Greg Fuhrer tells a story that illustrates the deep roots of his family’s business, Locust Grove Nursery.
He was working in a field recently alongside son Doug, who also works at the nursery. “You realize,” he told his son, “that we’re doing just what my dad and granddad did.”
Greg Fuhrer and his wife, Sharon, started Locust Grove back in the 1980s, selling mums from roadside stands. As customers began requesting different kinds of plants, the Fuhrers took the initiative and started growing new varieties to meet the needs.
Today, they’ve gotten out of the retail business and now work as a wholesaler, supplying plants to landscapers, schools and garden centers. But the business remains firmly in the Fuhrer family, with several family members intrinsically involved in the operations.
More family members work at the business, including another of Greg and Sharon’s sons, Jason, who is Locust Grove’s co-owner. He sometimes takes his own son, 5-year-old Caleb, along for the ride when he makes deliveries. “He’s getting to know the customers,” Jason says.
The strong family connection is apparent as Greg and Jason show us around the business – and so is the pride they take in their work.
The Fuhrers grow 45,000 to 60,000 plants – including trees, shrubs, perennials and bedding plants – across their 13 acres in Waterford Township. Nearby, they lease 14 acres from a neighbor to grow arborvitae and boxwood.
They make their own potting soil, taking care to ensure a proper level of nutrients. They try to be earth friendly, using coconut husk for weed control.
And above all, they try to serve the needs of their customers – following the same drive that expanded their business from a small roadside stand. They study trends and keep tabs on what customers will be looking for. The latest trend, they have found, is edible landscapes, like berry bushes and herb gardens.
For Locust Grove Nursery, change is necessary – changing seasons, changing customers, changing plants. What remains constant, though, is the dedicated family behind the business.
About Locust Grove Nursery: The business has four full-time employees and a handful of part-time workers – often high school students. The nursery, which primarily serves customers around northwestern Pennsylvania but also in neighboring areas of New York and Ohio, is strict about sticking to the wholesale business and not selling to the general public. If the general public asks to buy plants, the Fuhrers refer them to one of the local garden centers that they supply. Locust Grove does not sell to big box stores.
Why Erie County: The Fuhrers say they enjoy having their business in a place like Erie County, which is a welcoming home for their multigenerational family. They also enjoy the family-friendly atmosphere in general, and they see Lake Erie as an enormous asset for the county. In addition, they find that at least in their business, there is a strong support network. They have good relationships with other nurseries in Erie County, and even help each other out. If Locust Grove doesn’t have something a customer is looking for, the Fuhrers will send the customer to a competitor – just as the other nurseries will send customers to Locust Grove.
Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges that Locust Grove faces are just part of the nature of their business – literally. They constantly work to keep deer, rabbits and woodchucks from eating their plants. And they also grapple with the most unpredictable challenge, the weather. They work outside as long as they can, until the snow flies. And over the winter months, they propagate plants, service equipment, and rest up for spring, and the launch of their busy seasons. In addition, they see Erie County’s distance from the state capital as a challenge. Officials in Harrisburg sometimes forget about this corner of the state, the Fuhrers say – so it is up to Erie County residents and businesses to keep fighting to get recognition.
Fun fact: The Fuhrers start about 80 percent of their plants themselves, either from seeds or cuttings. They are not permitted to start some patented plants.