St. Lawrence Nurseries: Open House 2021 Edition
When Did You Start Your Business?
The first version of what is now known as “St. Lawrence Nurseries,” was started in 1923 (almost 100 years ago!) by Fred Ashworth, of Heuvelton, NY. Bill and Diana MacKentley of Potsdam took over the business and made it their own in the 1970s. The MacKentleys made the nursery much-loved in the North Country, and famous the world over for their cold-hardy fruit and nut trees. Connor took over from Bill and Di when they began transitioning into retirement in 2015.
What Made You Want To Get Into Producing Your Products?
Connor started working at St. Lawrence Nurseries when he was 14 years old. He fell in love with the nursery, and has never had another job in his entire adult life! Bill MacKentley truly took Connor under his wing, and Connor learned much of what he knows from the owner. While Connor was getting a degree in Forest Technology at Ranger School in Wanakena, Bill and Diana announced their plan to retire, and to phase out their business. Connor decided to take over the business himself, rather than let St. Lawrence Nurseries disappear.
What Are Your Growing / Manufacturing Practices?
We are non-certified organic.
What Does Local Mean To You?
While we send plants to 49 different states, Canada, Iceland, and Mongolia, St. Lawrence Nurseries is also heavily invested in the local area. Being a “local” business in Potsdam means connecting with our wonderful community members, and being a part of events and important changes here at home. While the Spring is the busiest time for us, it is also one of the times we get to connect with local people who come pick up their plants. People are so excited to plant trees, or to start an orchard, or even just have blueberries in their yard. We are so lucky to be able to connect people with the land, and it is even more special when that connection is happening right in our own area!
What Do You Enjoy The Most About What You Do?
The best part of being a tree farmer is being able to be OUTSIDE much of the time. Yes, there is quite a bit of paperwork involved, but for the most part, we can get our hands in the dirt, and see our hard work quite literally grow in front of our eyes.
What Are Some Of The Challenges You Face?
One of our biggest fears is- you guessed it- Climate Change. St. Lawrence Nurseries has a corner on the market of being one of the only businesses to supply cold-hardy fruit and nut trees. Our plants are specifically selected to withstand the crazy cold, -30 degree winters the North Country USED to get. With temperatures rising, our customers may no longer need these kind of products, and we may have to shift our focus to other varieties of plants.
How Does The Co-op Influence Your Business?
In the past, the nursery has often been a cooperating business partner with the Co-op, offering benefits or discounts to member-owners. The spring of 2021 was the first time we sold our plants directly at the Co-op, and we hope to be able to continue that into the future! Local folks who may have not heard of the nursery before may see our plants at the Co-op, and gives them an easy option of purchasing one right there, instead of filling out an order with us.
What Are Your Goals And Future Plans For Your Business?
St. Lawrence Nurseries is currently in a time of massive transition. Until this point, we have been operating on the MacKentley’s home farm, where they started the nursery decades ago. We have outgrown that space, and this summer, have purchased our own land on Route 56, close to Downtown Potsdam, as well as the SUNY Potsdam campus. We are hoping that the new property will help us to grow, and to be a more central part of the community.