Tree farmer John Conroy brings knowledge, passion and excellence to the industry
John Conroy has been in this business for a very long time and has seen that education is critical in taking the industry to a higher level. This conviction is a function of the teacher within. Prior to entering the green industry he received a master’s degree in education and taught eighth graders for three years. Formal education and the desire to be an agent of change aside, a career indoors was not meant to be.
Before starting Fish Branch Tree Farm, Inc., with his wife Linda, Conroy owned two garden centers with landscaping, sod and irrigation divisions as well as a John Deere dealership.
“After 14 years of dealing with the public, I decided that those of you who have the strength and patience for that sort of thing deserve any and all rewards derived, and my blessings,” jests Conroy.
The Conroys founded their tree farm in 1988 on a property in Southwest Florida that has been in his family since the 1800s.
“We started with a modest 25 acres and expanded to today’s 325 acres whenever we had the resources to do so,” says Conroy.
Currently, their team of highly trained professionals grows a wide range of palms and trees for commercial, government and high-end residential clients throughout the Southeast and overseas.
Over the years, Conroy says he’s witnessed many changes in Florida’s green industry.
“Back in the Dark Ages of the 1970s, if you bought a large field-grown live oak that lived, it was a win,” he recalls. “Now, thanks to Florida’s Grades and Standards and a higher level of professionalism among growers, expectations are far greater.”
The Benefit of Associations
Conroy says there are many reasons for this, one being the essential cohesive work of associations. Fish Branch Tree Farm, Inc. belongs to Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA), the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association (ALNLA), the Gulf States Horticulture Expo (GSHE), and the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association (TNLA), among others.
“Workshops, seminars, trade shows and other educational venues—especially those which bring together professionals across disciplines within the green industry—are essential for personal, company and collective growth of the industry,” he says. “All have been vital in networking as well as sharing and gaining knowledge.”
For Conroy, it’s not just talk—he walks the walk. He has served on numerous statewide committees, including FDOT, FNGLA, Trees on the Go and others. He has also served as chairman of Florida’s Grades and Standards for Palms for the past eight years.
The Importance of Grades & Standards
According to Conroy, the adoption and implementation of grades and standards in Florida has favorably impacted the quality of plant material in general.
“The use of criteria which define standards for health and other desired characteristics also facilitates communication between players. For any of us who desire predicable outcomes, this is a good thing,” he says.
Conroy has presented to many professional organizations on a variety of topics and actively works with landscapers, arborists, landscape architects, maintenance and landscape contractors, legal experts, writers, professors and researchers for the betterment of the industry. In 2019, Conroy received FNGLA’s Educator of the Year for his efforts.
While great strides have been made, Conroy says more work needs to be done to continue to elevate the industry.
“In my career, I have seen—in some cases been a party to—many improper practices and transgressions against trees,” he recalls. “But the more we learn and the more we share, the better we’ll be. Two axioms apply: A rising tide lifts all boats and half of knowledge is knowing where to find it. Ergo, our mission here is to share the information, insights and perspectives offered by the many industry leaders which I’ve enjoyed the immense pleasure of befriending during my tenure in the green industry.”