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'In the middle of nowhere and everywhere': How this Wever greenhouse, one of Iowa's largest, is meeting demand

·4 min read

WEVER — Regardless of an early spring chill, high summer has arrived at the sprawling Mohrfeld greenhouse outside the Lee County village of Wever.

There, the seemingly endless ranks of petunias, columns of geraniums, and multitudes of other bedding plants shout that the growing season has arrived.

A step into any of the eight greenhouses comprising one of Iowa’s largest plant wholesalers is all that is needed to transport a visitor forward to a warm spring June afternoon. An afternoon where flower gardens and vegetable patches offer an optimistic hope that everyone has a green thumb.

Inside Matt's Greenhouse, the air is moist and warm and the scent of hundreds of thousands of blooms hangs heavily in the air. A tidal wave of color sweeps through the greenhouses as workers select plants and fill order carts.

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It is a scene of intense activity, but owner Matt Mohrfeld is an island of calm expertise amongst the controlled frenzy he has overseen since 1977 when he opted to get into the wholesale plant business.

He began the greenhouse as a retail garden center before diversifying into a wholesale bedding plant operation, growing spring bedding plants, seasonal bloomers and a large selection of poinsettias. Matt's Greenhouse went on to expand to a three-state market with a more than 200-mile selling radius. It now is one of the largest wholesale greenhouse operations in Iowa.

On a recent April morning, he was armed with a clipboard heavy with order forms and an encyclopedic knowledge on what should be loaded to each of the 10 trucks idling at the greenhouse’s loading docks.

Although the routine may be familiar, Mohrfeld confessed that this year’s shipping season presents problems he had not previously encountered due largely to glitches in the supply chain.

“It has been an interesting year because everything we had taken for granted became a problem," Mohrfeld said. "For example, the trucks we lease have always been available with no problems, but this year, the lease company really had to scramble to get us our trucks."

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Mohrfeld further explained that the greenhouse's 100,000 hanging plastic baskets were problematic due to difficulties the supplier had in getting the material to make them, but this was far from the only supply chain issue.

“We order over a million tags and even that became an issue, so we have already started placing orders for next year," he said. “Even something so basic as the peat mix potting soil we purchase in Canada was a problem when we had trouble getting trucks across the border.”

One of the most vexing problems facing the greenhouse was assuring sufficient labor was obtained. Ninety percent of Mohrfield’s orders ship in a two-week period beginning in late April, and it proves difficult to enlist employees who might be seeking a longer employment period.

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Prior to the shipping period and during the peak of the growing season, Mohrfeld has up to 65 employees. Approximately 24 of these employees are Mexican nationals who come to Wever through a government-sponsored H2A program for agricultural workers.

“Some stay for about five months and I’m really proud of them,” Mohrfeld explained. “It is not about money for they are relatively expensive. But the work here is pretty intense and not for the faint of heart.”

Once the spring shipping season winds down, attention at the greenhouses will turn to next year’s planting season. By July, crews will begin planting and growing poinsettias for the holiday season.

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That planting will be done at a mirror image of the Wever complex in nearby Fort Madison, near the Rodeo Park. The Wever greenhouses are primarily a collection and holding facility prior to shipment

“It is a year-round operation and there is always plenty to do and plenty to worry about," Mohrfeld said. "Disease, weather, storms and insects are concerns every year.”

Mohrfield Greenhouses is primarily a wholesale operation selling to retain chains such as HyVee. But it does operate two “pop-up” retail outlets, including one at Burlington’s Fareway Meat and Grocery.

“Sometimes I get asked,” Mohrfeld continued, “why such a big operation is located out here. I’m originally from southeast Iowa so that is one big reason. But I’ve learned that when you are in the middle of nowhere, you are also in the middle of everywhere, and that is a big plus in our business.”

This article originally appeared on The Hawk Eye: Matt Mohrfeld gives inside scoop on wholesale Wever greenhouse