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Friday, February 9, 2018 Behind the ScenesExotic Angel PlantsGrower Profile

Grower Profile: Jayson Opgenorth

Jayson - Exotic angel Plants Grower - Costa FarmsWhat’s your job title?
I'm Operations Manager for Exotic Angel® Plants. And I work closely with our Research and Development (R&D) Department. (FYI, you can also meet Costa Farms Director of R&D for Annuals and Perennials and our own Plant Hunter.)

Exotic Angel® is the premiere brand of houseplants. These plants have a devoted following. How many houseplants do you produce a year?
For the last 18 years, I’ve overseen our entire 8-inch hanging basket program. That’s one million units per year. Then three years ago, I took over our 6-inch hanging basket program; we produce half a million units per year.

That’s a lot of plants! 1.5 million houseplants, to be exact. Where are they all grown?
All in Apopka, FL. The 8-inch hanging baskets are grown over 24 acres at five of our locations and portions of two others. The 6-inch hanging basket program comprises another five acres.

So, you cover a lot of ground (literally) in your job.
Yes! Hanging baskets need lots of space and are growing in eight of our nine facilities. Our greenhouses are wall to wall, floor to ceiling botanical gardens.

What’s your favorite thing about growing plants?

I have a scientific mind. Simply put, I need to prove things to myself. Growing plants is a great way to create something from nothing and see how different influences can change the results.

And is there a specific plant species you love?
I’m very drawn to plants from Africa. One example is a unique species of plants called Pachypodium, a genus of succulent spine-bearing trees and shrubs. I started collecting them about 20 years ago. I bring them to flower and cross breed them. I like to tinker. Some are old but only as big as my thumb. A big dream of mine would be to take an eco-tour of Madagascar.

Is it fair to say you are a plant geek? Did you start out loving plants as a kid?
For sure I am a plant geek. I have always been curious of how such a diverse organism can function, adapt, and prosper in so many environments. I had to learn how they do it. From landscaping as a young man, I knew I loved working with my hands and being in nature. So, my curiosity and love of nature led to my studies and growing plants, both at work and at home. 

What did you major in? Were plants part of that?
Yes. I graduated from Texas A&M University in May of 1992 with a Bachelor of Science in Ornamental Horticulture and a minor in Business. I received 2 academic scholarships and was Vice President of our Floriculture/Ornamental Horticulture Club as well as Vice President of The  Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity. Although Texas A&M is one of the leading colleges for Horticulture and my education far exceeded my expectations, the “hands-on” knowledge I have acquired over the past 24 years with Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses (now part of Costa Farms) has sharpened my mind in all aspects of greenhouse management.

In a nutshell, what do you need to know to raise millions of  houseplants?
Attention to detail: It’s all in the details of quality and consistency. As Hermann Engelmann always said, “Plants never forget.” He meant, if a plant is not happy during anytime of its life, it will always hold some reflection of that mistreatment. So, we build and develop plants to ensure consumers have the best opportunity to keep the plant alive.

And, of course, I don’t grow all these plants alone. We have dedicated growers and multicultural teams who pour their heart and soul into our product. Our work is a passion, not a job. Every day we work to maximize proper plant growth and provide a safe, comfortable work environment. We have a motto: “First you grow people, second you grow roots, and then the plants grow much easier.”

How do you keep growing in your job?
I’ve added to my knowledge by initiating in-house variety trial evaluations, labor efficiency studies, safety initiatives, and working to understand marketing demands and trends.

How long have been worked at Costa Farms?
I have worked at Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses (now Costa Farms) for 24 years.

What did you learn at Engelmann that you still think about today?
I learned ownership from Herman and Wolfgang Engelmann. Run it like you own it! They were German, very rigorous and strict in their attention to detail. That kept you on your toes. It’s not just the plants, everything here is A grade. It is what you make it, so make it well. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling our goal is to make this place a botanical garden. It sets your whole mood. I can still hear Wolfgang saying, “Perfection is difficult to achieve, but it’s easier to maintain.”

If you could be a plant, what would you be?
I would be an Ariocarpus. Why? This super resilient genus is a succulent subtropical plant native to Texas. They can overcome any obstacle nature can throw at them. Growing or seeing them in nature brings about a special connection to those who regard plants as natural phenomena rather than objects of beauty.

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