by Sally Colby
Margie Barnett grew up on a grass seed and processing vegetable farm in Oregon, and her family kept a small greenhouse for 4-H projects along with vegetables and flowers for their own use. Margie recalls people always admired the family’s flowers, which led them to create a business based on what they were already doing.
When Margie’s advisors at Oregon State University told her there would be a wide range of opportunities in horticulture, she selected that major. While she was in her sophomore year of college, Margie’s family constructed a hoop house and started growing plants. “I came home on weekends and worked,” said Margie, explaining how the family expanded on what they had already been doing. “My mom helped with watering during the week when I was at college. We started the first year selling from a couple of tables outside the greenhouse along the road. People were interested and we did well.”
The family continued to run their budding business at that scale the following year, then added a hoop house each year for the next five years. The hoop houses were adequate until about four years ago, which is when they constructed a 120 by 280-foot greenhouse. Two years ago, Margie added a 60 by 240-foot structure for additional growing space, with rolling benches for flexible space.
Today, Margie’s Farm and Garden, located in Aurora, OR in a rapidly expanding area between Portland and Salem, is popular among customers who enjoy driving to the country to purchase plants. Margie has found her customers appreciate talking with her and her sister Molly as the growers. “We have such a connection with our customers that they tell their friends and neighbors,” said Margie. “We have good, healthy, quality plants so our customers will be successful, and that’s what brings them back. They’re happy with the price and the quality, and they have confidence because they purchased plants right from the grower.”
Margie says it’s hard to predict what customers will want from one year to the next, but she tries to study trends and determine what might be popular. “We can never be right on about what people want, but in fall, we go through the catalogs and talk about what sold well the year before and adjust from there,” she said. “Orders for the following spring are in by September/October, so we have to make a good estimate of what people will want.”
Because the weather in the Aurora area is so rainy, Margie grows everything in the greenhouse so she can control the temperature and water and make sure temperatures are just right for plant health. Margie grows a large selection of annuals and vegetables, and also sells shrubs grown by her brother-in-law. Margie maintains a large selection of popular perennials, and provides plenty of help to customers who are new to perennials. One of Margie’s favorites, and also a customer favorite, is succulents, so Margie offers interesting succulents in various textures and colors.
“They’re easy to take care of, with low water and maintenance,” said Margie, describing one of the most popular plants she sells. “It’s something easy for people to take care of.” Last year, Margie hosted a succulent party at the greenhouse which was a big success. Customers could select plants and receive help in creating a succulent garden. Mother’s Day is the biggest sales weekend, so Margie plans to host a similar event this year on the Saturday following Mother’s Day to keep customers coming in.
Margie opens for the season on April 1. “I wait until I know customers will be successful,” she said, explaining her opening date. “But April 1 is still a little early, so we’ll sell the hardier plants first or advise customers to protect tender plants in their garage.”
One popular service Margie offers is custom planters. People bring their favorite planters to the greenhouse and select plants, and Margie plants the containers and makes sure they’re well-started in the greenhouse. By the end of April or early May, customers can pick up their planters, which are nicely filled out and ready for display. In June, Margie hosts a vintage flea market. “The greenhouse is about half cleared out by then, so there’s room for vendors,” she said. “Then we’re open for a few more weeks, and finished by July 1.”
Part of Margie’s IPM program includes the use of beneficial insects and banker plants, which she says help control harmful pests. Margie has found vigilant scouting and managing problems before they become out of control are keys to keeping plants healthy.
Margie explains that in addition to planting season winding down by mid-summer, the family’s farm crops keep them busy the rest of the summer. “We grow broccoli, cauliflower, carving pumpkins, eating pumpkins, strawberries, butternut squash, sweet corn, green beans and beets,” said Margie. “We grow for a local cannery and for pumpkin patches. The processing squash goes to several canneries; some for baby food and some for soup. We also grow for a cannery that makes pickled green beans.” Margie added part of the acreage is grown organically, which involves a lot of hand hoeing for weed management.
Katie Ludlow, one of Margie’s sisters, has partnered with Margie in a Christmas tree enterprise at the location. Christmas tree sales start the day after Thanksgiving, with fresh-cut trees from local Christmas tree farms arriving weekly. Wreaths are also offered, and Margie says it’s a fun time for the two families to work together. Signage at the greenhouse and word-of-mouth help remind spring and summer customers to return later in the year for trees.
One new venture on the farm is a 15-acre hazelnut orchard. Margie says they plan to market hazelnuts through a co-op. The trees were 18 months at planting, and the first crop is expected in about five years. “It’s a long time to go with a lot of inputs,” said Margie. “We had to tile for extra drainage before we planted them, and we have to prune and cut off suckers.”
Margie tries to keep the greenhouse interesting for customers. “We’re open to doing something new and different every year,” she said. “We have to be flexible because things change. Customers can tell when we’re excited about something, and they get excited about it too.”
Visit Margie’s Farm and Garden online at .