Fowler Nurseries turns 100

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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When Fowler Nurseries first started selling pear trees, the going price was 12 cents a tree. That’s because the nursery, located on the Newcastle/Lincoln border, first started selling fruit trees in 1912. The company has a Newcastle address because their mailbox is on the Newcastle side of Fowler Road, explained Denise Moore, the great-granddaughter of the nursery’s founder. Celebrating its 100th year of being in business, Fowler Nurseries was founded by Eugene “Gene” Fowler, according to Moore. Four generations of the Fowler family have worked at the nursery, which sells fruit and nut trees to both commercial growers and backyard growers, according to Moore. Moore, a fourth-generation Fowler, works in the nursery’s container division. “We were never forced. My parents were always like, ‘Make your own decisions,’” Moore said. “It’s hard. You get the dirt under your fingernails and you can’t get it out.” Fowler started growing fruit trees after California’s Gold Rush, Moore said. “During the Gold Rush, all of the ‘49ers came into this area, including our property, and panned for gold,” Moore said. “What happened was the ‘49ers children needed something to do so they started planting the Newcastle hills with fruit trees and mandarins.” At that time, Newcastle was the fruit capital of the world, Moore said, with the railroad built through town “to ship fruit back East.” Prior to starting Fowler Nurseries, Fowler managed a fruit shed that was owned by a local judge. “Judge Silva noticed this big swing in fruit,” Moore said. “My grandfather, managing the fruit shed, was asked to grow pear trees.” That first year, Fowler grew 20,000 pear liners, or root stock, in Newcastle for Judge Silva to sell, according to Moore. “The next year, Judge Silva asked him to grow 150,000 trees total between pears and peaches,” Moore said. Fowler worked at the nursery from 1912 until he died in 1974, Moore said. The nursery now grows “about one million” trees a year, according to Moore, and sells peach, pear, cherry, apricot, plum, nectarine and almond trees. Fowler Nurseries is now co-owned by Dick and Terry Fowler, husband and wife Everett Johnson and Nancy Fowler-Johnson, and Fowler-Johnson’s parents Robert and Sue-Dee Fowler. Some tree-growing practices have remained the same while others have changed, according to Fowler-Johnson. “We went from using horses dragging a u-shaped blade to using a tractor (for harvest),” Fowler-Johnson said. “Our irrigation practices have changed dramatically. The irrigation practice used to be a furrow, a little ditch along the row of trees that the water travelled down.” The trees are now watered using PVC pipe and sprinklers, Fowler-Johnson said. Fowler-Johnson said “it’s been a goal of mine for 30 to 35 years” to have the business make it to 100 years. “There was once upon a time a fellow nurseryman who was teasing me and they said it’s the third generation that loses the business. It puts a lot of pressure on a person, since I’m third generation,” Fowler-Johnson said. “They were spurring me on to make sure I kept my hands in the pie and kept active. You cannot get complacent to make a business last this long.” Innovation, vision, “wonderful staff and great customers” are reasons listed by Fowler-Johnson for Fowler Nurseries making the 100-year mark. “For us, we always have to be forward-thinking and visionary, as far as new product lines. It’s pretty cool to be family-owned and by the same family for 100 years,” Fowler Johnson said. “It’s being innovative, it’s being driven by quality and service and never forgetting that it is our employees that keep us here and keep us in business.” John Ireland has worked for Fowler Nurseries, starting in 1975 as a ranch manager and then retiring as a research and product development manager in 2010. He now works part time for the company. “I enjoy the work and I was always treated very well by them,” Ireland said. “They have always offered me challenges and things were always constantly new.” Ireland said he “admires” the Fowler family for “staying in business this long.” “It really speaks to their business ability and also to their ability to be training the next generation to be successful,” Ireland said. “I think it’s because they don’t sit still. They are always changing and always focusing on what the customer needs and they recognize that those needs change.”