Aart and Cornelia van Wingerden emigrated from Holland to the United States with six dollars, a few possessions they could carry and the belief that there were better opportunities to be found in this country. With that philosophy, they worked together and successfully established greenhouse nurseries in six states and Holland, an innovative greenhouse design company, a corporation that develops and tests new growing methods and a nonprofit organization that is involved with agricultural projects in developing nations. Mr. Van Wingerden passed away in 1996 and his wife passed away ten years later. Today Van Wingerden International, Inc. is a privately owned greenhouse operation in Mills River, NC.
When the Van Wingerden family came to the United States with three children and expecting their fourth, Aart was able to find a job on a farm in New Jersey and use the skills he had developed while working on his parents’ farm in Holland. Twenty-four years and several successful greenhouse operations later, they were in search of an ideal location to establish a new business; that search took them to western North Carolina.
Mr. Van Wingerden said, “I asked a national seed company salesman where he would go to start a greenhouse nursery if he could go anywhere and start fresh Western North Carolina was his answer – for climate and for beauty.”
Two critical needs for a grower are a good water supply and adequate winter sunlight hours. Near Asheville, they found both. Mr. Van Wingerden said the conditions were perfect - “We saw this area and fell in love with it. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
The Van Wingerden family moved to North Carolina in 1973 and began developing an operation that now encompasses more than 37 acres of greenhouses. A key to the company’s growth has been its effectiveness in combining Dutch and American growing philosophies to provide a large selection of top-quality plants. In Holland, most growers specialize in one or two particular plants, and the products are sold to retailers through a nationwide auction system. Such centralized marketing in impractical for a country the size of the United States, where “one-stop shopping” is what wholesalers demand.