Title: 2006 Ag-Environmental: Tampa Wholesale Nursery
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
Every morning James Sumner of Tampa Bay Fisheries visits the reservoir at Tampa Wholesale Nursery. He checks the level of the holding pond and calculates how much water it can receive. This daily inspection is an important part in one of the most unique water reclamation partnerships in Florida.
Tampa Wholesale Nursery has its roots in landscaping. Roy Davis began his career in the business by establishing the Davis Landscaping Company in 1961. Started on a 51 by 106 foot city lot in Tampa, Mr. Davis ran the operation while his wife, Leta, grew plants for the landscape jobs. Two years later, the family moved to their present location in Dover, about 15 miles from downtown Tampa. With their home on the property, Roy and Leta raised their sons, Steve and Mike, at the nursery.
Roy Davis, President, Tampa Wholesale Nursery: When we started out, my wife and I didn’t even have one employee here. Before I would go out on landscaping jobs in the morning I would give her the list of things that she needed to get accomplished and she’d still cook supper that night …and took care of those two boys …She’s pretty tough and has been right by our sides all along.
Leta Davis, Secretary/Treasurer, Tampa Wholesale Nursery: Back when we started we went to school cafeterias and collected their metal gallons cans. And we had to punch the holes in the bottom, which was really great exercise for your legs. The boys really enjoyed doing that. They’d cringe when I’d say alright, y’all, it’s your turn to punch cans.
Mike Davis, Big Tree Nursery: It was a lot of work in the nursery. I worked back when I was younger going to school. I would work on a lot of the equipment. Steve would do a lot of the nursery work and I would fix things that they would tear up.
Over the years, the family realized they found more joy in growing plants than in landscaping so in 1978, when Steve returned from college, Davis Landscape Company was phased out and the family shifted its energy to raising plants. Two years later, the Davises branched out and started the Big Tree Nursery in nearby Antioch.
Today, Roy Davis likes to spend part of his time at Big Tree Nursery where his son, Mike is the General Manager and Mike’s wife Bonnie is production manager.
Currently the nursery raises over 120 different varieties of plants, from ground covers to shade trees, shipping more than 300,000 plants through out the Southeast each year.
Steve knows this property. Other than his time away at college, he’s lived at the nursery all of his life. He has raised his family there as well, and over the years they have all, at one time or another, worked in the nursery. Steve’s wife, Vivian, still helps out on the weekends. Daughter Kitty now teaches Agriculture at nearby Durant High School. The Davis’ other daughter Shannon, helps by running errands for the company. Their son Eric, a regular at the nursery, hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Eric Davis: I want to go to college, get my four-year degree, at the same time work here at the nursery. I’m going to major in horticulture… Hopefully one day I’ll be able to … be a part owner. I want to stay involved in Tampa Wholesale as long as possible.
A lot has changed in Hillsborough County since the Davis’s first began. The rural areas, once home to citrus groves and still home to some of the country’s best strawberry farms, have experienced Tampa’s urban sprawl, which has placed heavy demands on the area’s water supply.
As with any agricultural operation, water is the lifeblood of the Davis’s Tampa Wholesale Nursery. While permitted to use about 280,000 gallons of groundwater a day, the nursery strives to conserve this valuable resource.
Back in the ‘70s, Tampa Wholesale Nursery was one of the first nurseries to incorporate low volume irrigation, greatly reducing their water usage. Where overhead spraying is still used, the beds are gently domed so that any excess water is collected in gutters that surround them. From the gutters, water flows into a ditch that channels it to a two-acre reservoir where it’s pumped, once again, to water the plants.
Water in Tampa Wholesale’s reservoir comes primarily from their daily allotment of groundwater, as well as collected rainwater and irrigation runoff, but 80,000 gallons of water a day comes from an unusual source.
