Community Builder: Community Greenhouse keeps growing

It’s said that as a garden grows, so does its gardener.

  • Jan. 27, 2016 1:00 p.m.

By: Barbara Latkowski

Caledonia Courier

It’s said that as a garden grows, so does its gardener.

Ron and Janice Atkins have come a long way since beginning their business venture, Atkins Gowers Greenhouses, 15 years ago.

The couple, married 47 years, admit that it didn’t come without its challenges and through trial and error the business has grown and has become a trusted member of the community of Fort St. James.

Atkins Growers Greenhouses is now the go-to place for local gardeners, those just starting out and simply for those who share the same passion, growing.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love it,” Janice Atkins said. “We are so passionate about  helping people meet their gardening needs and helping them with any challenges such as growing the right plants, the right varieties and at the right time. It’s all about ensuring that the client’s needs are met and that means a lot to us, she said.

Her husband, Ron couldn’t agree more. “We love to see people who share the same passion. We grow plants and we love to watch them grow,” he said.

And grow, their business certainly has. Ron and Janice have lived in Cluculz Lake since 1970. Today, with just under 300 acres of land, they have five greenhouses used primarily as growing operations. Two greenhouses are used for sales, one in Cluculz Lake and one in Fort St. James.

Atkins Growers Greenhouses provide customers with a variety of plant and garden needs specialising in flower and vegetable starts, trees and shrubs, hanging baskets and planters. And they are always on the ready to offer any gardening advice.

“It can be challenging because we have such a short season,” Janice says. Ron couldn’t agree more. “For a normal gardener, you are more than likely going to experience frost every month of the year here so it can be a challenge if you want to grow your own,” he said.

Ron and Janice also provide larger than household needs including consumer retail, industrial, civic and commercial accounts. But at the root of it all, they are a greenhouse, not a garden centre according to Ron.

So, how did the greenhouse idea come to be?

“A sawmill business, Bond Bros., went out of business,” Ron said. Part of their business was a greenhouse. I bought it as a Christmas gift for Janice. It was disassembled and left for a while. At the time, we farmed cattle but then decided to sell the cattle and move on. This is when we decided to put the greenhouse up,” he said.

Janice began growing and decided they had more than needed. “So, I started selling bedding plants to neighbours and that’s how it all began,” she said. “We were so surprised to see how many people bought our plants.”

Life seems to have held many surprises for the couple who met in Toronto, Ontario. Ron, once a credit manager for B.F. Goodrich met his soon to be wife who was a nurse at the time. He decided that he was in the wrong career and the two left the big city in 1969 and ventured off to B.C. They first settled in Prince George. Ron worked as a faller for the next 40 years while the two homesteaded in Cluculz Lake where they still reside today.

“We lived without power and water for 15 years,” Janice said. “We were young. We did it and we enjoyed it” she said.

Today, the couple are now ready to hand over the reins to their son and daughter-in-law, Ben and Tania Atkins.

“We’re both over 70 now so it’s our time,” Janice said. “We can do some of those things that we haven’t had time to do. And we’re very thankful to be healthy.”

If not tending to the greenhouses, you might catch Ron performing. He plays guitar and banjo and regularly sings gospel music at the Fort St. James Soup Kitchen.

Through their business, Ron and Janice have had the opportunity to give back a portion of their profits back to the community. They have supported a number of causes including church, school, and seniors’ fundraisers, the local food bank and the Fort St. James Falcon Speed Skaters.

Along with various business opportunities, Atkins Growers Greenhouses also grow tomato plants for the Mount Pope Greenhouse where Ron and Janice regularly provide gardening advice.

Ron also travels to various First Nations reserves and delivers seminars. “There’s so much interaction there and it’s encouraging. I love it, he said.  “Even though we won’t be directly involved with the business now, we will stay involved in this capacity.”

“This business is a big job,” Janice says. “There’s always something to do. Heating the greenhouses takes dedication and waking up at 3am to throw more wood in the heaters is getting harder,” she said.

But, despite their time being up, Ron and Janice have high hopes of success for Ben and Tania. Tania has just recently completed a course in horticulture in Kamloops.

“They have the same passion and a new vision,” Janice said. “We want them to succeed and grow. We’ve had opportunities to expand but now it’s their time to cease these opportunities,” she said.

Ron and Janice are deeply grateful for their dedicated and hardworking employees who continue to provide excellent service and advice, take pride in their products and have a genuine love for gardening.

“We are so proud of what we and our employees can offer the community, Janice said.

For Ron, it’s all about keeping people happy and his greenhouses seem to do just that. “We’ve heard customers say that this is their happy place and it really is a happy place to be,” he said.