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Cathy Dyson writes about King George County. You can email her at

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Fresh Tulips leases KG complex

Here’s a story from Business reporter Cathy Jett about Fresh Tulips USA, which will set up operations in the greenhouse complex near the Birchwood power plant:



Tulips from a regional grower will begin showing up in more stores than ever just after Christmas.

Fresh Tulips USA LLC, currently located in Stevensburg, has signed a 10-year lease on the vacant 45-acre greenhouse complex off State Route 3 near the Birchwood power plant and King George County landfill.

The company will begin operations there in November, and will continue to operate at Stevensburg until the lease for that 8-acre location expires in 2016. The company will then be consolidated in King George.

“I think eventually we would like to buy [the King George complex],” said operations manager Coen Haakman.

Fresh Tulips USA was interested in the property because it needs to expand, he said. The new location will allow it to build a larger cooler for more types of bulbs, including lilies and daffodils; grow plants hydroponically year round; and, in about five years, produce about twice as many tulips as it does now in Stevensburg.

Currently, Fresh Tulips USA ships about 6 million bouquets a year to distributors in a rectangular area stretching from Boston to Miami and Dallas to Chicago. Clients include such grocery stores as Giant Food, Whole Foods and Kroger. Workers also box and ship special-order bouquets for online retailer

Haakman said that the new facility will need a staff of 60 to plant, harvest and ship the flowers, as well as do quality control. Hiring will begin in November.

Fresh Tulips is a division of B&B Quality Bulbs in the Netherlands, which specializes in breeding and selling tulips worldwide. It got into the cut-tulip business several years ago after realizing it had overlooked that part of the market, he said.

The company researched the demand for cut tulips and found that it was growing 6 to 10 percent a year in the United States. Demand also was high in several other countries, including Chile, South Africa and Montenegro, which was formerly part of Yugoslavia.

B&B picked Stevensburg for its American operation because it’s located at the midpoint of its distribution area on the East Coast. The King George site, which is off State Route 3 and close to Interstate 95, is “basically in the same area,” Haakman said.

The greenhouse complex there was formerly used by Colorado-based Sun Valley Farms to grow more than 10 million pounds of tomatoes a year. A mile-long pipe from Birchwood’s coal-fired power plant brought steam into the complex’s boiler room, where it was condensed to 200-degree water and circulated by pipe along floors and ceilings to heat the greenhouses, according to a 2000 article in The Free Lance–Star.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulations that had required Birchwood to provide steam to a “thermal host” for productive use were dropped in early 2007. Sun Valley ceased operations there in August of that year.

Marcel Vyverberg, owner and CEO of Horti-Group USA, LLC, and business partners bought the greenhouse complex in 2011 from an affiliate of GE Energy Financial Services that owns the Birchwood plant, which produces electricity for Dominion Virginia Power.

Vyverberg is the former owner and president of Prins USA, which designs, engineers, constructs and manages greenhouses. He was involved in the construction of the Birchwood greenhouse in the mid-1990s, and planned to refurbish the complex and lease the space to professional growers.

Fresh Tulips USA will initially use propone to power its new facility, but could switch to solar, natural gas or thermal heat.

“We’re looking for all kinds of sources to heat the place,” Haakman said.