College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Institute of Applied Agriculture

Birney Experiences Organic Enterprise at Its Best

Julia Thome

  What are the key success factors for a local organic farm operation? That’s what Kelsie Birney wanted to find out as she embarked on a 12-week internship with Priapi Gardens in Cecilton, MD. And, find out some of the secrets, she did, thanks to Vic Priapi and his staff!  Birney is enrolled at University of Maryland’s Institute for Applied Agriculture (IAA), focusing on Ornamental Horticulture, with expected graduation in May 2014. “I really like nursery work, and the organic component [at Priapi Gardens] was a great learning opportunity for me,” stated Birney.

  Priapi Gardens is a production, wholesale and retail business that offers ornamental plants and related products through its greenhouses and nursery, organic fruits and vegetables grown onsite, a community supported agriculture program (CSA), as well as community events and education. With 2.6 acres of produce certified as organic, Priapi grows spinach, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco, kale, radishes, mixed baby greens, gourmet potatoes, raspberries, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, turnips, carrots, onions, leeks, fresh herbs, and much more, available through retail sales or the CSA program. The garden center also offers annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs, tropical and pond plants, and other related products for both retail and wholesale buyers.  This set of diversified offerings, Birney surmised from her experience, is part of the reason for the enterprise’s success and expansion over the past ten years.

  During her time at Priapi and through the IAA internship program, Birney gained hands-on experience in general garden and greenhouse maintenance, day-to-day retail activities, and the multiple tasks involved in operating the CSA program. Birney expanded her knowledge about plant materials, certified organic pest management practices and plant propagation. For example, she worked on a wholesale order for 20,000 California privets, where she helped with propagation from cuttings. She also spent considerable time planting the herb garden and maintaining the butterfly garden. She noted the enthusiasm of customers for such products as arugula, spring salad mix and Priapi Gardens’ famous passion vine plants.

  Above all, Birney’s greatest take-away from the internship experience was the opportunity to experience, first-hand, a successful, vibrant organic enterprise.  She learned that “quality products and great staff – happy people who get along with each other in their daily work – make for a friendly business that customers want to come back to again and again.”

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