The year Richard Girards entered the world, his father entered the growing business. Over the following decades, they tried all kinds of horticulture at their Long Island farm: indoor plants, outdoor landscaping and flowering plants for big box stores. By 2010, Girards had transitioned it all to heirloom tomatoes and potted herbs to meet the growing niche demand for local produce.
Girards studied horticulture at Cornell, where he received both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. He specializes in greenhouse hydroponic tomato production. “Hydroponic and greenhouse growing solves an awful lot of problems,” Girards assures, for example: allowing for precise control over temperature, pests and weeds; substantially increasing yield per acre; protecting plants from rain and wind damage; and providing basically year-round availability. Most important to Girards, his practices produce uniformly delicious tomatoes.
In his two acres of modern, computer-controlled greenhouses, Girards uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to reduce expensive chemical inputs. His practices include grafting heirloom cultivars onto sturdy, disease-resistant rootstock; using biological controls, such as predator wasps, for pest control; and training employees to monitor and report specific insect and disease problems.
Keeping produce distribution local is also part of Flora’s strategy. Since Flora’s tomatoes can ripen longer on the vine than their world travelling brethren, customers buy them at their peak of ripeness. “We pick today and ship tomorrow – that makes a big difference,” Girards declares. It’s hard to argue with that. Flora’s distribution strategy ultimately leads to some delicious results for New York customers.