Between the Rows: A gardening oasis at Greenfield Farmers Co-op

  • Budded delphiniums and racks of other perennials are displayed at the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • With gardeners increasingly interested in growing some of their own food, the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange offers lots of vegetable and herb starts. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Deanne Andrews, who cares for the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange nursery, poses for a photo with co-op manager, Jeff Budine. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman


For the Recorder
Friday, May 25, 2018

Jeff Budine, manager of the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange, now celebrating its centennial anniversary, told me that the plant nursery with its current offerings of everything from trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs began about 50 years ago in the open space where the warehouse now stands. In those days there were fewer nursery plants, and they were all sold out by Memorial Day, he said.

Nowadays, the plant nursery is a big operation and includes a greenhouse. Budine took me outside to the arrays of flowers and brilliant hanging baskets to introduce me to Deanne Andrews who has managed the nursery for the last 14 years.

Andrews graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture in 2001, where she majored in commercial floriculture and fruit and vegetable crop production. She left the area, but after a sojourn in Virginia, she moved back to Greenfield, her hometown, and began a career with plants, but with a different slant.

“Retail is very different from farming. On a farm, you always have a second chance to try a project that didn’t work as hoped. Here in retail, you have one shot to make a sale,” Andrews said.

“It has definitely been a learning experience,” Andrews continued of her experience at the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange. “Until you actually do something hands-on, you don’t have a clue about what to do, or how to do it.”

She explained that there are many facets to her job from ordering, organizing and caring for all these plants, as well as helping customers and giving them advice.

“I can give advice, but I don’t know everything,” she said. “I am always learning.”

Andrews recognizes that every year there are new trends and new plant introductions.

“This year tabletop strawberries seem to be in favor,” she said. “The idea is you place a potted strawberry plant that is bearing on your table so you can snack on the strawberries.”

I examined the sizeable pot containing a blooming and fruiting strawberry plant, and thought it wouldn’t take me long to finish off that helping, but it certainly was pretty.

She said there seemed to be a new petunia every year, a new color or variety, but she couldn’t illustrate her point because every petunia had been sold. She assured me that more petunias would be arriving.

“New plants are coming in all the time. There are replacements, and the perennials change as the season progresses. People can request certain plants and I do try to get what they want,” she said.

Andrews orders all the plants and is happy that she can get most of them locally, from Harvest Farm, Mill River Farm, Five Acre Farm, Kelley Farm and Shoestring Farm. Some plants come from the Prides Corner Farms in Connecticut, and the trees and shrubs come from the Monrovia Nursery Company in Connecticut, which has a similar climate to ours.

“The challenge is keeping the plants looking fresh. We have very limited space,” Andrews said. “Jeff calls me the Queen of Cram. There are days when there are a lot of people in here, moving plants around as they make their choices. Busy days cause disarray, but it is very gratifying to be able to re-establish order for the next onslaught.”

While the flower, tree and shrub displays are very eye-catching, Andrews explained that more and more people are planting vegetables. There seem to be trends in vegetables as well. Last year, she said, ground cherry, okra and tomatillos were all the rage.

“Once people try something new, they want to try out other new things. It’s satisfying to grow some of your own food. I love the herbs myself,” she said. “I don’t actually use all of them in cooking, but I like having them in my garden.”

“I think this is the best job in town,” Andrews continued. “I have my own little oasis, although it does get pretty hot out here on the pavement during the summer. The staff here is basically a family. It is a wonderful place to work.”

Fortunately, the Greenfield Farmers Co-op also sells just about everything else that a gardener might need: tools, organic fertilizers, hose holders, decorative pots, seeds and seed starting supplies, and everything else.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com.