Sam and Harry Chase of Chase Farm by Sanne Kure-Jensen “We are the largest grower in the smallest state,” Harry Chase said about the wholesale greenhouse operation he runs with his brother, Sam. Chase Farm uses three acres of greenhouses to grow annuals and perennials for independent garden centers and landscape contractors. The Chase family is environment, resource and cost conscious. In 2005 Sam’s son Lincoln helped the Farm obtain USDA Organic Certification for field-grown corn and greenhousegrown vegetable plants and herbs. Harry said, “As we learn the science of organic growing, we transfer that knowledge to our traditional crops.” Chase Farm’s Integrated Crop Management practices now include using sterile chicken manure in soil mixes for traditionally-grown, as well as, organically-grown plants. Screens are used on greenhouse fan openings as a non-chemical pest control. Innovative and efficient Focused on innovation, efficiency and recycling, the Chase brothers have successfully run the business their father started in 1938. As early adopters of new technology, the Chases purchased their first optical seeder 24 years ago. Seventy-seven percent of the plants at Chase Farm are grown from seed. Faster seeders are now available, but they are generally less accurate and reliable. “We are willing to sacrifice some speed for flexibility and accuracy,” said Harry. Chase Farm has an efficient way to plant and transport plants around the farm. They use an automated potting system to fill, water and dibble pots. Staff then installs a plug as trays of pots move down the conveyor
belt. Waiting at the end are cold weather carts made from recycled Titleist Golf Ball factory carts. Harry enclosed the carts in heavy canvas to protect the young transplants from the cold as they are moved to other greenhouses. To improve efficiency and safety, a mechanically-minded friend crafted a hanging trolley system allowing staff to move 18 flats at once instead of the usual two to three flats down the greenhouse rows. Always conscious of costs, Chase Farm staff now blends growing media in-house. Because of rising fuel and transportation costs, they save money by bringing in components like Canadian peat and southern pine bark. Farm tractors, run on locally produced biodiesel, circle the farm gathering customer orders on trailers made of recycled mobile home chasses. Reliability is critical and just good business. “When we invest in equipment, we try to buy two pieces of used equipment to ensure production capacity, reliability and spare parts,” explained Harry. The Chases used to rent U-Haul and other truck for deliveries. Now they use freshly painted, repurposed beverage delivery trucks. Greenhouses A family of innovators, Sam’s and Harry’s father designed and built the first plastic-covered greenhouse in Rhode Island in 1959. The family bent plumbing pipes before hoop house kits were commercially available. Harry proudly told me none of their greenhouses had ever failed, even in 1978 when heavy snows collapsed roofs all over the northeast.
Harry Chase with hardened off plants, overlooking Narraganset Bay.
Staff loading the Blue Begonia Bus. Photos by Sanne Kure-Jensen Ten years ago, Chase Farm installed their first gutter-connected greenhouses. One greenhouse has a mist system for propagating cuttings; another has heated benches. All Chase Farm greenhouses utilize fertilizer injectors for gentle feeding. Sam Chase said “We used to cultivate our own stock plants for propagation. Then we went to buying in plugs or rooted cuttings from Brazil or Costa Rica.” Now the brothers take full advantage of their mist system in the propagation greenhouse. Chase Farms brings in thousands of unrooted cuttings (mainly coleus and other tropicals) from the Southern Hemisphere. The cuttings are rooted and grown for spring and summer sales. In February, a single box arrived containing thousands of cuttings sorted into sandwich bags. The farm realizes a significant shipping savings compared to receiving a truckload of boxes with trays of plants. Greenhouses aren’t just for growing One greenhouse is just for storing tall pallets of supplies, the seeding room and all the organic materials which require isolated storage. Solar heat is not needed in this space so longer-lasting, polycarbonate shaded glazing is used. This material is also used for the family’s favorite greenhouse: the indoor pool. New Ventures Recently, Chase Farm started growing herbaceous plants for Rhody Native, a new collaborative within the Rhode Island Nurserymen & Landscape Association. Seeds and cuttings of Rhode Island’s native grasses, perennials, shrubs and trees are sustainably collected by volun-
teers. Participating growers are making local, native plants available for restoration projects, roadside plantings and for homeowners. Chase Farm recently participated in a USDA/NRCS grant-funded pilot project aimed at reducing Aquidneck Island’s large coyote population. To lessen the food supply, road-kill was collected across the state and processed into liquid fertilizer with a portable ‘digester’. Chase Farms now offers Dr. Numi’s Full Moon Safe Cycle Compost Turbocharger for sale. Unique challenges “Being near Narragansett Bay is a blessing and a curse’” said Harry. “The farm has great water views and beautiful sunsets, but we are susceptible to frequent lightning strikes.” Greenhouse control systems and phone lines have been blown and are regularly at risk. In late April another transformer was hit; it burned so long and slowly that the utility pole burned. Giving back Even after a long day in the greenhouses, the Chase families give back to the horticultural and local community. Sam and his wife Pat have served on the board at their church, the Aquidneck Land Trust and the Norman Bird Sanctuary. Harry has served on the board of the New England Floriculture Association, Rhode Island Nurserymen & Landscape Association and the Portsmouth Agricultural Advisory Committee. Harry and his family also run a second farm and farm stand at Hodgkiss Farm in Jamestown, RI. For more information on Chase Farm Harry or Sam Chase call 401683-1510 or see their Web site at www.chasefarms.biz