15 Nov In the Field Magazine | Butler Tree Farm, Take Root with Us!
The distant sound of a softly bubbling lazy creek mixes with the warm pastels of a fall sunset bringing tranquility to one’s soul and providing a glimpse of a humble profession set far back from the hustle of modern life.
Butler Tree Farm, nestled within the Green Swamp of North Polk County, is reminiscent of a nature preserve in its own accord. Upon my arrival, I was welcomed like an old family friend by the new owners Glenn and Kendra Harrell.
I could instantly feel the Harrell’s love for the land and trees, as they immediately ushered me into a Ranger for a tour of the property. As we drove through the farm, Glenn reminisced about the history of Butler Tree Farm sharing a glimpse of founder Joel Butler’s dedication, determination and work ethic.
Joel earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture from the University of Florida and spent his early years as an environmental engineer, focusing on land reclamation, wetland restoration and water conservation. In his spare time, Joel cultivated his own wholesale nursery.
After nearly two decades of working for others, Joel Butler and his wife, Jane, were ready to “plant a seed” of entrepreneurship that would have a positive effect on the future of the Polk County community. With little more than a dream and a prayer they set forth to build a farm that would incur the least possible environmental footprint while financially providing for future generations.
In 1987, the farm acreage resembled a relatively untouched mix of Florida wetlands and wildlife habitats native to the adjacent Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve. Joel immediately noted the thriving ecosystem within and surrounding the property.
Gator Creek runs through the farm and provides a safe corridor for wildlife movement to and from the conservation area. Joel envisioned a working environment that would provide a safe haven for the deer, turkey, flora and fauna while also serving as a self-sustentative recreation area and enjoyable place to earn a living.
Joel’s frustrations with less ecofriendly approaches contrasting his steady focus on preservation led him to concentrate his efforts on developing the Florida Cool RingTM containers, an environmentally friendly alternative to ground covers and impervious plastics.
Trees grown in the air-root pruning container allow small roots to escape and tack into subsoil. This permits roots to recover lost or leached nutrients to be returned to the plant and not lost to the environment.
By reducing blow-over, he successfully eliminated the need for ecologically destructive posts, guide wires, cables, clamps, stakes and bed site preparation. Joel also worked with soil conservationists to develop an efficient low-volume irrigation system using micro jet drips to reduce nutrient and fertilizer runoff.
In turn, this enabled him to install a series of small 4” wells to “sip” at the top level of Florida aquifers, rather than “gulp” large quantities of potable water from the deeper aquifers. Overall, Joel’s attention to recharge, rainfall and percolation rates enabled the farm to operate sustainably with little environmental impact.
Running concurrent to this timeline was a very similar career within the trade. Glenn Harrell also shared a devotion and ardor for horticulture, dedicating more than 30 years to the nursery industry and its sustainable growth.
He earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in Environmental Horticulture in 1991. From the day he graduated, Glenn set to work for his uncle Winfred Harrell at Harrell’s Nursery where he remains employed to this day – a career that he loves dearly. In addition, Glenn enjoys being an active member of the Lake Region Florida Nursery Growers and Landscapers Association Chapter and a board member for the Hillsborough County Chapter of Florida Farm Bureau.
To the Harrell family, business is built one relationship at a time. They are committed to providing their customers with all the information required to make well-informed decisions for their horticultural needs. They emphasize their faith as the guiding point in their lives and business and continue to move into the future with a feeling of blessing to have a farm that they enjoy beyond mere business, but more importantly as a way of life.
Maintaining an active role in the nursery grower’s community, Glenn and Joel have shared a personal and professional relationship for many years, which is how their paths intertwined.
Approaching retirement, Joel and Jane sat down and began to assess their future bucket list and dream for the continuation of their legacy.
Joel Butler expounds, “In the business world, when a company is sold or merged, I have often heard the phrase ‘it was a win-win for both sides’. I was often skeptical, until it happened to me. During a Ray’s baseball game last year, I discovered Glenn and I had similar interests; like both having played college baseball and having a shared a love of the sport.
However, we found ourselves away from the crowd talking about our careers and imagined where we saw ourselves business-wise in five years. I talked retirement while Glenn spoke about goals and growth down the road.
The Rays lost, but seeds were planted that night. Two months later over lunch and turning seventy the next month, the idea of retirement surfaced. Could I turn loose something that had defined my life and love? It would have to be the right person.
I wanted the tree farm’s loyal employees to stay in place and see their careers advance. Someone would need similar growing knowledge, creativity and passion for the game. Glenn was that man. After meeting the Harrell family and getting a feel for their commitment for each other and support for one another, my wife Jane and I knew it would work and be successful.
Three months later the deal was done.
Now, one year later, sales and production have surpassed our most optimistic goals.
Creativity is everywhere. Congratulations to Glenn, Kendra, family and employees for being focused on their goals and committed to ‘the game’.
Stand back folks, this one is out of the ball park!”
Only a short year ago in the fall of 2014, Glenn and his wife Kendra purchased Butler Tree Farm. Kendra recognizes divine intervention during this season of their lives that led her family to acquire the farm.
She has taken on administrative responsibilities at the farm and established many new working relationships with their valued customers.
For the Harrells, this blessing was an opportunity to continue Joel and Jane’s decades long legacy of quality and integrity at Butler Tree Farm. Glenn gives full credit for the tree farm’s success to its valued employees who have been the backbone of the farm’s operation. Marcos Hernandez, their foreman, has worked on the farm for 19 years and retained his original 8-man crew (who continue to run the farm).
The Harrells correspondingly integrated use of the Florida Cool Ring Company and credit the quality and consistency of the tree production at Butler to the benefits of the sole use of these containers for growth. The Harrells ultimate goal is to maintain the foundation, reputation, and traditions that Joel Butler built the farm on. They appreciate Joel and Jane as both mentors and friends, readily available with wisdom and guidance when needed.
Most recently in a proactive move to provide their expanding base of customers and vendors with the best possible service experience, the Harrells placed faith in their continued growth by officially asking Ericca Garrison to join the Butler Tree Farm family as their Marketing Director.
Ericca has a proven history in business marketing & development and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design and User Experience from the Savannah College of Art & Design.
They felt blessed that Ericca would make the long-term commitment to join their family as she left a career as a college professor to dedicate her talents to helping the Harrells expand their vision for the farm in a new and exciting way.
Ericca immediately fell in love with the business’ caring culture. She ruminated on how she found both fulfillment and belonging within the family-centered company, confirming her belief that this is where she is meant to dedicate her career. Her innovative customer-centric approach, marketing efforts and bubbly personality have quickly endeared her as an asset to the farm.
Over the coming year, Ericca will be reinventing their web presence to meet the needs of a mobilized marketplace and producing timely marketing materials to support their customers’ successful growth. Their new motto “Take Root with Us” is an homage to their patented container growing system.
Butler Tree Farm was recently chosen to host the International Plant Propagators Society during their 2015 International Tour. The IPPS defines itself as “a global network of plant production professionals, including those involved in horticultural research and education.”
Glenn contends that it was an honor for Joel and himself to share with the 200 attendees their farm growing system that utilizes the Cool RingTM and its single-piece counterpart, SweetRoots containers.
To the Harrell family, business is built one relationship at a time. They are committed to providing their customers with all the information required to make well-informed decisions for their horticultural needs.
They emphasize their faith as the guiding point in their lives and business and continue to move into the future with a feeling of blessing to have a farm that they enjoy beyond mere business, but more importantly as a way of life.