Arnold’s chosen agribusiness of the year

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February 24, 2010 - 12:00 AM

LE ROY — Arnold’s Greenhouse in Le Roy grew from a hobby into one of the most comprehensive producers of garden plants for wholesale and retail customers in the Midwest. The Arnolds, George and Rita, were honored in Manhattan Tuesday as Agribusiness Leaders of 2010 by the Huck Boyd Institute of Rural Development.
George grew up on his family’s farm and returned to work it with his wife, Rita, a registered nurse, in 1975.
In 1977, they decided to build a greenhouse for their own use and satisfaction. It was a modest structure, 10 feet wide, 16 feet long.
In a conversation with Boyd Institute Director Ron Wilson, George remembered that neighbors wanted to buy tomatoes, green peppers and a few bedding plants.
“We started adding a little bit of greenhouse space at a time and paid for it as we went along,” George said.
In the fall of 1983, the couple built their first commercial greenhouse, a 30 foot by 56 foot Quonset-style, Rita said.
“We thought that was all we would ever need,” she added.
By the 1990s, the greenhouse business crowded out the farming.
“Now I farm under plastic,” George said with a smile.

“TODAY, Arnold’s Greenhouse is an amazing enterprise,” Wilson said in a Kansas Profile about the business.
 “It has grown to more than 80,000 square feet of greenhouses and additional growing area outside. (It) employs some 45 people. And instead of a half dozen types of garden plants they are producing more than 3,200 varieties of plants — the largest selection of any garden center in the Midwest.”
Over the years, technology has changed, and today at Arnold’s the “greenhouse (has) a state-of-the-art retractable roof where plants are arranged by category on benches. Visitors can walk through … to hand-pick plants for their gardens. And visitors do come. In fact, thousands of gardeners each year make the trek to shop there,” Wilson said.
“No wonder that the Kansas City Star called Arnolds’ a ‘gardener’s dream’ and Kansas Magazine called it a ‘gardener’s paradise.’
“Arnold’s offers perennials, annuals, herbs, vegetables, vines, ornamental grasses, roses, trees, shrubs and aquatic plants. Their garden store includes all kinds of gardening accessories … A full slate of seminars and hands-on gardening classes are offered each year and Rita gives numerous slide presentations to gardening enthusiasts,” he noted.
In addition, Wilson said, Arnold’s features a display garden where customers can “see new and recent varieties first hand.”
Rita’s seminars are also available online, she said, at arnoldsgreenhouse.com.
The garden season starts officially for the greenhouse on March 1. Spring hours are 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Arnold’s is closed on Sundays.
Wilson said that one customer told George “that a pilgrimage to Le Roy and his greenhouse was part of their annual spring schedule.”

KANSAS PROFILE is a weekly feature that has been produced by Wilson since 1992. It is broadcast on over 20 Kansas radio stations and distributed in print form through K-State Research and Extension News. It is available online at kansasprofile.com.
Those chosen for the feature are entrepreneurs and volunteers who, in Wilson’s words, “are making a difference. They care enough to make the world around them a better place.”
“Huck Boyd Leaders of the Year” are chosen from among the 52 profiles done each year. Winners are honored at the mid-winter meeting of the Institute’s board of directors. The Arnolds were among the seven chosen for 2010.

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