“You know what you grow, and if you think you know everything, you’re wrong,” are wise words coming from Joe Dula, whose expertise has been a vital part of Moana Nursery’s Canby, Oregon farming operations for the last 40 years.
Joe Dula is our General Manager of Wholesale Nursery Operations and first joined the company back in 1983 when he was finishing up high school. He got into farming through his parents, namely his dad who served in the Air Force. When his dad retired, he moved the family to Canby, Oregon where his friends were farmers growing Christmas Trees. They started a business together growing tree seedlings, and as business started to grow, Joe’s dad split off to make his own business called Dula’s Nursery. “I was 6,” Joe says after taking a moment to think about how old he must’ve been when he planted his first tree. “They used to set me in the tractor, set the tractor straight, I couldn’t touch the floor or the pedals, and they’d say ‘Just hold it til the other end [of the planting row]’.” As a kid, Joe enjoyed having the farm and its tasks as his playground, and as a teenager Joe stuck with farming as he started to earn money from it. “I had more money in my pockets when I was 15 than I do now,” he laughs.
The family business started to go under as Joe was about to graduate high school. While he didn’t intend to be a nurseryman for his adult life, he did love the work, so when one of Dula’s Nursery’s customers, Moana Nursery, offered him a job at their brand new Canby farm, he took the opportunity. He’s been an integral part of our farming operations and company as a whole ever since, ensuring crop after crop of trees, shrubs, vines, roses, grasses, and perennials are grown, packaged, and shipped to our retail locations with care.
When asked about a typical day on the job, Joe couldn’t narrow his tasks down to a single day. “Our whole existence up here is always looking ahead.” His daily work is to think about the next day, the next week, and the next season all at once. Joe doesn’t mind it though, as he says that his favorite part of the job is the variety. “There’s always something, there’s always a project.” His other favorite things are the success of the container yard, which has allowed larger trees to be easier to sell and transport thus making them more accessible for a wider range of customers, and growing his favorite plants: Burgundy Belle Maples and Giant Sequoias. “I like the Burgundy Belle Maple. It’s got a red wine fall color to it. It’s sort of a medium growth, doesn’t get out of hand, it doesn’t outgrow its space really rapidly. It’s just been a good tree to grow. … [The Giant Sequoia] is kind of fun to produce because it grows so fast, it’s so big, it’s a nice looking plant.” He also loves the days with good weather. “It’s really nice when it’s nice out. Being outside, having the space to wander around, do what you want.” His least favorite thing about the job? “It’s really miserable when it’s not nice out. The cold, the wet, the mud.”
Looking back on his time with Moana Nursery, what sticks out to Joe is: “Just how fast the time goes by. And then we think about it now, as we nursery guys talk about plants and crops, we started joking about like spruce trees, they grow slow, everybody likes them, but as we get older a couple of us old guys are like, ‘Hey, we won’t even live to see that crop be harvested. You don’t even have another crop in ya!'” Joe chuckles when asked about his future plans. “I hope to not see 50 [years at the company].” He’s looking to retire in the next 5 years, but admits he’ll be sticking around long after that. “I don’t think I can be someone who will be able to retire, take off, and just go golfing. That’s not for me. I’d be happy to plant the trees or drive the tractor or grow the pumpkins or do whatever and still be active.” We’ll take as many crops as you still have to give us, Joe! Thank you for 40 years!