Thursday, October 10, 2019

Training opportunity - Passive solar greenhouse operator

M R Gardens in the Oakley community of Asheville is now accepting applications for Emergence, our program for professional gardeners. For 2019-2021, we are offering a Greenhouse Operator track, in which we train participants in all they need to know to operate a commercial passive solar greenhouse, including marketing and basic landscape design. Participants have the opportunity to make income depending on how much time they can devote to the operation.

We are only reviewing applicants who are certain they want to reside in the Asheville area for the long-term. Our plan is to transition at least one of the students to a contractor position in one or two years (depending on previous experience). They would be in charge of operating M R Gardens' small-scale greenhouses on a seasonal or part-time basis, and work with landscape design clients in the summer when the greenhouses need less attention.

If it’s your dream to own your own farm, please let us know during the application process and we might be able to tailor the program for you.

M R Gardens’ one-of-a-kind 800 square foot greenhouse requires practically no heat other than solar gain to maintain its warmth in the cool season. Manual vents keep it from over-heating on sunny days. We also have an 800 square foot unheated hoophouse to overwinter perennials. We aim to be as sustainable as possible in every aspect of the nursery operation. Our evolving farm business has many aspects, so you might eventually work alongside other professional gardeners, students, entrepreneurs and vacationers.

Participants are involved with all aspects of the business, including plant propagation, sanitation, temperature control and other management duties for this unique passive solar greenhouse. They also take part in marketing and sales, which includes developing their own landscape design clients, most likely small backyard gardeners. Participants should be willing to perform administrative tasks such as ordering supplies, updating plant inventory, and keeping records.

Your trainer is primarily Megan Riley, owner of M R Gardens. She has grown plants for sale since 2011, as well as provided garden coaching, edible landscaping and other educational opportunities on and off-site since 2012. The nursery started out very modest—under grow lights in her basement—and is now thousands of plants in two greenhouses, which she has mostly cared for herself.

The most important characteristics for you to have success in this program are:
--Acute attention to detail, yet you also know which details to prioritize in the aim of efficiency in the busy season;
--Excited about sanitation and cleanliness, but you remain calm and productive when things get disorganized temporarily;
--Have enough familiarity with plants to know you have a green thumb, and also enough experience to realize that you learn for a lifetime in this line of work;
--Revel in monotony and routine, yet you also appreciate getting out of your comfort zone;
--Enjoy people from all walks of life, and are comfortable in various sales scenarios, whether that be on-site sales, off-site markets, landscape design clients, online stores, and retail, which entails developing relationships with stores. Our primary plant customers are landscape design clients, but participation in other outlets boosts all aspects of our business;
--Comfortable with Microsoft Office, particularly Excel (for record keeping and making plant lists); online software such as,, Blogspot and; and Adobe products (In-Design is a plus);
--Generally self-motivated, with the understanding that we give you the tools you need to succeed;
--A good memory! Plant names become easy to remember because you write them numerous times on tags and plant lists. It's more useful to have the capacity to remember tasks to be done, the things we agreed upon, and the lessons learned each session. We encourage note-taking, tape recording and dedication to memorization;
--An interest in native plants, the bulk of our selection at this time. We also currently grow groundcovers, herbs and vegetable starts, and are open-minded about other ideas if you are drawn to any particular species.
--Eager to be a part of a sustainable business, and also appreciate that there are steps involved in achieving the ideal. Maintaining motivation is more helpful in achieving sustainability than feeling frustrated.

If you don’t fit all of these qualifications but are enthusiastic to learn, go ahead and apply—we are understanding you will grow into this position, and it’s okay if we need to bring on more than one person to fulfill the diverse duties of the greenhouse. Entrepreneurs in the field of sustainability and plant propagation benefit if they are humble, have patience and can recognize points of growth before speeding ahead. 

It’s best if you have your own computer, printer and laminator, as well as access to above mentioned software. 

Participants will meet with Megan in person at the farm at least twice a month for 2.5 hour sessions, and she is also available via email and phone when not in session. We find time and days that are suitable to you. It’s recommended participants also reserve approximately two additional days each week—particularly in the busy season between March and early June—to work on assignments. The more time devoted to the program, the more potential for income. We can start as soon as you are accepted—aiming for late November.

Cost of the program is $500 per month. During your interview, we can discuss what income is possible for you in your first two years, as well as potentials for when you transition to a contractor role. Possible income largely depends on your experience and the amount of time you can devote to the program. Submit your resume at no fee, but if you are selected for an interview, the cost to apply is $50, which includes a tour of the greenhouse and farm.

In the long-term, it is possible to make a full-time income if you have adequate motivation, skill and ability to juggle tasks. At certain times of the year, you have a flexible schedule so that you can pursue other income-producing endeavors. It takes dedication, self-care, enthusiasm and groundedness to become successful at this work, yet the payoffs—particularly as you are growing as a person in your interaction with plants and other people—are way beyond income.

During the two-year program, students and program leaders check in with each other for at least 15 minutes each month to make sure that all parties feel like their expectations are being met. While we only accept applicants who are certain they can finish the full two-year program, we also understand life is unpredictable and unexpected events happen. As long as we continually dialogue about the possibility of the participant transitioning to a contractor role, there are no surprises after the two-year program is completed. No matter what happens, our goal is for you to have the tools to operate a passive solar greenhouse nursery, whether it’s at M R Gardens or elsewhere. We aim to be as ethical and fair as possible. Be ready to compassionately communicate your needs, as well as understand ours.

Please contact to apply. Voicemail (not text) is 828.333.4151. For more information about previous and future student programs at M R Gardens, see