News from Headstart Nursery, Inc.
July 2017
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Nursery News

Labor Pains

Like the agriculture industry in general, Headstart Nursery’s operations are highly dependent on manual labor. Unfortunately, California’s recent minimum wage increases and overtime restrictions are having a direct and dramatic impact on our bottom line.
In all of our locations, we are facing increased employee turnover, as many workers find more lucrative short-term opportunities in construction or piece rate ag jobs. This combination of rising costs and a shrinking labor pool has made it difficult for us to retain skilled employees. We find ourselves having constantly train and re-train an ever-changing workforce, which makes it challenging for us to maintain the same high levels of quality and consistency that our customers have come to expect from Headstart Nursery.
We are doing everything we can to lessen the impact of these issues. Our management team is constantly evaluating ways to make the entire production process, from sowing to shipping, more efficient and less labor-intensive. We are active in industry associations that lobby on behalf of the agriculture industry. And we collaborate on innovative technology developments that help reduce the need for manual labor (see PlantTape story below).     
Of course, Headstart Nursery is not alone in this problem. We know that our customers are facing these same issues, all while having to compete on price with international produce growers. We appreciate your continued support and understanding as we all work together to overcome these challenges.

Leading the Way with PlantTape Technology

PlantTape is a revolutionary new automated transplanting system that originated in Spain and was acquired by Tanimura & Antle (T&A) to expand operations throughout North America. Headstart Nursery is proud to be the premier PlantTape Producer for California and Arizona. We have a full season of experience growing and shipping various PlantTape crops for commercial production, including head lettuce, romaine, broccoli, cauliflower, leek, and tomato.
PlantTape uses a growing medium that is sandwiched between two layers of biodegradable tissue. This "sandwich" is produced on the PlantTape sowing line after seeding and then cut into individual tapes. The tapes are packed in zigzag formation into plastic trays. Each tray typically contains about 150 feet of tape, equivalent to about 900 plants.
After germination, the seedlings develop normally in the plant pockets of the tape. The plants can be transplanted at any stage of development, from a few days after germination up to a full-grown seedling plant.
The PlantTape transplanting machine can be equipped with up to eight planting modules. Trays are loaded onto the transplanting machine, and the automated planting module pulls the tape from the tray and accurately places the plants in the soil. An operator simply replaces the trays on the transplanter and guides the tape to the module.
PlantTape benefits for the grower include less seed waste (compared to direct seeding), greater speed of transplanting, and dramatically reduced labor costs. A 25-acre field can be planted in a day with a crew of just three people!

Headstart Nursery also benefits, since plants can be grown at a higher density than our typical transplant trays, which saves on growing, shipping, and labor costs. Crop times are also greatly reduced compared to standard transplants.

We are very excited about the PlantTape technology and its potential to reduce labor costs and make the entire food chain more efficient. You can see demonstrations during T&A Spreckels Field Days (July 10-31) or contact us to find out more!
See PlantTape in action in T&A's Salinas lettuce fields

Ornamental News

Headstart Nursery’s 2017 California Spring Trials (held in April) were another great success.  We had a large turnout, and the display was one of the best ones yet. Our Cyclamen display showcased top breeders like Varinova and Syngenta. Don’t miss out on next year's event (April 14-19, 2018)!
We are working hard to build our small-medium size grower programs. New for 2017, all Headstart Vegetative programs are now a landed price—which we hope will make it easier to quote your customers this season. This includes all vegetative 128s and 200s. 
Do you have a customer needing to create a mix for their program? We are again teaming up with Danziger “Dan” Flower Farm and are offering a special Danziger Perennial Program. We are the only plug producer offering the entire Danziger line. This program is listed in a 128 or 200 liner and will be packed with 5 trays per box. This program is a landed price to you! Please note, our only minimum requirement is full boxes.
Don’t forget to look for Melissa Campilli at Cultivate 2017, the country's largest horticultural trade show (July 15-17 in Columbus, OH). Headstart won’t have a booth, but we’ll be walking the floor hoping to run into customers and vendors!

Ho, Ho, Ho! Poinsettia Season Has Begun!

