June 2010
Featured Articles

At Blount Co. Co-op, Business is Blossoming

Five-year-old Shannon Salari, who was visiting from the Netherlands, enjoyed choosing flowers at Blount Co-op’s Mother’s Day event. Shannon and her parents, Katie and Mathieu Salari, were visiting with Grandma Nancy Ellis on Berry Mountain and other relatives.

When Trey Adams was growing up in Rogersville and then graduating from Lauderdale County High School, he thought his future was set: he planned to attend Auburn University and major in engineering as his career path.

But once at Auburn, he took Landscape Horticulture as an "elective" class and his future changed at once!

"I had no clue," Trey explained. "I didn’t realize you could get a degree like that in horticulture. I enjoy working outside and I just can’t see myself working in a 9 to 5 office job now."

Trey graduated from Auburn on May 9, 2009, with that NOW-coveted horticulture degree and began working at the Blount County Farmers Co-op about six months ago as the Garden and Landscape Manager, helping to expand an already fastly-growing plant division and landscape section.

"Whether it’s a business or a house, you can just take something that looks so plain, do some creative landscaping, and change the whole look and value of the place," Trey said.

Trey is assisted by Mally Bugg and Joe Hudson. And until long-time plant specialist Doug Oliver’s mid-May retirement, they were all still learning from him.

 

Trey Adams, Blount County  Farmers Co-op Garden and Landscape Manager,  gets a flowering basket for a customer.

Doug noted the landscaping business would likely continue to increase as "I think a lot of folks have found out a well-landscaped yard can add up to 20 percent to their property’s value."

"Doug was a big part in making this plant section what it is today. When I first came here a little more than three years ago, we had one shade house. Now we have two shades houses, two large greenhouses on line just this spring and the arbor to sell from," explained Blount Manager Paul Thompson.

But like everything else at Blount Co-op, the plant section is a joint effort of ALL employees.

This year, employees were instrumental in the building of the two, 21 x 48-foot greenhouses which went into production February first.

Mally Bugg loads more Knock Out Roses

 
   

"These are not just for growing our own plants; these are for controlling the climate of the Bonnie plants we receive. These are not just plants that come in on a truck from somewhere today and we sell them tomorrow," said Paul. "We make sure these plants are the way we want them before they are sold. Irrigation begins each morning at 3:30 and we have an injection system where the plants are fertilized through that system. Right now we have about 15,000 plants and it’s a constant chore for their care and upkeep. We want people to see when they buy plants here they are buying something special. These plants are taken care of where in some of the ‘big box’ stores they’re just left on their own."

(Doug always said plants just didn’t do as well when they were sold by "big box" stores just like they sell toilet paper and canned goods!)

 

Flowers in one of two large green-houses.

"We constantly remind ourselves that everything leaving here is a resemblance of us," Paul emphasized. "With Trey here, our landscape design section has also really expanded. That’s turned out to be a really positive thing."

Paul especially wanted to praise Justin Carlston with Bonnie Plants for being ever-ready to bring stock when needed.

Paul and his other employees are constantly thinking of new ways to better serve their customers.

The week before Mother’s Day, Paul thought how nice it would be if customers, especially children, could come in and personally design and plant flowers for their mothers, grandmothers and other special friends for Mother’s Day.

Although he had little time to advertise, the Saturday before Mother’s Day was a HUGE success, with folks of all ages designing and planting flowers not only for their Mothers but for Decoration Days being held in the area at local cemeteries.

Blount County Farmers Co-op Manager Paul Thompson is expanding “all things plant!”

 

Lester Memorial Methodist Kindergarten even brought their four-year old class the previous Thursday to "dig in the dirt" and make flower pots for their moms!

"This will likely become an annual event," Paul explained. "We really didn’t even have time to promote it this year and it went so well just from word-of-mouth! Next year we will advertise it a little more and have an even bigger event, if that’s possible."

(And at the writing of this article, Paul and employees were working on some type of Father’s Day promotion.)

In addition to the huge rise in flowering plants and decorative shrubs, the Blount Co-op, as has most of the Quality Co-ops, have seen a huge increase in the last couple of years in those who are planting family gardens for the first time, or for the first time in a long time.

Paul and Trey both feel it has a lot to do with the economy, scares about problems with vegetables being recalled for various safety reasons and the fuel costs when vegetables are trucked from across the country or even from foreign lands. More and more folks are cooking and eating at home instead of spending as much time out at restaurants, according to national and local trends, and having produce grown in the family’s own garden makes those home-cooked meals even more special.

There’s also been an increase in fruit trees and berry sales like blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, apples, apricots, nectarines and more.

Trey, Mally and Joe are available to give advice on planting everything from the tallest fruit tree to the tiniest vegetable, from a decorative shrub, to hide a building’s fault, to Knock Out Roses, which have become an area favorite.

Appalachian fifth grader Lauren Arriaga and her sixth grade brother, Cristian, make a special pot of flowers for their Mom.

 

Straight Mountain’s Destiny Allman chooses flowers

Even those in the tiniest of apartments or with small yards can grow beautiful flowers and at least part of their family’s vegetables by using containers, and Trey, Mally and Joe can help you with that as well. While there are containers and beautiful pots for sale, they can also help by providing information on how deep to plant and what size container you can use that you may already have on hand.

And what are the Blount Co-op’s goals for the next few months? Paul explained, "We’ll be increasing EVERYTHING involving plants!"

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount Co. and can be contacted through her website at
www.suzysfarm.com
.