A family grows in McClish greenhouse
By MARK FAHEY
Brent and Nancy McClish founded McClish’s Plants Plus Greenhouses 29 springs ago, building their first plastic-roofed greenhouse with their shared savings and selling out of a small tent.
Since then, the operation has expanded to include seven growing greenhouses, a large custom-built glass showroom greenhouse, and the two McClish children. The greenhouses include about an acre of indoor growing space and thousands of young vegetables, flowers and seedlings.
“We just felt like it was something we could do together and it felt like there was the potential for an opportunity,” said Brent McClish. “I said ‘I think I could build a greenhouse and I think Nancy could grow the plants’…and the Lord has blessed us from there.”
The site, across from Miami Trace High School, was the home of the old Eber general store, a run-down structure that had to be demolished to make room for the first greenhouse in 1984. The family business has continued to grow since then, adding new greenhouses on a yearly basis.
Both Brent and Nancy McClish grew up on farms in Fayette County: Nancy on a corn and soybean farm about a mile from the business and Brent on a diary farm on the other side of town. The family still maintains a farm during the months they’re not working in the greenhouses.
“We’re just on the inside and we start a couple months sooner than everybody else,” said Brent McClish. “In the field we’re dealing with corn and soybeans, while in here we’re dealing with about 50 different crops. Some take different water, different fertilizer…not everybody has it exactly right, but you just try to find a happy medium.”
The McClishes have invented innovative solutions for many of the unique problems that greenhouses face: fabricated metal racks and rollers to increase space in each green house, alert systems to keep the temperatures at the right level in each building and irrigation systems that conserve water while keeping each plant at the right level of moisture.
The greenhouses can go through 20,000 gallons of water on a hot day, and the family’s water delivery system has evolved from hauling water in milk cans to a 65 foot wells drilled into the area’s underlying limestone aquifer. The recent cold weather hasn’t been friendly to the greenhouses business, which must keep buildings warm on cloudy days, but the McClishes said they’ve had good luck in the past. They’ve never had a pest or other problem wipe out their plants.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Nancy McClish. “The first five years were make or break and we had perfect springs for five years in a row. These last few have been pretty rocky. It all revolves around the weather around here.”
The family starts setting up in January, moving the plants into the glass showroom greenhouse for opening in March. The glass house was engineered by a group form Canada to stay within a degree of the outside temperature — a useful building on some of Fayette County’s sunniest days.
The McClishes grow about 95 percent of the plants they sell, raising them from cuttings or seeds sent from places like Nicaragua, Israel, Ethiopia or China. Very few plants, like cactuses, are shipped already partially-grown.
“Whether it’s us or another independent place, I think it’s important to know that we’re growing it here and it’s not being shipped in from someplace else,” said Brent McClish. “It’s pretty hands on right here, and I think in the long run that’s a benefit for the customer.”
Running the greenhouses is not a static business. Every year the McClishes test new plant varieties to see how they stand up in the Fayette County climate. Because each plant is growing in so little soil, small variations in factors like fertilizer amount or water alkalinity can have a large impact on fertility, said McClish. The family must learn the optimal growing conditions for each plant it sells.
Nancy and Brent’s two children also play an important role in the business operation, helping in the greenhouses even as they pursue their other interests. Bryan, 22, tends the family farm with his grandpa and also assembles farm equipment for local dealers.
Rachel, 19, is a sophomore in the agriculture business program at Wilmington College. Like her parents, Rachel has created her own business, selling pies to a “loyal following” in Fayette County. The McClishes don’t know yet if either of their children will be interested in taking over the family business when they’re older.
“We let them do their own thing. Right now they’re perfectly willing to help, but to say “hey, we want this,” that’s not quite the case yet,” said McClish. “Maybe someday.”
Brent McClish said there’s some debate within the industry about whether gardening will be as popular with today’s generation as it was for their grandparents. In Fayette County, though, he said people are still eager to grow their own flowerbeds and vegetable gardens.
“We’re in farm country and farm folks tend to still be doing a lot of planting, even in folks in the city aren’t doing as much,” he said. “We’re just really thankful for all our customers, and a lot of them have turned out to be friends over the years.”
(Mark Fahey is a staff writer for the Record-Herald in Washington Court House.)