This post was written by Heinen’s partner, Halle Snavely.
Herb lovers and avid home cooks will travel long distances to seek out the best herbs for their summer gardens, like this DIY Stacked Herb Garden. Thankfully, they don’t have to venture far because Heinen’s offers a large assortment of herbs grown in Ohio by Millcreek Gardens.
Located just outside of Columbus in Ostrander, Ohio, Millcreek Gardens was started in 1978 by owner George Pealer and his late wife, Lynda. They are a traditional grower of perennials and also specialize in growing herbs.
“Lynda and I met at Ohio State. Both of us got degrees in Horticulture and soon married and decided that we wanted to start our own business growing plants. She loved herbs and I love perennials, so we happened to be at the right place at the right time. And we decided to open our nursery here in central Ohio. It was an empty farm field when we started and now, we have more than 90 greenhouses over 38 acres,” says George.
Growing with Pride
Millcreek Gardens grows over 100 varieties of herbs, including basil, rosemary, Italian parsley, chives, cilantro, dill, French thyme, Italian oregano and mojito mint, all of which they sell to Heinen’s. Growing in over 90 greenhouses requires a lot of organization, and their herb grower, Laura Richards, has it down to a science (no pun intended).
“I have greenhouses that like water and greenhouses that like to run dry. One of the best things I did when setting up the greenhouses was organize them culturally, so all of the plants that like water live in greenhouses that receive ample water, and when I turn on the overhead irrigation, they all get watered at the same time. This strategy has increased our quality, while simultaneously decreasing our disease and shrink,” boasts Laura.
Millcreek Gardens is clearly a group that takes a lot of pride in what they do. They always aim to provide the highest quality plants to their customers. Mike Benedict, their Account Manager and Sales Office Supervisor, describes how their values of teamwork, relationships, integrity, leadership and profitability are the foundation for everything they do.
“We try to bring those values into everything we’re doing to create a product that is going to perform well for our customers. Whether that’s our perennials or our herbs, Laura, our grower, puts a lot of work in to managing our crops and ensuring that their root system is both established and healthy, as this guarantees that our customers get the most out of them,” he says.
A Sustainable Approach
Growers have plenty of options to add environmental efficiencies across their operation, from windmills to sophisticated heating and irrigation systems. But sometimes, the greatest impact is a simple, time-tested strategy.
For example, Millcreek Gardens grows their perennial plants in the summer (as opposed to the spring) and overwinters them in greenhouses. The plants go dormant in the cooler temperatures, but the roots continue to grow. This approach uses mother nature’s natural cycles to give the plants what they need and reduces their operational inputs. By relying primarily on the sun to heat the greenhouses, it cuts back on gas and electricity usage because they don’t turn on the heat unless it is below 30 degrees.
Laura explains this process further. “We’re a traditional grower in that all of our perennials go through what’s known as a vernalization process, which basically prepares them to form buds and flowers for our customers in the spring. By keeping them naturally cool, they go through their natural process but are protected by our greenhouses.”
Millcreek has integrated a number of other sustainability initiatives over the years. They have a system that collects their irrigation runoff into a centralized pond, which allows the sediment to settle before draining back into the groundwater. They also use beneficial insects and biologicals, recycle as many materials as they can, compost plants they can’t sell and use trays made from recycled materials. They have also implemented a process called lean flow, which is a system and philosophy that creates more efficiencies across their growing operation.
A Natural Partnership
This year marks Millcreek Gardens’ fourth season growing for Heinen’s, and it’s a partnership that has proved beneficial for everyone. Mike notes that every Heinen’s associate is easy to work with and very professional. It’s a highly efficient relationship for them due to Heinen’s high-volume orders and the fact that they deliver to a centralized warehouse, which requires only one stop.
But for Laura, it’s a bit more meaningful. “For me personally, it’s just knowing what an upscale store Heinen’s is. And to be part of that quality and that whole environment is just really cool. It’s really gratifying. You know you’re growing for the best.”