Introducing Our Organic Farm Partner: Banner Greenhouses
We’ve been working with Banner Greenhouses, our CCOF certified organic farm partner, to get our customers safe, healthy plants worth munching on. Located in North Carolina, Banner Greenhouses is a family-owned, mid-sized grower that’s discovered unique needs in the garden market and are set on filling them.
One of these unique needs is what they’re selling us—young, “adolescent” age plants ready for the home-grower. They handle the trickiest part of growing (the infancy) so we can get you off to a stable growing start with a healthy harvest on the horizon.
Today, we’re introducing you to two of our partners at Banner Greenhouses, Jeff Mast and Lindy Abrams, so you know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes.
Q: What’s your job description at Banner Greenhouse?
JM: I’m not big on titles, but I’m the manager of this facility. So, I deal with a wide variety of issues. I might be hiring, I might be teaching, I might be analyzing financial numbers, I might be driving a truck, I might be mowing a yard, I might be talking to customers…I’m involved with everything that goes on.
Somedays, it’s just about putting out fires. It’s like going to Disney World. You’re waiting in line for 2 hours and then there’s excitement for, like, 90 seconds. It’s a fast-paced environment and no two days are alike. We’re outside, inside, in the greenhouse—it’s physical, and it’s rewarding! When you start a seed, grow and nurture a plant, then know someone is eating that plant, you’re spreading the meaning and use of organic. Then, with the flowering side of Banner, we’re also spreading color and beauty.
LA: So I’m the organic grower. I work with the head organic grower, and I have two assistant growers underneath me.
So, basically that’s monitoring and making growing decisions about fertility, when and how much to water, and spraying needs, etc. But then also giving those instructions to the growers that are working with me. Then I also execute a production schedule. And that’s making sure the transplanting is happening at the right time, that the right plants are going into the right pots, etc.
Q: Do you eat organic?
JM: I eat organic as much as possible. Organic and locally produced—eating local is just as important! Admittedly, there are some conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that use few chemicals and are almost as safe as organic—it depends on what food or vegetable you’re talking about. But these are my priorities. Number one is organic, number two is local. Can’t get more local than someone growing tomatoes on their own deck.
LA: I do. Actually, before I came to work at Banner, I was an organic farmer. So, for a long time, I’ve time eaten organic produce. Now, I grow transplants at work, and I keep a small garden for myself.
In my garden, I’m economical with the space, so it’s the things I like to eat every day and the things that are most expensive to buy. So my favorite to grow is peppers—sweet peppers (because I like to eat those every day), and then kale and spinach. In the summer, I always grow tomatoes. I really like having herbs around too.
Q: Why is organic important?
JM: Organic purchasers understand the value of sustainability—the value of reducing your environmental footprint—and they also value that they’re not ingesting any form of chemicals. It’s a healthier product for them to consume. So the health-ness is a huge issue, and then there’s the respect to building up our soils and our environment. It’s a philosophical purchasing decision for some people as well as a health decision
LA: First of all, just basic work safety—I’m not working in hazardous conditions. There’s no exposure to harsh chemicals and fertilizers. Because I’m growing what I’m eating and eating what I’m growing, organic means I’m safe every day.
And then…It just tastes cleaner to me. It’s growing in a more holistic manner. It’s not being force-fed nutrients. Organic food takes a little longer to grow, but with the slower grows comes density of nutrition, and I feel like I can taste that. You know, I can tell when I get conventional spinach at a restaurant—it tastes more watery. With organic spinach, there’s a lot of fiber, a lot of dark green color…It’s grown in a more stable way and it tastes that way.
Q: How did you get involved in growing?
JM: I originally was a buyer for a chain of retail stores in Northern Indiana, and I bought plant material for them. One day, I decided it was time for a career change, and I crossed the fence over to working at a large greenhouse in Indiana. First, in sales, and then I went into operations.
I grew up in a farm family in Indiana, so gardening and family has always been huge parts of my life. My immediate family raised poultry and beef cattle. In my extended family…my grandparents did dairy. With that was grain farming, and maybe hog farming—whatever we could make money on.
LA: Well, I studied arts management in school. I worked in gallery and museum for a couple years. When I dipped my toes in the gallery business, I just discovered that it wasn’t the right fit for me. So I took some time off to go work on a farm—you know, that thing 20-year-olds do—and It just felt right. It felt like everything I was missing in the gallery business. I was outside in the sunshine, I was eating well, I was constantly moving, it just felt really good.
I worked on a farm in Kentucky, and it was a really good opportunity to learn from a seasoned organic farmer. It was like an apprenticeship—it was learning by doing. Then I continued to teach myself and took a lot of workshops. There’s a lot of good education for farmers that doesn’t require school.
Q: Favorite herb/veggie?
JM: I like peppers. I’m a peppers guy. Sweet peppers and tomatoes.
LA: I wanna say Kale. But it’s a tie with sweet peppers. They’re not too strong—always crunchy, little bit sweet, little acidic, and they’re SO good for you. They’re really high Vitamin C.
For more information on what organic really means (and whether you should eat it), click here.