Kuhlmann’s Market Gardens and Greenhouses: Offering flexible roles
Anita McDonald knows few people want to do one repetitive task — i.e. transplant seedlings — for eight hours straight, so she offers seasonal staff the option to tackle different tasks within the greenhouse, from watering and cleaning to operating cash registers, assisting customers and, of course, transplanting.
The expansive job descriptions are just one of the ways Kuhlmann’s has tried to make seasonal positions more attractive to the 60 staff it hires each spring. The Edmonton, Alberta, greenhouse also offers flexible schedules — and only requires seasonal staff to commit to working one day on the weekend — and generous discounts.
“We want our workers to come back year after year so we do what we can to make seasonal employment work for them,” says McDonald, greenhouse manager at Kuhlmann's.
Although the greenhouse is known for its seedling annuals, including 25,000 geraniums and 5,000 hanging baskets, Kuhlmann’s has diversified its operations to include vegetable transplants, fresh vegetables and a Christmas shop. Extending the season means some seasonal staff can keep their jobs for longer.
“Being able to offer nine months of work when other greenhouses only offer four or five months of work makes this a more attractive place to work,” McDonald says.
In 2018, Alberta raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour, which McDonald believes has helped Kuhlmann’s attract seasonal staff.
“A higher minimum wage means more people are going to be out looking for work and that will increase our applicant pool,” McDonald explains. “But, at that rate, I’m looking for someone who is more knowledgeable and mature.”
In fact, some of her best hires have been retirees who are passionate about plants and interested in a short-term or seasonal role to supplement their income.
“Some of our most dedicated and loyal employees aren’t looking for careers,” McDonald says. “Our retirees are the ones that stay with us all season and come back year after year.”
Metrolina Greenhouses: Piling on the perks
Hiring 700-plus seasonal workers was difficult enough, but Metrolina Greenhouses faced an additional challenge: Its Huntersville, North Carolina, location had meager public transportation service.
“A lot of [potential hires] don’t have reliable transportation,” says human resources director Dave Dougherty. “Even if they wanted to work for us, they had no way to get here.”
In 2018, Metrolina Greenhouses, which has 168 acres under glass with an additional 38 acres of greenhouse space scheduled to come online in 2020, partnered with the Charlotte Area Transit System to operate an express bus from the light rail line to the greenhouse. This season, the grower is exploring options to subsidize transit passes to make public transportation an even more attractive option.
Transportation is just one of the perks Metrolina Greenhouses offers its workers. The greenhouse also hosts staff appreciation lunches and regular drawings for prizes such as tickets to concerts and sporting events. A starting wage of $11 per hour (the minimum wage in North Carolina is $7.25 per hour), with regular raises and opportunities to work overtime, also helps attract seasonal staff.
Metrolina Greenhouses also believes in “second-chance hiring” and works with community partners to provide opportunities to workers with criminal records. While the greenhouse still performs background checks and makes decisions on a case-by-case basis, human resources manager Phil Heilman calls the program a success, noting, “Our Employee of the Year was a second-chance hire.”
In 2018, Metrolina Greenhouses launched a “refer a friend” program that provides bonuses to seasonal and permanent staff when their referrals are hired. Metrolina Greenhouses offers $150 after a new employee works 30 days and an additional $150 when that employee hits the 60-day mark.
“We want to be able to fill a job once, not two-and-a-half times per season,” Dougherty says. “Enlisting all of our employees to be part of our hiring and retention process helps us with that.”
Jodi spent a decade working for a greenhouse grower before becoming a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in magazines like Farming, Modern Farmer and Greenhouse Management’s sister publication, Garden Center.