It’s Jose Smith’s passion to “grow something essentially from nothing.”
“I just love the concept of producing something from nothing — from a seed, from a cutting,” said Smith, CEO of Costa Farms, a massive ornamental plant farm tucked away in the Redland. He runs the family business with his wife, Maria Costa-Smith, and her brother, Jose Costa III.
“Providing something that your consumers are really, really going to enjoy, I think is very neat,” Smith said. “For me, it’s more fulfilling sometimes than providing a service.”
On Jan. 28, the big-time South Florida farm was announced “grower of the year” by the the International Association of Horticultural Producers (IAHP). The local farm was among other nominees in China, the Netherlands, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Costa Farms wasn’t always as large as it is today. The company was founded in 1961 by Maria and Jose’s grandfather, Jose Costa Sr., who purchased 30 acres south of Miami to grow fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes in the winter and calamondin citrus in the summer.
Over time, that morphed into houseplants, and the Costa Farms family started innovating and introducing new houseplants into the market, such as the canela tree and Cecilia Aglaonema.
“The exciting part is that we play a part in coloring the world,” Costa-Smith said.
Now, the third generation family business grows more than 1,500 varieties of plants across farms that stretch from South Florida to South Carolina to the Dominican Republic. They manufacture anything from blooming tropicals, hibiscus plants and orchids. They even have a staff member who travels the world searching for unique plants to bring in.
The Miami location has 15 loading docks. The biggest loading port has 30 or more docks, Smith said.
“During our busiest time of the year we ship about 200 truckloads a day filled with tiny little plants,” he said.
Hurricane Andrew in 1992 made the business what it is today.
“Hurricane Andrew was the reset button on all of our lives,” Maria Costa-Smith said. “It was very difficult to lose everything that our family had worked very hard to build, but at the same time it allowed us to start fresh and to rebuild the company. It was a huge learning experience. It ranged from being scared for our lives to ‘Like how do we feed people?’”
Jose Costa III referred to the devastation as “a pruning that made the next generation significantly stronger.”
“It scared the hell out of us,” he said. “For me, it was a very a serious wake-up call that put me on a better track.”
The trio hit the ground running, doing the best from what survived the storm, and “building from there.”
“You had to move into action,” Costa-Smith said. “It was a fleeting moment and it just took off.”
Right after Andrew in 1993, the company had about $13 million in revenue. Today, CEO Jose Smith says the business has sky-rocketed.
“The business is about 30 times that right now, so right about $400 million,” he said, noting that some of the company’s biggest worldwide clients are Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ikea, grocery stores and wholesale clubs such as Costo and Sam’s Club.
Decades later, the Costa-Smith family says they are grateful to work around the ones closest to them.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Costa-Smith said, noting that she and her husband are middle-school sweethearts. “It’s a big responsibility, but it’s really exciting to be able to accomplish great things with the people you love.”
She added: “To me the Costa family is not just anybody with ‘Costa’ in their last name. The Costa family are the 4,000 team members that work together to build this company.”