Do you remember 1979? That was the year that Sony introduced the Walkman, Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize, ESPN debuted on cable TV, and the Village People brought us “YMCA.” Meanwhile, there were even bigger things happening in Gilroy, California.

It All Started with Peppers

In February 1979, Steve Costa, a recent graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, partnered with longtime family friends Don and Bill Christopher to found Headstart Nursery, Inc. Costa built six greenhouses in Gilroy to hold the new company’s first order of bell pepper transplants for Christopher Ranch.

In those days, the transplant industry was still young, and not many people had tried growing pepper transplants on the west coast. Costa had to fully embrace his school’s motto of “Learn by doing.” He oversaw every aspect of production and learned from each successive planting.

That first successful season led to more pepper orders and other projects. Steve’s brother Randy Costa soon joined the company, and together the brothers built more greenhouses to accommodate the increase in orders. They started growing cauliflower to fill in around the pepper season, and Headstart’s reputation for top quality transplants started to spread throughout the Salinas valley.

Where the Beauty Begins

In the early 1980s, California cut flower growers faced ever-increasing foreign competition in the “big three” crops of Carnations, Roses, and Chrysanthemums. The industry started branching out into new specialty crops like Snapdragons, Lisianthus, and Asters, but the seed was notoriously difficult to germinate, and growers needed help getting started.

Headstart Nursery began growing plugs for local flower growers and soon became the industry leader in specialty cut flower plugs. Today, our extensive ornamental product line also includes perennials, annuals, herbs, vegetative liners, and more.

Organic Program

In the mid-1980s, the small organic-farming movement was also starting to grow. Headstart Nursery experimented growing with organic principles, and in 1993 was among the first nurseries to be certified by the CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). Our organic program and dedicated organic facilities have continued to expand as the demand for organic transplants increased. Today, Headstart produces over 300 million certified organic transplants each year.

Desert Expansion

By the early 1990s, Headstart Nursery’s vegetable transplant business had grown to include many different row crops, including peppers, watermelon, and celery, for growers up and down the west coast. To better service our customers in Southern California and Arizona, Headstart began building greenhouses in the Coachella Valley in 1993. Our desert locations expanded quickly to the more than 900,000 square feet we have today. At various times of the year, we can shift plants between our desert and Gilroy locations. This unique flexibility enables us to grow superior plants for all our customers at any time of year.

Commitment to Technology

As we entered the new millennium, Headstart Nursery made a commitment to keeping up with the latest technology and innovation. We implemented Picas software, which we now use to efficiently manage all orders, production, shipping, and invoicing. We have incorporated advanced growing technology, including innovative products such as Ellepots and PlantTape, to reduce seed waste and labor costs while making it easier for growers to transplant in the field. Every year, we continue to take on new challenges so that we—and our customers—stay on the leading edge.

Still Growing…

In 2011, we expanded our production space by more than 25% when we acquired new greenhouse facilities in Castroville and Salinas, giving us even more climate zones and flexibility to produce the very best plants all year long. We also expanded our Ornamental Products division to include finished Cyclamen, Gerbera, and other crops.

Headstart Nursery celebrated our 40th anniversary in 2019. We now have more than 1.5 million square feet of greenhouse space, employ about 220 people year-round, and grow nearly 1 billion plants every year.

Our company has changed a lot since 1979, when we had just one crop to grow and one customer to please. But we have never lost sight of what made us successful in the first place. At Headstart Nursery, we remain “Rooted in Quality,” still as dedicated as ever to providing the best plants and service in the industry.