It’s nearly Easter, and at Green Circle Growers that means lilies.
The massive greenhouse operation at the crossroads of US 20 and Rt. 511 produces about 250,000 Easter lilies each year, mostly around the spring holiday.
But Maxwell Sherer, director of sales and marketing, said more than half of sales these days are orchids while lilies are on the decline due to flat sales.
“Easter lilies will always remain a stalwart component of the Easter crop. I’m not heralding the death toll of the Easter lily,” he laughed. “Clearly they have an important religious significance so they’ll always be around. But they’ve come to be known somewhat as ‘Grandma’s plant.’”
About 120,000 orchids are shipped each week. They take much longer to grow — 18 months in the greenhouse — yet can be sold much of the year.
Lilies, on the other hand, are great for sales for 10 to 14 days a year but lose much of their retail value the day after Easter, Sherer said.
Green Circle Growers has put a great deal of effort to develop hardier varieties of orchid, working with laboratories that nurse along desirable genetic traits.
It’s a high-tech process that’s yielded brilliant new colors of orchids, with as many as 150 varieties.
A tour of the greenhouses, which span 115 acres under roof with an additional 30 acres outside, showed us just how expansive the operation is.
Getting around means using a motorized cart or bikes, and in many spots you have to strain your eyes to see the far wall of a growing area off in the distance. Enormous trays of potted plants circulate along vast conveyors, being shifted and sorted automatically as they mature and are readied to ship to florists and grocery stores across the United States and Canada.
You may be tempted to imagine an oversized garden, but Green Circle Growers is much more a gigantic factory where computers are used to measure plant height, workers gently tend to young orchids in lab-like sterile environments, and robots wheel around moving pots into place.
The operation is inspired by European floriculture trends, where advanced tech has long been in use — especially by greenhouses in Holland, where land is extremely valuable and efficiency is key for growers, Sherer said.
Borrowing from those methods has allowed Green Circle Growers to be among just four or five companies in North America that can compete in the mass market for high-quality flowers such as the orchid, he said.
Sherer is excited about his company’s future.
Today there are between 700 and 1,000 employees (depending on the season) working at Green Circle Growers and business is booming.
Sherer said orchids are a key part of that. They are quickly becoming the flower of choice for births, birthdays, graduations, weddings, funerals, proms, Mother’s Day, presents for grandparents, house-warmings, and other life events.
“Those emotional moments are really what fuel our team, because in a way we get to be part of each of them,” Sherer said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Civitas Media Brighly-colored orchids are the flowers that get Green Circle Growers marketing director Maxwell Sherer excited, and they’re quickly gaining in popularity nationwide.