The Grower’s Grower: An Interview with Gardenuity’s Farm Partner, Joel Turk
“Have you ever seen the movie Forrest Gump?…When he becomes a shrimper? That’s where we are.”
“Where” is Irvington, Alabama in the South Mobile County. I’ve only seen Forrest Gump once, but this statement leaves quite the vivid description. Irvington is a small town in the deep south, just a short trip from the gulf. Imagine bayou, hot muggy summers, and warm southern twangs—the speaker Joel Turk certainly has a charming accent!
We know Joel because he is a farm partner of Gardenuity’s. Joel grows our lettuce, spinach, and leafy green collections. And they’re totally delicious.
It’s clear to us that our farm partners are amazing (otherwise we wouldn’t be partners). But we got Joel on the phone so you could hear directly from the source.
Every day is a whirlwind for Joel. When I ask him to outline an average day at the nursery, he chuckles as though he doesn’t know where to begin. Every hour, he tell me, he is solving a new problem; he hops quickly from responsibility to responsibility just to get everything done.
Although no one has office titles at the Nursery, he loosely defines his role in the company as an inventory supervisor, manager of certain platforms (Gardenuity being one), and sales manager for the “traditional side.”
The “traditional” side is one of two distinct aspects at the Nursery. The other is, you guessed it, the “non-traditional side.”
The traditional side grows woody ornamental plants (read: shrubs) that are in high demand but very hard to grow, which are then shipped to other nurseries. The non-traditional side works with platforms like Gardenuity to provide plants that are “custom-made and custom-grown” for each platform.
And clearly, Joel is an expert—a title that has been well-earned. Joel has been working with nurseries since 2005. When I asked whether he had experience with plants—professional or otherwise—before he began working at nurseries, he replied with a chuckle, “No. None at all.”
Prior to his plant-raising days, he was in the United States Marine Corps. When he left, he entered the nursery business simply because of the available opportunities. But, he says that he really does enjoy it: He’s worked in many different capacities, and, he says, “I’ve learned a lot.”
I asked what made his Nursery special, and he responded without hesitation that the team at the nursery is like no other. “People put a lot of effort into making sure everything we do is high quality—almost to a fault really.” It’s a group of passionate people who come together and work together to produce the best products. This group includes a number of special needs adults who bring incredible joy to the team.
Additionally, he works closely with seed breeders to find the “best product available,” including new, innovative products and plants that have been around for years—the ones you just can’t beat.
“People come to us because they know we grow quality things and we’ll custom grow,” Joel says.
“Carrots. Wait hold on—is potato a vegetable?”
“Cilantro. You know, I got familiar with it growing it for Gardenuity.”
Do you cook?
“I do. Not extensively. When I was in the marine corps…I was deployed to Okinawa for a year, and it was unaccompanied—I was there without my family. I really had to learn how to cook.”
Do you have a family?
“Married with two boys.” One is in horticultural business in Birmingham, one is in the marine corps.
Favorite part of each day?
“I run at lunch everyday. And I run through the nursery. So that might be my favorite part of everyday.”