Nupqu Native Plants Nursery Profile Gerald Puhach

Gerald is the Operations Manager of Nupqu’s Native Plant Nursery.He started four years ago when ”Nupqu had people with a lot of the native plant knowledge and experience but they needed some business expertise to ‘grow’ the operation.”

I had an opportunitye to talk to Gerald about his work and passion. An accountant by profession, Gerald was born and raised on a farm in Manitoba, where he helped grow vast gardens from a young age, so when the opportunity at Nupqu arose he “saw an opportunity to work at something I really enjoy in the next stage before I retire.”

Coming from a farming background, he had a lot to learn about native plants, “my staff have taught me so much, and I use lots of little tricks for planting, I call the seed room my ‘mad lab’ because I go in and try all new things; gardening is a big experiment, you just have to give it a try and play with it.”

Gerald’s accounting background has enabled Nupqu to undertake bigger projects and contracts, stay in budget, as well as hire and train staff to keep coming back each season.

“I’m really enjoying it, we’ve grown a lot over the last 4 years, we have contracts with large industry players such as Teck Coal, Fortis and TC Energy as well as smaller contracts with groups such as the Nature Conservatory and Columbia Basin Trust.”

It’s obvious that Gerald has found his passion for work as well as the team he works with at Nupqu. He tells me the greenhouse work is repetitive, so it can get tedious if you don’t really care about it, but he beams “Nupqu’s greenhouse staff is just amazing, they are so dedicated and passionate about what we do.” Walking into the greenhouses the warm smell of fresh earth and seedlings gives one the sense of stepping off a plane in an exotic escape. I met Theresa, Rosie and Marissa, and they’re as passionate as Gerald has described; when I asked if the work gets tedious, Marissa says “no, you get into a rhythm and it’s like meditation, I love it here.” Another way that Nupqu avoids tedium is promoting open communication and highly encouraging employees to bring ideas forward that make our operations more efficient and less labour intensive. Even small changes in process and procedures can have a large impact on both production and employee satisfaction.

Gerald explains there is nowhere in Canada teaching native plant knowledge, and it’s difficult to find experienced people, “so we offer training and development when we can, employee retention is very important to us and it saves us money in the end because we don’t have to continually recruit and retrain new employees.” As well, he tries to help find opportunities for seasonal staff in the off-season, whether in another division of Nupqu or sourcing opportunities with other local businesses, he continues “that’s what I love about Nupqu, you have to look after your employees, and in my tenure I want to enable more staff to stay year-to-year and have a career here.”

I asked if he has any tips for a newbie gardener to bring more native species to my own garden. There are certainly challenges he tells me, and wildflowers are a good example “you can’t find local seeds from big companies, because they rake a meadow with a combine and they have no way to separate the invasives from the native plants.” He encourages individuals to read up on each species before planting to make sure it’s not invasive here as he says “everything is local somewhere so you need locally sourced seed and plants to keep out invasives.”

I wondered if Nupqu has plans to sell wildflower seeds, and he says right now it’s just too time- intensive and therefore costly to harvest and sell on their own to the public, but he says “organizations are starting to get to know Nupqu as seed cleaning experts,” so there may be some opportunities to branch out in the future. The focus right now is on maximizing capacity using our existing footprint and grow our business as knowledge holders and distributers of native plants within the ʔamakʔis Ktunaxa.

Within the KEL group of companies, Nupqu is the leading First Nation owned resource and land management company in the ʔamakʔis Ktunaxa, and provides professional land and resource management services within the Ktunaxa Traditional Territory and beyond.