It seems crazy to be already thinking about Christmas, but poinsettia production starts every summer. Last year we had another sell-out year, so we’ve increased our production to 86,000 this year. We grow the majority of our poinsettias in Castroville now, with some plants also in Gilroy. Shown above is grower Rodrigo Raya in a greenhouse that will be transformed into a "red house" in a few more months.

We’ll start accepting poinsettia orders in sure to get your orders in early, as we do sell out almost every year!

New Hires

Please join us in welcoming our newest hires!

Patrick Dossche (left) interned with Headstart/Radicle last summer and has now been hired full-time to help follow up in the field, work in product development, and service our customers around the Salinas Valley. Patrick grew up in Soledad and recently graduated with a B.S. in Agriculture, Crops option, from CSU Chico. In his free time, he enjoys hunting, fishing, snowboarding, and working with cattle.
Jessica Cavazos (center) was hired as our receptionist in Gilroy about 5 months ago. She’s friendly, spunky, and always has a smile on her face. She loves interacting with customers and looks forward to growing with the company. She has a background working in ag and customer service. Her favorite baseball team is the A’s, not the Giants, but we’ve decided we like her anyway.
Kyle Costa (right) was born to work at Headstart Nursery—literally. He spent his very early childhood living in the house on the nursery property when dad Steve was just getting the business up and running. Kyle graduated from CSU Monterey Bay and spent many summers working at Headstart. He is excited to make this a permanent position and learn the family business. Kyle is also a CrossFit coach at Morgan Hill CrossFit and likes competing in Spartan  Races and other obstacle course races.

Moving On Up

We’re proud to announce two recent promotions on the Headstart team.
Melissa Campilli (right) has worked for Headstart Nursery since 2011, mostly in the Ornamental division, and was recently promoted to Customer Service Manager, supporting both Ornamental and Vegetable sales. Melissa graduated from Fresno State University but did not have a horticulture background, so she’s really learned about the industry from the ground up. She loves working with people and has helped make Headstart a fun workplace. In her new role, she’ll extend her knowledge of the ornamental side of the business to vegetable transplants…and beyond!
Jeanette Figueroa (left) started out at Headstart as a receptionist, but it was soon clear that she was capable of much more. She has worked as a Customer Service Representative for Ornamental sales, but with the newly merged departments, she’ll now also be learning how to serve Vegetable Transplant customers.
We are excited to watch them both grow in these new roles as we offer our customers an even better experience.

Staying Connected

Winter Watermelons

  • The Western Watermelon Association held its annual meeting in January in Las Vegas, NV. Steve Costa, Mike Bushman, Lisa Branco, Doug Iten, Daniel Clerou, Pete Perez, and Don Lydick all attended. (It’s not too hard to round our group up for a Vegas trip!) Headstart Nursery is a leader in watermelon production and a proud sponsor of this event. Learning about what’s happening in the industry helps us keep our edge. [Shown above: Pete Perez, John Nelson (Sakata), Lisa Branco, Steve Costa, and Jeff Jenkins (Sakata).]
  • Headstart Nursery also sponsored the 2017 National Watermelon Convention, held in February in Lake Tahoe. Doug Iten, Pete Perez, Steve Costa, Daniel Clerou and Mike Bushman all attended and enjoyed the opportunity to connect with our customers and suppliers.  Some highlights included scouting talent for the next watermelon queen, holding the hooters (owls!), participating in the watermelon seed spitting contest, and seeing desert native Doug Iten show up in the snowy conditions dressed in shorts and a lightweight jacket.

CSA Action

Back in March, the Radicle Seed team (Steve Costa, Lisa Branco, Pete Perez, Mike Trebino, and Sergio Torres) traveled to sunny San Diego for the annual California Seed Association convention. They met with customers and suppliers and talked about issues the industry is facing and the direction it’s going. Radicle is a proud sponsor and is heavily involved in CSA activities. 

Tee Time

  • In February, Headstart Nursery and Radicle Seed were sponsors of the 89th Annual Elmer Sears Annual Lettuce Tournament, a highly revered desert tournament. Desert Sales Representative Don Lydick wore the spikes on behalf of both Headstart and Radicle.
  • In May, Chris Peck, Chris Cornia, Thomas Costa, and Pete Perez participated in the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau tournament. [Pete is not shown in photo (right), as he joined up with customer George Chiala’s team.]

