In 2003, a White Paper was written by Dr. Neil Reid from the University of Toledo and Dr. Michael Carroll from Bowling Green State University assessing the competitive challenges facing northwest Ohio's greenhouse nursery industry. The paper focused on the floriculture industry and its impact on the region. Initial findings were not encouraging. A 2004 survey of northwest Ohio greenhouse growers, 15% indicated they were planning to downsize or close within the next 5 years.
This information led to multi-year projects funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the research team comprises faculty and staff from The University of Toledo, and the Ohio State University. The assistance of Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur in securing these funds for this project has been invaluable, and without her passion for agriculture and our region, MVGA would not exist today.
As a result of this collaboration, efforts focused around organizing northwest Ohio's greenhouse industry as an industrial cluster. The objective of an industrial cluster was to encourage individual growers to work with each other and with academic, government, and community partners to collaboratively solve problems and address challenges facing the industry. Since then, northwest Ohio greenhouse growers have had the opportunity to work together under the umbrella of the Maumee Valley Growers Association (MVGA).
In 2009, several businesses evaluated and adjusted their operations as a result of greater awareness of industry best practices and modest facility improvements. Twenty three (23) businesses participated in energy audits resulting in energy conservation measures and efficiency applications. In fact, gas usage was down as much as 60% for some growers with the average being around 47%. In addition, two growers applied for and received REAP grants from the federal government to supplement the installation of their wind turbines.
Also that year, MVGA established its first advertising collaborative purchasing program in the spring of 2009 resulting in up to 70% discounts to participating growers. Later that year, almost 60% of the greenhouse growers in northwest Ohio indicated they were optimistic about the future of their business. They attributed this optimism directly to their participation in Maumee Valley Growers.
In 2011, MVGA received their 501(C)6 non-profit status and reached a level of sustainability in 2014 generated in part through an income stream generated to the association by their energy programs involving both the purchase of natural gas and electricity. This pooling initiative has since been expanded over a multi-state region saving participating grower’s significant dollars not normally available to them as individual businesses.
During that time period, more valuable programs were added such as a greenhouse supply purchasing program through Monrovia in 2010 and North Branch Nursery beginning in 2014 which offered member discounts .
2016 provided the opportunity for MVGA to expand their floriculture focus to adding a food division. These two agricultural divisions complement each other with many of MVGA’s members providing both flowers and produce to their customers.
MVGA completed a two-year $133,470 implementation grant in 2017 by establishing themselves as a food Value Chain Coordinator (food hub) representing nearly 20 small farmers in the region. A new 24/7 procurement software system designed by Azoti out of Columbus became the backbone of all procurement orders. A food safety program was started assisting farmers with safety guides, walk through mock inspections & future GAP certification.
In late 2017, MVGA was awarded a two-year $70,000 Specialty Crop grant to establish the food hub as a self-funding, sustainable organization at the grant’s conclusion in 2019. Certifying more growers in food safety remains a high priority.
Increased produce volume and variety along with farmer GAP certification will be the basis for potentially doubling food sales in both 2018 and 2019.
Each year, MVGA sponsors a Winter Conference, Retail Roundtable, Spring or Summer Family outing culminating in an Annual meeting bringing all members together for more education, certification, and networking opportunities.
Strategically increasing geographic outreach and implementation of innovative operational efficiencies has been key to the MVGA’s economic sustainability within this industry. Insight and intelligence gained through partner relationships with academia remain vitally important. MVGA will continue to promote educational programs offering practical and profitable solutions to the betterment of their member operations and their impact on their community.
MVGA’s food division now collaborates with produce buyers statewide promoting their “buy local” campaign highlighting the benefits of purchasing products made or grown in Ohio. This initiative should produce increasing benefits to those farmers who grow both outdoors and in the greenhouse.
With a local economic impact of over $100 million with floriculture alone, the industry employs over 750 people. Lucas County is in the nation’s top 100 counties for production of greenhouse crops (over 3,000 counties in the US). More data is needed on the impact of the food division especially as it ramps up in volume and scope.
In addition to its economic impact, the industry is also a part of the cultural fabric of Ohio. Collaborating with private, public and academic partners has been exciting and fruitful. Only a concept back in 2003, MVGA feels the organization exceeded early grant expectations while developing valuable support mechanisms within the industry through the years. The associations' members and its Board of Directors are engaged in building off these successes.