Rob's contribution to the world of horticulture includes helping produce varieties that in diverse climates have outstanding flavor, disease resistance, and garden performance. Under Rob's leadership, the Johnny's breeding team has introduced more than 50 varieties. Seven of these Johnny's-bred varieties have been honored with the prestigious All-America Selections award.
Johnny's first All-America Selections winner, 'Baby Bear' a pie pumpkin, was awarded in 1993. Other AAS winners followed, including 'Bright Lights' multicolored Swiss chard, 'Diva' cucumber, 'Sunshine' winter squash, 'Bon Bon' winter squash, and 'Carmen' sweet pepper. This year, Johnny's won its latest AAS award for 'Jasper,' a sweet cherry tomato with late blight resistance.
Angus Mellish, Vice President of AAS and Seed Manager of Veseys Seeds, praised Rob, noting, "I personally have always appreciated my conversations with Rob — as a breeder with unique insights into the characteristics of the varieties that he has developed, especially varieties for the short seasons here in the Northeast, and also as a seedsman and fellow vegetable enthusiast."
Mellish added, "His commitment to varieties with excellent consumer qualities, taste in particular, and long involvement with AAS, both as a breeder entering his work to be judged anonymously by a critical group of skilled judges and as a member of our board, demonstrate why he was chosen." Rob's history includes serving on the AAS Board of Directors from 2001 to 2010, the last four years as President and Past President.
All-America Selections is an independent, nonprofit organization that trials new varieties alongside two or three similar varieties currently on the market, then introduces only outstanding garden performers as AAS Winners. Johnny's Selected Seeds' Research Farm is an official trial ground for AAS.
About Johnny's Selected Seeds
Established in 1973, Johnny's Selected Seeds is a 100% employee-owned company and purveyor of high quality seeds and tools. Johnny's is committed to a grower's success and provides superior products, information, and service. Johnny's products are 100% guaranteed.
This award is granted based on criteria that include pride in one's job, demonstration of exceptional customer service, local residency, and Chamber membership. Michelle not only meets but exceeds these qualifications. Gary Zemrak, Controller, at Johnny's Selected Seeds said in his nomination letter about LePage that her passion and influence on the company "would be hard to duplicate."
January 2013 marked Michelle's 32nd year as an employee of Johnny's Selected Seeds. During her early years, Michelle learned all aspects of the company, from planting and trialing new products to packing and shipping seeds. She spent several years working as the Contact Center Manager, where she used her skills and customer-centric approach to develop and implement Johnny's Contact Center Strategies, including the development of established protocols and procedures to achieve "best-in-class" service.
Her knowledge of Johnny's entire business and her passion for customer service led Michelle into her current position as the Customer Experience Manager. Her ability to work cross-functionally serves the company well in her role on Johnny's Selected Seeds' Board of Directors. As an advocate for the customer, she brings their voices to the table and provides customer-oriented feedback while discussing future company strategies.
Michelle's leadership and commitment to her job, community, and state reflect upon the chamber's mission to "endorse a better quality of life, and a more vibrant economy in mid-Maine." Congratulations to Michelle Lepage on her excellent service and accomplishment.
The Ultimate Efficiency Lettuce
Fairfield, Maine (April 2013) — Salanova is the newest innovation in lettuce for the salad mix market. Taking over 20 years for breeders to develop, Salanova's unique core structure allows fully mature, compact heads to be easily cut into individual uniform leaves. Because the heads are allowed to reach full size, they produce fully-developed flavor, texture, and color compared to baby leaf. For the first time, this line is available from Johnny's Selected Seeds to U.S. and Canada small, direct-market growers. Praised for its versatility, efficiency and yield, Salanova offers many benefits for the grower.
Salanova provides high yields at lower-cost. Field trials at Johnny's farm in Albion, Maine found that the number and weight of leaves that Salanova produced offers 42% more yield and revenue potential than traditional baby leaf. In addition, because fewer seeds are needed to plant the same area, Salanova can equate to 92% more pounds produced for each dollar spent. Wendy Reinemann, Director of Research and Product Development, at Johnny's Selected Seeds states, "Salanova is going to to give traditional baby leaf growers a higher value product in terms of flavor and cost." Salanova truly exceeds traditional baby leaf in efficiency, yield, and price.
Less labor is required for cultivation of Salanova than traditional varieties because it is grown as single heads. Salanova easily integrates into multiple farming practices including: field, hydroponic, and hoophouse production methods. While it can be transplanted or direct seeded into the field, Salanova has also proven to be compatible and effective in most hydroponic systems. Growers can also achieve year-round production by growing under protected cover.
Multiple marketing options are available for Salanova, which can be sold as full-size heads or salad mix. Heads can be sold individually in clam shells, in pairs, or customized boxes to meet customers' needs. Leaves of different varieties can be sold as salad mix in ready-to-go premixed bags or individually allowing customers to create their own mix. Growers can expand their customer base by approaching restaurants and chefs with Salanova's one-cut efficiency and extended shelf life. Lauren Giroux, Johnny's Vegetable Product Manager, is excited about the new product, "No matter what type of lettuce grower you are, Salanova fits your operation and market."
Salanova is available in two types: incised and cored. Incised types add great flavor and will increase the loft and weight of a salad mix. Cored types offer superior color, flavor, and uniform shape. Both types' leaves are removed from the core using a "one-cut" method; whether using a knife or the patented cutter tool. All types have lettuce mosaic virus and modern downy mildew resistance. Some individual varieties have Nasonovia resistance. Available now from Johnny's Selected Seeds in the Foundation Collection (Incised Types: Red and Green Lollos and Sweet Crisps), Premier Collection (Cored Types: Red and Green Butters and Oakleafs), and the convenient Home Garden Mix of Cored Types.
Today, Johnny's has grown from a fledgling business in a farmhouse attic to a national and international multichannel retailer that employs over 130 full-time and more than 50 seasonal employees. The company now regularly ships seed to commercial growers and home gardeners across the United States, and regularly supplies seed to over 50 countries around the world. The Albion farm remains the center for research and continues as a working farm, with more than 40 acres under cultivation.
Johnny's 40th anniversary offers employees and customers an opportunity to reflect on Johnny's cultural impact and influence on the agriculture industry. Lynn Byczynski, a professional market gardener and author notes, "Johnny's has been there since the beginning, offering vegetable varieties that no one else was selling and creating opportunities for local growers to produce something different and thereby carving a niche in the food business. By keeping in touch with its customers, Johnny's has picked up on food trends, developed them into products, and offered them to growers." Johnny's has proudly worked alongside customers to expand boundaries, and continues to be at the forefront of innovation.
In 2006 Johnny's launched an employee ownership program, with Rob Johnston and his wife, Janika Eckert, selling shares to an Employee Stock Ownership Trust. Today the employees own 100% of the company stock. Looking forward, the future for Johnny's is bright; and the company will continue, as it always has, to focus on providing customers with the best products, information, research, and service, for their success.