by Karen Van Wyk
Winding Stair Farm and Nursery is a diversified business that has worked patiently and precisely to produce and offer unique high quality products.
The farm and nursery is located in Franklin, NC, a couple of hours from Atlanta and about one hour from Nashville. Their advertising has been local and regional via radio and newspaper but has grown with social media to reach surrounding cities to share their specialty products.
Ezra Gardiner and his wife Michelle Ruigrok are the managing owners of the business. The couple grew up around farming and landscaping. They originally joined the state’s Beekeepers Association, where they learned about the honey and hive bee. At this time they were introduced by a friend to silent owners seeking a talented team to manage their farm – which would become Gardiner and Ruigrok.
This began the journey that led them down the winding path to their unique business. On the farm they started with Icelandic sheep, which they used domestically and sold the wool from. They also raise chicken, duck and geese. In addition, they raise harder to find produce such as artichokes and Native American variety vegetables. With the more common vegetables such as green beans, they are able to offer them later in the season, as the farm is at a high elevation –they can harvest vegetables later than most. All their vegetables are sold at the public market.
The nursery, which is about 20 miles from the farm, was purchased from a previous owner who ran it as a retail garden center. Gardiner and Ruigrok have expanded the nursery to include flowering perennials and shrubs and a large variety of harder to find varieties produced from seed. They have worked diligently to find people with experience and the proper knowledge to ensure a quality product. Gardiner noted it took a decent amount of time to find a market in his area and skilled people able to produce from seed the unique plant products he offers. He employs 10 people during their busiest season, reducing to five during the slower season.
Gardiner explained his greatest challenge as being the process of working into the community and finding his market there. Conversely, his greatest accomplishment is earning the trust of the community and becoming the nursery many visit to learn about plant varieties and qualities. Winding Stair offers free programs and workshops to the public. Landscapers and homeowners also seek Winding Stair plant products because of their high quality for large and small projects.
Gardiner and Ruigrok have provided a market for native plant and vegetable lovers. Their combination of farm and nursery provides a creative edge to their knowledge and investment into community living.