The Hafner family has farmed in central New York since 1922, at first in produce and now in the nursery and greenhouse business.
The family’s longevity in farming stems from what farm owner Chuck Hafner describes as just doing the basics.
“We go by the philosophy that if you provide the right value — and value can be measured by more than price, like service and quality of the product — and you do your basics correctly as far as in-store experience, your business is going to be successful,” Hafner said. “We stick to the basics.”
Now employing 110 workers seasonally and 22 during the winter, the Syracuse-based operation began when George Hafner, Chuck’s father, immigrated to America with his brother Jake.
This first generation formed Hafner Brothers, a fruit and vegetable farm.
They sold produce at the Central New York Regional Market — which is still in business today — and their own farm stand, and wholesaled to local stores.
Through the years, the family began to increase the garden center part of its business. Tending Christmas trees proved much less intense than growing crops like sweet corn and strawberries.
“With Christmas trees, you have harvest and planting, and whether you prune Aug. 30 or July 30, it doesn’t matter,” Hafner said.
After the Pandemic Bump
Like any farming operation, Chuck Hafner’s has faced numerous challenges during the pandemic, but the company has also seen a few opportunities.
Since more families were staying at home with time on their hands, they turned to landscaping and gardening.
“The garden center industry had a banner year,” Hafner said. “It was up 15% and we didn’t open for Easter.”
Normally, Hafner’s opens by mid-March, so a bump in business despite losing the early spring sales is impressive.
“Vegetable gardening is in high demand,” Hafner added. “More people are growing their own vegetables. You have a large savings monetarily by growing your own. You know where they’re grown and how. It’s a great family activity with young kids. It cuts on packaging and transportation of the food, so it’s good for the environment.”
New gardeners benefit from customer service.
“It’s fun, as long as it’s successful, and that’s where we come in,” Hafner said. “We’re only successful when our customers are successful so they don’t get discouraged and quit.”
Hafner’s employs two certified arborists and eight certified nursery landscape professionals who help in sales and customer retention. Many customers are not sure what to select that will work with their property or soil type. Or they identify a plant they like but do not know how to care for it.
“At a box store, there’s no one there who can help,” Hafner said. “It’s about the service we can provide. It’s reflected through the caliber of our staff and the certifications they have.”
It’s a little too early to tell if last year’s gardening and landscaping boom will continue in 2021, but Hafner’s gut feeling is that this year will be a little stronger than a normal year, but not as strong as 2020.
In the 7.5 acres of greenhouses and 10 additional acres, Hafner’s grows about half of the plants sold in the garden center and 80% of the vegetables.
The business sells perennials, Proven Winners perennials and shrubs, roses, fruit trees, small fruit plants, vegetable plants, evergreens, trees and shrubs.
The garden center carries goods for lawn care, landscaping and soil. The greenhouse is in production 11 months of the year, from the first week of February through Christmas sales of poinsettias.
One of the area’s larger garden centers, the operation grows more than 20,000 hanging baskets, 60,000 Proven Winners, 55,000 vegetable plants, 60,000 designer annuals, 10,000 perennials, 20,000 fall mums and 14,000 poinsettias, and 200 acres of Christmas trees for fresh cut sales and for the nursery.