Going Green at Heartland Growers

Thousands of ferns hang from the ceiling inside Heartland Growers.

Thousands of ferns hang from the ceiling inside Heartland Growers.

Stepping into the greenhouse at Heartland Growers, the sights and the smells make it easy to forget you're in the middle of Westfield, Indiana in March. 

Boasting the most automated greenhouse in the state of Indiana, Heartland Growers has been owned and operated by the Gapinski Family since 1984. What started as 10 acres has grown to over 30 acres of greenhouse facilities growing a variety of flowers, plants and crops that are supplied to wholesalers from independent garden centers to national chains throughout the Midwest. And they're still growing! As we type this, two more greenhouses are being built. This isn't a greenhouse you'd see in someone's backyard, it is a large (beautiful) factory.

So what makes Heartland Growers unique? You might surprised to know that Heartland Growers does not have a water bill. Instead of getting their water from the city, Heartland Growers collects all of the rainwater that falls on the property to use for not only watering the plants but for heating and cooling the greenhouse. In order to heat up the greenhouse, Heartland Growers heats the water with natural gas, and then the hot water runs through the concrete floors to warm it up in the winter. This way, they are constantly recycling the water on their property.

Ben Matthews programs a computer to water the plants at Heartland Growers.

Ben Matthews programs a computer to water the plants at Heartland Growers.

What does it mean to be an automated greenhouse? You might be surprised to find out how automated the processes are at Heartland Growers. Since they are producing plants on a mass scale, they use automation to get tasks that would take all day done in only an hour. For example, imagine having to plant thousands and thousands of seeds each day. Instead of doing this by hand, they have a machine making sure the seeds get planted. Instead of watering all the plants manually, an employee can spend an hour programming a computer that will water everything in the correct amounts. Computers are used to control everything from the temperature to humidity to light and water. From the beginning to the end of the life-cycle of the plants, they are being touched by automation in some way, shape or form.

Suzanna Flores has worked full-time at Heartland Growers for eight years.

Suzanna Flores has worked full-time at Heartland Growers for eight years.

But it's not all about the automation. Heartland Growers knows that they're greatest asset is their people. "We have really great people that have been here for years and care about our quality," said Rebecca Gapinski. "We're lucky to have the people that we have."

One of those people is Suzanna Flores, a supervisor for the herb program. She packs and ships all the herbs at Heartland Growers. "I love everything about working here, my group here is my second family," said Flores. 

And then there's Ben Matthews, who has worked at Heartland Growers for almost six years. He propagates plants from cuttings or starts them from seeds, working with a little bit of everything in a constantly-changing environment. "I bike to work almost every day from Carmel, taking the Monon north to 169th Street, over to Union Street by the high school and zig-zag over. I appreciate how Westfield always keeps the trails maintained!"

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You can find plants, flowers and vegetables from Heartland Growers all over Indiana! If you shop at Kroger, keep an eye out for living lettuce and potted herbs, just look for their name printed on the labels. The living lettuce is a great option since the root bulbing allows the lettuce to stay fresher in your refrigerator for up to two weeks! It also is maintaining its nutrients since it's connected to the root source. Heartland Growers also services 100 Lowes stores in Indiana and Michigan with annuals for your garden. 

You can find flowers and influence from Heartland Growers all over Westfield! Heartland Growers designs and grows the 92 flower baskets and six planters for downtown Westfield as well as donating all the flowers at Quaker Park. If you've ever participated in Westfield in Bloom, Heartland Growers picks the colors each year that we use for the competition. "We look at the trends, because plant colors go through trends just like anything else," said Gapinski. "We are also very conscientious of flowers that will be successful. We want the consumers to be successful gardeners, to buy something and have it work for you."

For example, two years ago the color for the competition was orange, so Heartland Growers used SunPatiens in the baskets downtown. The baskets were hung right before Mother's Day weekend and they still looked nice on Halloween. "I'm a judge for Westfield in Bloom and I love seeing the creativity," said Gapinski. "People find really inventive ways to work in the colors. I'd love to see more people get involved in it! It's not just for the competition, the rest of the season you get to enjoy your yard looking awesome. Don't be afraid to explore new plants, colors and combinations."

Heartland Growers Gardening Tip for March: March is going to be mild, so the best thing you can is get your yard prepped. Get outside on these warm days and get things cleaned up. You can't go wrong with a good spring mulching! If you can get prepped now, you'll be ready when the weather breaks to go out and plant your annuals and perennials to enjoy all summer long.