Rep. Mathis Tours Desert Facility

Assembly Agriculture Committee Vice Chairman Devon Mathis, 26th District, toured Coachella Valley agriculture over his spring recess to educate himself about agriculture in other growing regions.  In addition to visiting Head Start Nursery, he went to UCR Experimental Station, the Salton Sea, green bean harvest, and corn and pepper fields.  Also attending the ag tour were representatives from Senator Stone and Assemblyman Garcia's offices.

Cole Iten's Viral Video

Headstart Nursery’s own Cole Iten plays a starring role in this Western Growers Facebook video focusing on the benefits of watermelon transplants. It’s got over 3,000 views already (plus a nice comment from his mom)…be sure to “Like” and “Share”!

Headstart in the Community

Big Sur Half Marathon

Headstart Nursery’s Chris Cornia, Chris Peck, and William Medina joined up with Clarke Drewry of Bayer Crop Science to run the Big Sur Half Marathon in September 2016. Supported by local sponsors (including Headstart Nursery and Radicle Seed), the team raised money to support local ag education programs (see below).

Don't they look bright-eyed for 6:00 in the morning, about to embark on a little 13.1 mile jog?

Salinas Farm Day

In November 2016, Lisa Branco participated as a tour guide for Monterey County Ag Education's Salinas Farm Day. This huge event brings together local ag companies who all volunteer their time and equipment to showcase the ag industry to students in Monterey County. 
Headstart Nursery partnered with Bayer and donated money raised at our Salinas Valley Half Marathon run to benefit MCAE youth outreach programs. Lisa and Clarke Drewry also were invited to the Farm Day Annual Lunch and Awards ceremony, where they received honorable mention for their generous support.
To learn more or become a Salinas Farm Day guide or presenter yourself, go to

Planting the Seed

  • Back in December, students majoring in STEM at UC Davis, Cal Poly Pomona and University of Arizona attended Western Growers’ Careers in Ag Tour, which included a stop at Headstart Nursery’s desert greenhouses. Students received a hands-on tutorial on how to effectively remove pathogens from the soil and how important it is to track the entire process from sowing to shipping.
  • In April, Lisa Branco (who serves on the California Seed Association Board of Directors and as Chair of Industry Communications & Youth Activities Committee) participated in the CSA Spring Student Tour. A group of 40+ students (shown in photo above) visited several sites during California Spring Trials, including Syngenta, Headstart Nursery/Radicle Seed, Sakata Seed, and American Takii. After learning about all the opportunities to get involved, and how many directions they can go within the world of ag, the students’ minds were blown that it all starts with seed.
  • Chris Cornia made a presentation to second graders at Gilroy Prep Elementary who had been studying the lifecycle of plants. The students got to see plants from Headstart at different stages of growth, ask questions about our local agriculture community, and share what their favorite vegetables were. The students also received Radicle Seed hats at the end of the session.
  • In May, Gina Anderson spoke to eighth graders at St. Mary School as part of their Student Learning Portfolio about the importance of an education and hard work as they enter high school and college. Gina gave them some background on Headstart Nursery and what we do—and got to listen to the students share their future goals.

Our Newest Sprouts

Here are the results of some much happier labor stories than the one at the beginning of this newsletter!
  • Bakersfield Sales Rep Daniel Clerou and family welcomed Josette Clerou (left), the newest member of the Clerou clan, back in November 2016.
  • Headstart/Radicle Sales Rep Mike Trebino and his wife Brittany are enjoying every minute with bundle of joy Brooke Trebino (right), born in January.
  • In April, Customer Service Rep Gloria Orozco and her husband Chris Jordan welcomed their first baby, princess Leah Jordan (left), who’s already learned how to pose for the camera!
  • Little Benjamin Cornia (right) was just born on June 16 and so far is taking it “pretty easy” on dad Grant Cornia, mom Suzie, big sister Alyson and big brother Tyler. We’ll see how long that lasts!
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Our mailing address is:
4860 Monterey Road
Gilroy, CA  95020
(408) 842-3030

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