Ushering Oregon’s land and people into the next generation
By Julie Pederson
Mark and Jolly Krautmann founded Heritage Seedlings just outside of Salem in 1981 with a simple mission – to lead the industry as a wholesale propagator of unusual plants. Their patience, persistence and vision for the future allowed them to realize the initial goal and Heritage Seedlings has continued to grow beyond their expectations.
“We started this business for our love of the plants,” says Mark. “We had no illusion it would become this size. But the size of the business has allowed us to work in other areas that are important to us.”
Since its inception, Heritage Seedlings has gone through “five year cycles of innovation,” according to Mark. A small plot of traditional outdoor beds has become a sophisticated 5 acre greenhouse system utilizing cutting edge growing techniques, and allowing the Krautmann’s to produce those unusual plants unusually well.
As equal partners in the business, the Krautmann’s have used their individual strengths to create a dynamic partnership. Over the years, Mark focused on the production side of the nursery while Jolly, a trained systems analyst, focused on the financial. Marketing the business is a collaborative effort.
Providing customers with honest information, good customer service and quality product has helped Heritage Seedlings become a leader in the industry and maintain long term business relationships. “There is a mark of genuineness to our marketing,” says Mark. “We are not driven by money. We are driven by making the product the very best it can be.”
Even with customers all over the world, the Krautmann’s have never run their business solely for economic gain. Their passion for plants and landscape has always guided their business decisions and it is this mentality that led Heritage Seedlings into its latest cycle of innovation.
Four years ago the Krautmann’s hired a botanist and went to work restoring the riparian and prairie habitat on three of their regional farms. This project began an ambitious conservation and environmental restoration program that currently encompasses over 200 acres of riparian woodland, oak woodland, oak savanna and upland prairie habitats.
In addition to their restoration program, the Krautmann’s work in collaboration with federal agencies, private industry and nonprofit organizations to propagate native seeds and plants, including a number of endangered species. “We are a good leader for this effort, but it is just a fraction of what can be done,” says Mark. “We are working hard to get other private industry involved as well.” And, since the great majority of land in the Willamette Valley is privately owned, the participation of other farmers is crucial to the expansion of habitat restoration efforts.
While the Krautmann’s are dedicated to the cultivation and reintroduction of native plants, they also realize the realities of the human-nature interface. Mark acknowledges that native plants must be used appropriately and are not always suited to constructed landscapes. “We cannot restore Oregon to what it was before we came here, but landscapers can use a mix of natives and ornamentals for an appropriate landscape,” said Mark.
As stewards of the land, the Krautmann’s realize that they must also be stewards for the next generation. They have shifted their focus to succession planning as they educate a new generation of nursery professionals. “We are focused on hiring the right people and cultivating their talents,” says Mark. “We encourage diversity of talents, but they also need to be a good fit with our company culture.”
While the experience of managing staff is both rewarding and frustrating, the Krautmann’s realize it is above all necessary for the future of their business and the assurance of long-term stewardship of Oregon’s native landscape.
The Krautmann’s hope their restoration efforts and experience in the nursery business will inspire a new generation. Heritage Seedlings frequently hosts elementary school groups with the intention of exposing young people to the industry and educating them about the importance of restoring native habitats.
After so many successful years in the industry, the Krautmann’s take a much deserved pride in the work they have done. “It is good to know that the world will be a little greener because of us and this business,” said Mark. The world will be a little greener, the land a little healthier and a new generation ready to continue the heritage of innovation and stewardship.