Lauren Kirchner of Spring Creek Growers talked with KPRC 2 about what its like working at her family’s fourth-generation farm in Magnolia. Kirchner works as the outfit’s Director of Sales & Marketing but she’s worked just about every position there is as the farm.
Q: For those that aren’t familiar with Spring Creek Growers, could you share the farm’s history?
A: We have two sides of service. One side is the Christmas tree farm. We’ve been doing that for 27 years. That’s in the northwest Houston area. That’s how people know us. I’ve been planting christmas trees since I was five years old. We have record years every year. It’s a fantastic experience. We’re actually an authentic farm so it’s a real, working farm all year round. The other side of our business is our commercial-facing side. That’s the side my brother and I run together. We have a big team out in Waller and that’s what keeps us busy year-round. WE supply landscapers with annual flowers and we supply a lot of products to H-E-B.
Q: Have you seen an increased interest in gardening amid the pandemic?
A: I work very closely with the H-E-B Bryan team at corporate and one of the things that we had seen during COVID is that people were home, there wasn’t a competition for time. And that’s typically people’s great fear about gardening in general is that “I’m going to kill it,” or “I don’t have time to water it,” or “I’m too busy with this.” I’m definitely a victim of that too. I’m a mom of two kids and we have soccer games and swim lessons and all kinds of stuff so I get it. One of my jobs that I do for H-E-B is to think about how to communicate that gardening can be easy, gardening can be low maintenance. With the right plants, the right time, you can have great success. Moreover, one of the things that we saw a huge demand for, could not keep enough of is vegetables. Since people were home more and they were either trying to spruce up their own space and they were looking for something to do. If there were any benefits out of COVID, perhaps people were looking for a little bit more of a connection with nature as they slowed down and didn’t have so many places to be.
Q: What is Spring Creek Growers doing in response to the increased interest in gardening?
A: We have planned a giant program with H-E-B for launch in Spring 2021 and it will be both for large-scale gardening, so if you have a big box bed or if you have enough space to do rows, and also a a big part of the program is for small-space vegetable gardening and that’s kind of your tip-toe into gardening for those that live in apartments or aren’t sure if there ready to commit. We’ve got a lot of small-space options, both in hanging baskets and in large containers.
Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of working on a family-owned farm?
A: Gosh, you know I’ve been working with my family for so long. We do have a lot of employees that are outside of our family, which is nice. It adds some variety. Coming from a family business and growing up in it, I always tell people that the highs are so high. That’s because when it’s your own, every single decision you make in the business, whether it’s “Do I clean the toilets today,” to “Do I come up with a new marketing promotion,” and everywhere in between, it’s such a reflection of your family. It’s such a statement about who you are, what your value system is, how you’re leading the people outside of your family. Business is personal and a lot of people have the opportunity to separate business from personal but coming from a long line of family farmers and this family-owned farm, the business is very much personal.
Q: On the flip side of that, what are some of the more difficult aspects of being a part of a family-owned business?
A: You know, my dad and I are usually guilty of eating the birthday cake and sitting in the back corner talking about the business. In a way, it’s difficult because you don’t ever escape it but on the flips ide, we love what we do. I say the highs are highs and the lows are lows so when there’s a failure or when there is a misstep, because it is so personal, it might take a little more time to recover from.
Q: What does it feel like to be part of such a long-running family-owned farm?
A: It feels pretty amazing. It feels rare. Not a lot of people know where their food comes from, how it’s farmed. Growing up in it, most of my friend’s dads were in the oil business and I was the proverbial farmer’s daughter. I have a younger brother and a younger sister and during the Christmas season, we’d work on the weekends. We were cashiering when we were 10, 11, 12 years old. We were driving tractors when we were 10. That’s such a rarity now. I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to how to create an experience in someone else’s life. What the Christmas tree farm has allowed me to do is grow up providing that experience to somebody and being able to translate that to what I do for the rest of the year.
Q: Many families go to Spring Creek Growers during the holidays to get a Christmas experience. What do you and your family do during the holidays?
A: For Christmas, we usually stay close to home. We’re kind of worn out, I’m not going to lie. We take a family vacation every year. We usually go to Rockport or Port Aransas. We don’t go very far.
Q: What changes might be made to the tree shopping experience this year amid coronavirus concerns?
A: We’ve started planning some changes. Protecting employees in number one. We’ll obviously have plastic partitions at all the cashier stations. One of the things that we already have set up is that we already have the cashier stations outside so that won’t be a major change. We have talked about reconfiguring some of our funnel throughs. Once people cut their own tree down, we typically bring all of the trees back to our main barn area to be shaken, bailed, and measured. If you can imagine, there’s a lot of activity going on in that barn so what we’re trying to do is redistribute a lot of that activity and a lot of retail business, I’m sure, are doing the same thing, just spreading people out more and create less of a bottleneck. We’re on 60 acres so we have the space to redistribute people. That will probably be the main change, how shaking and bailing goes and also how we introduce everyone to the farm. Typically, we have greeters to welcome our guests and show them around the farm. We’re thinking about buying a few TV screens, doing some pre-recording to show people what to do, give people a Texas introduction to the farm.
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