Between where I live and the actual city of Boston, there is an area that was, historically, a huge growing area. But since the middle part of last century the greenhouse industry, that was as one time huge in towns like Waltham and Lexington, MA, has largely disappeared with only a few exceptions. Many of the glasshouses have been torn down or exist only as skeletons of their former selves.
As a lover of glasshouses and greenhouses, and in light of this declining history – which frankly, continues today — I have an idea.
Just down the road from my house is a beautiful, more modern, glasshouse and set of polytunnels. I filmed one of my book trailers in this place – but it has clearly struggled for some time. I know that they are trying lots of things in the narrow band of what is typically prescribed as a ‘business plan’ that goes along with a greenhouse … but they seem unable to strike on the just right mix of uses that allows the place to be profitable. They shut down the last of their fledging retail operations last year, and are now only growing things for the floristry trade and a bunch of wholesale annuals. I hope this works out for them, but I’m not sure that it will… it seems a well trodden path to a slow decline and eventual death.
At this time of year – the most expensive time of year for these places to operate due to huge heating bills – I find myself longing to just go inside. I want to feel the warm air, and breath in the petrichor of potting soil and watering systems as well as soak in the light that I need and that the plants also love.
Which has me thinking that maybe they should re-pave.
Yes, re-pave… instead of having the typical central walkways that lead to tertiary veins that lead into the plants, why not make paths around the edges?
… and then let people like me, and runners and walkers and generally anyone who needs this environment (and who doesn’t in the dead of winter??) come and use the paths as we might use as an indoor track or gym? I’d pay for the privilege. I’d rather this than a dank, stinky, uninspiring gym with 24hr news playing on a million TVs, or worse, a horrible stale mall. Some of these places are huge and a track around the edges could easily rack up a few miles of bright beautiful planty green exercise.
And while I’m there, I’m enjoying all the great plants (that I could also buy). And I am watching things come in and out of season, and I am feeling more connected to this business and nature and the seasons. And maybe I am even enjoying a coffee after or during my walk (seriously, a good coffee stand is easy to set up – we do it every weekend at the farmers market for just a few profitable hours!) in a simple seating area in the middle of an ever-changing section of greenhouse (changing because greenhouse operations can easily happen around these stations). It could be a new and recurring revenue stream…. Right? It takes relatively little investment (my current gym has 24 hr access with a swipe card and it isn’t even staffed outside of business hours) and maybe you can even start with dirt paths… and your horticulture staff is already there working with the plants in case there are questions or issues. And speaking of farmers market vendors, they’d pay too… just re-pave, so that the walkways are deep enough to accommodate the walkway and allow for a table full of fresh local bread or jams or meats and cheese…. and while you are at it… maybe grow some veg in the winter and sell that too?
Yes, I know that there are lots of other considerations (insurance, operational logistics, etc., etc…) But I seriously think this is something that someone should look into. I’ve never taken a client into a greenhouse – even in the hot summer – who didn’t love the environment and want to return again and again – just ’cause.
So let them. Think multi-purpose.
I know that the whole farmers market idea isn’t original, but so many places haven’t given it a try. And I don’t know why – those that do (around here) are a rousing successes. Maybe this might be something worth adding?
images by kelly fitzsimmons and rochelle greayer.