With gardening season fast approaching, we’re excited to bring in our amazing selection of organic plants from Marion Gardens, located right here on Long Island’s North Fork. We spoke to Chris Gaipa, who, along with his father Walter, is responsible for the day-to-day operations at Marion Gardens. This is a family business through and through, based wholly on a love of organic gardening and a desire to provide the best possible organic product for their customers on Long Island and beyond.
RT: Who are the people behind the Marion Gardens?
MG: The core people behind Marion Gardens today are myself and my father Walter. Beyond that we wouldn’t be where we are today without my mother, Linell, and Betty and Gabriel, our two mainstay employees.
RT: What is the story behind the creation of the company? How did Marion Gardens get where it is today?
MG: Marion Gardens was started by my parents, Walter and Linell, with a 6′ x 8′ hobby greenhouse growing bonsai trees. That morphed into field grown cut herbs that were sold at NYC farmer’s markets. Eventually we settled on growing wholesale finished plants. Today we have two acres of covered greenhouse space that we use to sell over 300 varieties of Certified Organic herb and vegetable plants to garden centers and natural markets all over Long Island. We have experienced steady growth while making sure to maintain our roots as a small, accessible family business.
RT: How does Marion Gardens stand out among other Long Island plant and herb growers?
MG: Other growers may have a portion of their business dedicated to herb and vegetable plants or a portion of their business dedicated to growing organically, but we are completely committed and our sole focus is on growing 100% Certified Organic herb and vegetable plants. Non-organic herb and vegetable plants are often advertised as “all natural” or “GMO free.” However they can still be grown with chemical fertilizers, pest controls, growth regulators and treated seed. Certified Organic plants MUST be GMO free and ONLY use USDA Certified Organic compost, fertilizer and pest controls, which includes the use of beneficial insects. Only plants grown under the strict USDA Certified Organic standards can make this claim. We are inspected every year and have to pay a sizeable fee to be Certified Organic. Yet, we wouldn’t grow any other way.
RT: Have you always been 100% organic? If not, what was the process that led you here?
MG: We have been growing on Long Island since 1987 and we began the transition into organic back in the early 2000’s. We have been full Certified Organic since 2007.
RT: What’s one fun thing most people don’t know about Marion Gardens?
MG: We have spinoff businesses from Marion Gardens wholesale. My wife Angela and I have a small retail outlet in the front of our wholesale greenhouse that we open for a few months every spring. We also began Organic Harvest which ships Marion Gardens plants nationwide, and is one of the few growers of Certified Organic plug trays. We even got an order from Alaska this year! If you know anyone that’s not local that’s looking for a quality organic plant, send them to theorganicharvest.com.
RT: What’s the latest from Marion Gardens? Anything new in the pipeline we should know about?
MG: We are always trying to grow new and interesting varieties. That’s one of the most exciting parts of what we do.
RT: As a company devoted to organic plants…what are you loving to eat right now? What are your go-to (snacks, drinks, wellness products, etc.)?
MG: What aren’t we loving to eat! This time of year we are focused mainly on the cold hardy greens, in particular kale and arugula. But we are looking forward to getting our garden planted and experiencing the new varieties of tomatoes and peppers first hand.
RT: We always celebrate local businesses, and are especially fond of those right here on Long Island. What are the benefits of running your business on the Island?
MG: Long Islanders stay true to their roots. And in our case, the garden center industry on Long Island hasn’t been nearly as affected by the big box stores as some other places. This has allowed us to continue to have so many outlets to sell our plants. And Long Islanders love to garden! We know what we want and we really seem to appreciate and seek out quality, local products. So many people nowadays will only grow organic plants and gardens and we are thrilled to be able to provide them with the opportunity to do so. And we appreciate that Rising Tide Market feels the same way.
RT: As an extension of the last question…many of our customers dream of ditching our everyday life to work on a farm or run a local business. What’s your one piece of advice for those considering this kind of lifestyle change?
MG: This is one we get a lot. This industry is a lot of fun, and it is a beautiful thing to enhance and encourage what Mother Nature has set the stage for. With that being said, it certainly isn’t for everyone. I’m not sure most people realize the amount of energy (and with that, stress!) that goes into working year-round but making a majority of your income in a few short months. We work long hours and it’s a physical and mental grind to raise so many different kinds of plants all at once. However, we are very proud of the work that we do and we thrive off of all of the positive feedback we get. I know I speak for all of us when I say we wouldn’t have it any other way.
RT: Dream big. What is your wildest dream for the future of Marion Gardens?
MG: Just to continue to provide a service that we’d be grateful to have for ourselves, and to continue to touch people’s lives in a positive way. That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. Early!