When Larry Windham and his wife, Janie, opened Windham Greenhouses in Glenwood in 1979, he knew his business would change and grow over the years, but he couldn’t have predicted how much the industry would evolve.
“We’ve grown steadily over the years, adding on as we can afford it,” Windham says. “But in the past 10 or 15 years, we’ve really seen a shift in the number and size of nurseries in Georgia. It doesn’t mean that the industry is struggling, we’re just having to change the way we do business, how we get customers.”
Where small towns used to boast three to five small mom and pop greenhouses, Windham says, now there are only one or two. “In our area, it’s just us left.”
That doesn’t mean the nursery industry isn’t successful in Georgia. Greenhouses and container nurseries ranked among the state’s top 20 agricultural commodities last year. In 2011, the nursery industry had a $5.9 billion economic impact in Georgia and created more than 66,000 jobs. Windham attributes that success to the adaptability of Georgia’s growers.
“We’ve transitioned. We see the demands of our customers change. We see cultivation of some of our plants moving to other states like Florida,” Windham says. “So we adapt, we change how we’re doing things so we can better serve our customers.”
Growing New Business
The Windhams started their business in the cut flower market. Today, Larry and Janie have an acre of covered growing area and a half-acre outside. As a small grower, the Windhams sell their products to retail florists and independent garden centers.
Larry Windham says Georgia is a great state for the evolving greenhouse business.
“It’s an ideal climate,” he says. “It’s not too costly to heat in the winter or cool in the spring and fall. Nurseries around here grow beautiful products.”
McCorkle Nurseries in Dearing, founded in 1942 by C.S. and Avice McCorkle, is a larger nursery that still remains family owned. Over the years, it expanded from a one-stop retail, landscape and growing operation to a 440-acre plant and landscape company with multiple divisions. Don McCorkle and his brother, Jack, began working at their parents’ nursery in the late 1950s. Today, three of its founders’ grandchildren run the family business, which grows more than 4 million plants each year.
“You have to adapt and change, and our industry is experiencing that in a big way right now,” Don McCorkle told Nursery Management magazine in 2010.
Christmas Tree Trends
Working in a different sector of Georgia’s nursery industry, Chuck Berry has watched his Christmas tree business evolve and grow over 35 years. The Berrys have been farming their land just outside of Covington – which began as a dairy operation – since 1894, and the first Christmas trees were planted in the late 1970s. Berry’s Christmas Tree Farm is a choose-and-cut operation that invites families to the farm to pick out their tree and cut it down themselves. Berry says the industry is growing now, but it experienced a slight downturn in the late 1990s.
“There was an influx of artificial trees and a faster-paced lifestyle,” Berry says. “But people are beginning to take time again to make their way back to the farm. A majority of the Christmas tree farms in Georgia have experienced positive growth over the last couple of years.”
Their crops may be different, but Berry and Windham have the same outlook on their industry. “We’re one of the old ones hanging on, and we’re just going to continue to make changes to serve our customers,” Windham says. “That may mean changing things we’ve done for years, maybe adding on when we can, but it’s what we have to do.”
Luckily, things always seem to come full circle, Berry says.“One of the biggest advantages of any choose-and-cut farm is the experience that cannot be found at a big box retailer. Each Georgia farm wants to build a family tradition around Christmas that will keep the families coming back to the farm year after year.”