One of the largest seafood packaging companies in the United States, Tampa Bay Fisheries is just a mile from the nursery. The plant produces about 1.7 million pounds of seafood a week and uses approximately 200,000 gallons of water daily. While it has its own wastewater treatment plant and spray fields, its growth made it necessary for the company to seek additional ways of disposing of excess water. They considered expanding their existing spray fields, but the land it would require made it impracticable. Instead, Tampa Bay Fisheries began exploring a partnership with Tampa Wholesale Nursery.
Robert Paterson, President, CEO, Tampa Bay Fisheries: With us being a large user of water, it made good business sense to decide let’s re-use this water. So that’s when we began to talk with Tampa Wholesale Nursery about processing our water to the state where they could then re-use it on their ornamental plant nursery and, at the same time, make it not necessary for them to pump that amount of water out of the ground.
With assistance from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the fisheries upgraded its waste treatment facility. The Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, Florida Department of Agriculture, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences all contributed greatly to the success of the plan.
As the water leaves the seafood processing plant it goes through a screening process before going into Tampa Bay Fisheries’ wastewater treatment plant. From there it flows into a treatment pond where it’s held until it is pumped through a mile long pipeline into the nursery’s 1.1 million gallon reservoir. Since implementing the new process the amount of water Tampa Wholesale Nursery draws from the aquifer has decreased by 40 percent.
Hugh Gramling, Executive Director, Tampa Bay Wholesale Growers: Tampa Wholesale Nursery has been a leader taking appropriate steps to protect the environment as well as be a good agri-business. The project that we’re looking at with the reclaimed water, that took a tremendous amount of personal effort and time and expense to be able to utilize that source of water to reduce ground water pumping which is a critical need in this area.
Tampa Wholesale Nursery is a vigilant steward of the land, and constantly looks for ways to lessen the business’s impact on the area.
Kurt Johnson, Nursery Manager: When you look around the nursery, we’re doing best management practices that people haven’t done before. Mr. Davis designed the water recovery system and used re-used lentils to make it work.
Damaged concrete lintels from a local manufacturer recovered by the nursery are used as the gutters that edge the beds. Tampa Wholesale Nursery’s efforts to recycle go beyond utilizing wastewater and collecting run-off.
The Nursery mixes its own potting soil using pine bark and other byproducts of pulpwood mills as well as composted yard waste.
The plastic pots are reused by the nursery, and it offers a credit to customers who return them, reducing solid waste that would normally go into the landfill.
Tampa Wholesale Nursery incorporates Integrated Pest Management. Employees scout for pests and diseases on a routine basis and use spot treatments, reducing the use of pesticides.
Kurt Johnson, Nursery Manager: They’re innovators. They’re willing to try things. Not all of them work, but they’re willing to give it a shot and they’re willing to listen to people’s opinions, especially mine. They’ll tell me whether it works, they think it’ll work or whether it won’t. And that’s one thing really nice about working here at Tampa Wholesale.
The nursery’s reservoir attracts wildlife. Great Blue Herons and egrets perch at the water’s edge. Wading birds aren’t the only animals you’ll find here.
Steven Davis, Vice President and General Manager,
Tampa Wholesale Nursery: Well one of the things that I really love is my wildlife rehabilitation that we do here.
Steve works hard to save injured wildlife and has been permitted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to do so. He cares for 80 to 120 animals each year.
Steve Davis: It’s been something that we started about 20 years ago and I do all the feeding and the flying and the work that goes into taking in injured animals and hopefully releasing them. We mostly do birds of prey. We have a couple of foxes. We have a bobcat, and with the population that’s growing out in the rural areas, there’s more and more of those animals that have been pushed into areas that they end up getting into trouble, getting into somebody’s yard or something like that.
It’s just a nice thing to do. I do hunt. I enjoy being out in the wild and it’s sort of my way of giving back to Mother Nature who’s provided a lot for us. It’s important for all of us to take care of the property that we have. Some people don’t understand that we live on our own property. We like and enjoy seeing the little snakes go through the grass and the birds come down and be able to eat out of our own ponds. We enjoy being able to do the right things for the environment and for our ground. And being good stewards is just all part of keeping nature around and being involved in keeping the environment healthy.