Heated Greenhouse for Year-round Production

Farm: Herr Flower Farm
Operator: Jefferson Herr
Production: Cut flowers, specialty vegetables
Location: Vale, Lincoln County, NC
Dazzling snapdragons, dahlias, and zinnias are just a few of the varieties of flowers that Herr Flower Farm specializes in. Jefferson Herr and his family operate the farm outside the rural community of Vale, North Carolina in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Herr family is one of many Hmong families in their area, many of whom immigrated to the region from the countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Jefferson explains that “flower farming has become a tradition for Hmong farmers in the area,” who have developed agricultural knowledge brought from their home countries into new skills suitable to the southeastern United States. Farming provides a means for many Hmong families to use this knowledge to preserve their cultural heritage while nurturing social and family ties.

The Herr family has more than a decade of experience in growing and marketing cut flowers. Jefferson and his family constructed several unheated greenhouses on their land for the purpose, and they hoped to eventually expand their business to be able to grow flowers year-round. With increasing demand from their customers at nearby farmers’ markets and restaurants, they needed to develop a plan for growing their farm.

In 2012, Jefferson secured a grant to help fund the construction of a new heated greenhouse for plant propagation. He is now able to heat the new greenhouse effectively with a propane heater during the winter months, allowing the family to finally meet their production goals and generate income throughout the year. Jefferson estimated that his farm could generate an additional $15,000 annually from the expansion, which would allow him to remain working on the farm full-time.

Jefferson constructed the greenhouse himself with assistance from an electrician and a plumber. His family and friends helped out with the finishing touches. He designed the interior layout and prepared his planting schedule, deciding to plant one side using trays and one side directly in the soil. A farmer willing to experiment, he has plans to try out the different plantings for a few years to see which will ultimately be the best for the farm.

While Jefferson knew of other families in their region who were producing cut flowers, he knew of none who were growing year-round. Jefferson estimated that up to a dozen families in his area would be interested in constructing a heated greenhouse to lengthen their production season. After completing the new greenhouse, he planned to work with local extension agents to host a field day at his farm to share information about his project with other farmers.

Propagating a variety of flowers gives Jefferson plenty of new challenges and provides ample learning opportunities. Dahlias, which are tuberous-rooted perennials (pictured on the left and right pages), are one of the more demanding varieties Jefferson grows. They are prone to several types of fungal and viral diseases and pests. They don’t care much for Jefferson’s heavy red clay soil, which can slow their root growth, lead to root diseases, and ultimately deprive the plant of oxygen. Jefferson solves the problem by amending his soil with organic matter, significantly improving its fertility and drainage.

Jefferson’s extended family and friends often work together on preparing the dahlia tubers. They also help Jefferson handle a multitude of other tasks that are best accomplished with a group, both managing the workload and turning it into a social event. In the summertime, Jefferson’s children pitch in with the flower business, but not all of them want to go on to be farmers once they graduate. As for Jefferson, who previously spent almost 15 years working in a factory as a machinist, he loves to be outside and enjoys the farming life. For him, it’s “something that you see changing everyday,” and he likens it to watching a child grow.

Jefferson Herr, Herr Flower Farm: Heated Greenhouse for Year-round Flower Production from RAFI-USA on Vimeo.