NORTHAMPTON, N.B.– A New Brunswick-based company that started in the United States in the 1960s is now the largest single-location greenhouse complex in the Maritimes.
Jolly Farmer, based in Northampton, New Brunswick, was founded by George Eversfield in 1966 in New Hampshire, with its first farm was established in 1967.
“[We] then tried various enterprises from logging to restaurants and making pies and milking cows and stuff like that, but actually started the greenhouses in the early 80s,” says Peter Darrow, Jolly Farmer’s sales manager who has been with the company for nearly 40 years.
The greenhouse enterprise was the one that took root. In 1997, the company decided to relocate to New Brunswick. Eversfield owned land in Northampton, but there were other factors as well.
“We just found the area was a little more laid back, bible belt. We’re Christians and we’re not ashamed of our faith,” says Darrow, who was with the company at the time of the move. “We just felt it suited us better as a place to live and raise our families, so that’s what prompted the move. We’ve been happy here.”
Eversfield passed away in 2003, but the company continued to grow under the direction of other shareholders like Darrow.
Jolly Farmer now has three divisions: a small dairy farm, a transportation service and a greenhouse, which is still the largest part of the company. The Jolly Farmer greenhouse employs around 250 people every year during peak season.
“We have two aspects of the business. One is retail-ready, which means that the product is ready to be put on a retail shelf,” says Darrow.
Those retail clients include retailers like Sobeys. Some of their more successful products would include poinsettias at Christmastime, garden mums in the fall, and in the spring bedding plants, hanging baskets, and garden materials.
Retail-ready products account for about 40 per cent of Jolly Farmers greenhouse production, the other 60 per cent is propagation. The company starts plants from seed. When the plants are large enough they get shipped to growers all over the U.S. and Canada, who then grow them until they’re mature enough sell retail.
Though it’s currently the dead of winter, Jolly Farmer is already busy fulfilling client orders for propagated plants.
We’re busy because we’re starting all these plants that growers in Texas and Florida and California want now,” says Darrow. “And folks in British Columbia and Northwest Territories want theirs in March and April. So we’re busy all winter propagating.”
Jolly Farmer produces between 90 to 100 million plants a year. Ninety per cent of those plants are sold to other growers (propagation) and the other 10 per cent are sold to their retailers.
Though retail-ready plants are the smaller portion of their greenhouse business, Jolly Farmer has been looking to grow that area a bit more.
The company acquired New Brunswick-based Sweet Valley Herbs, which specializes in herb starting plants, near the end of last year. Sweet Valley Herbs’ products were being carried in garden centres across Atlantic Canada. However, the business got too big for founders Aaron and Anna Randall to handle on their own.
“They didn’t really have the capability to expand. They had a very good reputation for high quality which we felt matched very well with our reputation for quality,” says Darrow. “We made the decision to acquire. I think that it’ll be a good match.”
Sweet Valley Herbs has a strong brand and social media presence and relationship with the end consumers, and Jolly Farmer saw the opportunity to leverage that strength.
“This was a little different and we felt that we could we could build on that,” says Darrow.
“It still is wholesale but there was this Facebook following that was different than our present Facebook following of Jolly Farmer. I think it has good potential.”
Being in business for almost 50 years, Jolly Farmer has survived many changes in both their industry and the economy in general. Darrow credits their success to a dedication to quality, integrity and good customer service, all of which are guided by the company’s Christian beliefs.
“I read my Bible just about every day and I read there, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ I live that way with my team, with our customers, with our vendors. We’re going to give fair measure to our customers. We’re going to pay our bills on time. We’re going to be fair with our vendors not take advantage of them. [We’re going to be] fair to our employees and make sure we take care of them,” says Darrow.
“We are disciples of Jesus Christ and that’s how I see that he treated people. It actually touches everything that we do. Let’s say you’re an athlete, well that actually touches everything you do. You’re gonna think about what you drink, you’re going to think about what you eat. It touches every aspect of life and likewise, Jesus Christ touches every aspect our lives.”
In 2018, Jolly Farmer plans to add another acre to their greenhouse operations. They also plan to expand the Sweet Valley Herbs brand into New England and beyond.
“Our hope is that in the future the brand will actually be available nationwide as liner material,” says Darrow. “So we would sell the seedlings and all the point-of-purchase labels and signage so someone could set up Sweet Valley in Michigan or Wisconsin or B.C. or Texas.”