The Van Devenders Retire after 40 Years
Danny and Peggy Van Devender recently announced their retirement from Jericho Farms and Landscape Design of Goldsboro. After serving in the North Carolina green industry for the last 40 years, they decided the time was right for new adventures.
“It was time to make a change,” said Peggy. “I love what I’ve done, and I enjoy the people—people are what this business is all about. But retiring gives us a chance to do things we want to do, before we’re too old.”
Danny Van Devender started Landscape Design of Goldsboro soon after graduating college. He quickly realized he could offer quality products by growing his own plant material, so he started a nursery in his backyard with several hundred plants. By 1987 the venture had outgrown that space, so Peggy joined the company and created its nursery division, Jericho Farms. Today the operation spans 350 acres of plant material and employs more than 40 people.
As a testament to their leadership, the Van Devenders have had employees who have been with them for 35 years. That kind of loyalty, Danny believes, has been due to the strong relationships the couple has forged with their team members.
“Early on in the business, I realized I could make a living doing this and that I could support other people,” said Danny. “For me, making sure that the people who work for us had a paycheck at the end of the day was extremely important.”
Weathering the Storms
Everyone in the green industry knows that no matter how hard you work to run a successful business; the weather is the one variable you can’t control—and Danny and Peggy have experienced their share of unfortunate weather conditions over the years. In 1996, they suffered moderate losses from flooding after Hurricane Fran, and in 1999, Hurricane Floyd caused even more damage.
North Carolina was hit the hardest when Floyd struck the East Coast, causing widespread flooding for several weeks, with nearly every river basin the eastern part of the state exceeding 500-year flood levels.
“That’s when we decided we had to move,” said Danny. “The storms were big, and there was so much development upstream, that we could no longer predict what was going to happen when we got rain.”
By 2001, they had moved their offices and container operation away from the floodplain to a location 10 miles away in Pikeville.
For decades, Danny and Peggy have been instrumental in the North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association’s annual event, Green & Growin’, because of their enthusiasm in managing exhibitor move-in and move-out at the Marketplace trade show.
“We’ve had a lot of fun watching everybody pull together,” said Danny. “It’s a team effort that makes it happen, and nobody gets paid to do anything. It’s phenomenal.”
Since Green & Growin’ is held in January, when inclement weather can strike, the event is sometimes referred to as the “green and snow show” by crew members.
“Every year, the gamble is not knowing what the weather’s going to do,” said Danny. “We’ve got pictures from past events with the snow up to our ankles. Eight inches, 10 inches, 12 inches of snow and ice, leading the snowplow around and trying to get the parking lot plowed out.”
The crew also has had its share of nonweather obstacles to overcome, having to contend with whatever other events are being held concurrently at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“We share the pathway to the arena,” said Danny. “So, every year we fight somebody, and it’s been everything from George Strait to the Eagles to some clown named Justin Bieber. Then last year, among everything else, we had to fight against 85 tractor-trailer loads of dinosaurs in the parking lot.”
In 2020, the touring arena show Jurassic World Live was set to appear at the Greensboro Coliseum the week after Green & Growin’.
While NCNLA staff, members and Green & Growin’ exhibitors will miss seeing Danny and Peggy each year, the couple says they will miss it, too.
“I even told Danny,” recalled Peggy. “’Do you think even if we’re not still working, they’ll let us come back in the parking lot and move people in?’”
Finding the Right Fit
You might say it was fate, but the Van Devenders believed it was a sign from God when Mark Metzler responded to a job opening six years ago. They had known Metzler as a youth from the Boy Scouts troop they led, and they were immediately impressed with his natural leadership skills.
“We knew right away that he was different,” said Danny. “He did a short internship for us at the nursery, and then he went off to NC State. Then, six and a half years ago, he answered an ad we had for an estimator. He and I talked, and we knew that he wasn’t just talking about an estimator position—we knew he was interested in buying the business.”
Danny and Peggy spent the last six years working through the details to ensure they would leave Mark with the knowledge he needed to run a successful business.
“Everything fell into place. I just believe God paved the path for this when we first met Mark years ago,” said Peggy. “It just seemed like the right timing.”
What the Future Holds
Danny and Peggy plan to stay involved with the business during retirement. Danny likes working on the farm equipment and making deliveries, and Peggy enjoys selling plants and keeping up with customers. They also plan to continue to mentor Mark and his wife, Lauren, who has stepped into Peggy’s role at the nursery.
“Mark and Lauren are a hundred percent into this,” said Danny. “It’s almost a mirror image of what Peggy and I did. It’s funny and rewarding to see how this is working out because they are mimicking a lot of the things we did.”
They both agree that the North Carolina green industry is special because of its close-knit community.
“There wasn’t anybody in the industry not willing to help me,” said Danny. “It’s a unique industry in that way. It’s been a real honor and a blessing to be involved in it.”