North Creek Nurseries Cultivating a Community: Members Making a Difference

by Carrie Wiles
Located in the heart of Chester County, PA, North Creek Nurseries strives to propagate and market plants that develop the relationship between people and sustainable outdoor environments. Focusing on eastern US natives, the combined 45 acre/two farm footprint produces over seven million perennial, ornamental grass, fern, and vine plug liners annually. Employees are serious about providing the horticulture and landscape markets with top notch material. As owner, Steve Castorani puts it, “Our philosophy is that people make a difference in the profitability and success of an organization. We have an exceptional staff, we work hard as a team and we have fun doing what we do. All of which encompass an ideal work environment.”

North Creek's CSA supplies fresh produce to 65 employees and a nearby restaurant.

It is this exact philosophy that fostered the planning and organizing of an employee vegetable garden. As food and fuel costs steadily increased, North Creek’s General Manager, Tim McGinty found himself searching for ways to lessen the financial burden on his employees. One idea surfaced in 2008, and beds were tilled for what would become North Creek’s community garden. Inside the garden’s burlap fence that first year, employees shared responsibility for designing the gardens; selecting vegetables and herbs; and planting, maintaining, and harvesting crops.

Now wrapping up its third year of production, the vegetable garden at North Creek not only feeds 65 dedicated employees, but also the local community. Weekly produce is incorporated into the seasonal cuisine offered at Twelves Grill & Café in neighboring West Grove, PA.

Achieving a Seasonal Mix

Under new leadership, this year’s garden was planned, organized, and managed by Research and Development Coordinator Erin Kelly. Responsible for over 36,000 square feet of production space, she carefully divides her crops into three categories:

1. Storage & Nutrition (30% – winter squash, onions, garlic & potatoes)
2. Popular Varieties (50% – berries, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, brassicas & lettuce)
3. Exotic & High End Experiments (20% – kohlrabi, purple asparagus, celery root, chicons, greenhouse crops & additional means of season extension)

Erin Kelly, Research & Development Coordinator and CSA manager, works toward an annual goal of 52 weeks of fresh produce.

“We’re approaching 35 types and 250-300 varieties of vegetables in a single growing year,” says Kelly. “In addition to my Research and Developmen­t responsibilities on the farm, I’m quite pleased to have branched out beyond ‘ornamental horticulture’ and into vegetable production. It makes me proud to know our employees are eating fresh, nutritious produce; providing locally grown, pesticide free food to my fellow co-workers brings a sense of pride and satisfaction to my weekly tasks. The real perk is that recipes are shared, traditions are made and friendships grow.”

Early on the scene, lettuce, mache and mustard greens are grown in the greenhouse and hoop house from January through March. Ripe tomatoes and summer squash arrive by May. New this year, pollinating bees were added to the cold frame to assist the pollination of fava beans. Crops have been harvested 30 out of 42 weeks to date this growing season, with the ultimate goal of 52 out of 52 weeks per year. Ambitious, you bet. Attainable, certainly.

Although not certified organic, Erin and her seasonal crew use natural amendments and fertilizers on a bi-weekly to monthly routine. Fish hydrolysate is mixed with water soluble kelp to feed crops and keep them strong. They have also been experimenting with beneficial insects such as Green Lacewing Larvae to control aphids on greenhouse cucumbers.

Moving forward, North Creek aims to provide wholesale customers, regional municipalities, and local horticulturalists with environmentally sensitive and responsible liners and planting ideas. Their goal is to continue to be a company with the resources necessary to meet the demands of the market, their customers, and future growth opportunities. “We aim to foster a work environment that allows staff to feel proud of their accomplishments at the end of every day. We have a more productive work force by creating conditions that encourage better health and development of individual talent,” says Castorani.

About the Author

Carrie Wiles is the Marketing Manager at North Creek Nurseries, a wholesale propagation nursery with a strong emphasis on Eastern US native and their cultivars. She also serves as the Marketing and Branding Associate of the premier native plant brand, American Beauties Native Plants®. Her previous positions include Marketing Assistant and Graphic Designer for Organic Mechanics Potting Soil and Public Landscape Assistant Manager/Landscape Interpretation Specialist with the Delaware Center for Horticulture. Carrie holds a BS in Ornamental Horticulture from The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and has a strong interest in native habitat gardening and the role natives and non natives play within the cultural landscape. Carrie may be reached at carrie@northcreeknurseries.com.