Enduring challenges is nothing new for Cherokee County farmer Hank Richardson and wife Shelia. Over the last 45 years, their greenhouse operation, Dixie Green, survived a warehouse fire, blizzard, drought and loss of a farm partner.
The Richardsons’ resilience helped them earn the 2019 Alabama Farm of Distinction Award and qualified Hank to compete for the Swisher Sweets / Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award. The Expo is Oct. 15-17 in Moultrie, Georgia.
“Through the hardships and the good times, I’ve learned never to give up, to stay humble and to keep my eyes on the goal,” Richardson said. “While one crop is growing, we’re working on the next one. We can water, fertilize and spray our plants, but it takes God to help things grow. He is in control.”
Raised on a livestock and row crop farm, Richardson and his two brothers started the greenhouse business in 1974.
“We built a 28-by-96-foot greenhouse and started learning how to grow and sell plants, and we delivered them on a pickup truck with a camper shell on top,” he said. “We got a lot of support from our friends and neighbors in the community and just learned as we went along.”
In 1979, the brothers merged their startup with another greenhouse operation to form Dixie Green. Today, Richardson and sons John and Daniel run the operation with 35 local employees. Dixie Green includes 12 acres of heated greenhouse space and about 8 acres of outdoor growing pads. They annually produce about 250,000 each of poinsettias and mums; 325,000 caladiums; 40,000 calla lilies; 15,000 ferns; and 735,000 assorted spring plants.
“We sell our products directly to wholesale consumers and contract grow most of our production for Young’s Plant Farm in Auburn,” Richardson said.
Dixie Green’s most famous customer, however, is Mickey Mouse — or Walt Disney World to be exact. Each Christmas, the magical destination is festooned with about 80,000 Dixie Green poinsettias. Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville also showcases the Richardsons’ famous holiday flowers.
But perhaps the family’s favorite clients are nonprofit groups.
“We are proud of our sales to schools, churches, service organizations like FFA, and clubs for their various fundraisers,” Richardson said. “Sometimes it’s a high school football or baseball team using our locally grown flowers. They can pretty much double their money on things like spring ferns, variety baskets, fall mums and poinsettias — and we deliver what they sell.”
Alabama Farmers Federation Area 3 Organization Director Kyle Hayes nominated Richardson for the contest.
“I have known Hank since he started the greenhouse business many years ago and have watched how he has overcome an array of adversities and steadily grown the business through hard work and a refusal to take shortcuts,” Hayes said. “He is a man of devout faith, with an ever-present smile and a servant’s heart. I believe he is an awesome advocate for agriculture and a wonderful representative for Alabama.”
As Alabama’s Farm of Distinction, the Richardsons received a John Deere Gator from AgPro, SunSouth and TriGreen dealers; a $1,000 gift certificate from Alabama Farmers Cooperative; and an engraved farm sign from Alfa Insurance.
For representing Alabama in the regional contest, the family will receive $2,500 and an expenses-paid trip to the Sunbelt Ag Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Florida; a $500 gift certificate from Southern States Cooperative; and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply. Richardson is eligible for $15,000 and other prizes awarded to the overall winner.