Navarra’s Farm Market and Greenhouses perseveres after difficult loss

Photos by Kristina Gabalski: Siblings Jenna, Amanda and Markus Mrzywka pose among and assortment of plants in one of their greenhouses at 3272 Eagle Harbor Rd.

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 4 May 2017 at 6:06 pm

Windstorm also took down greenhouses in March

File photo by Tom Rivers: The powerful winds on March 8 blew off the plastic on four of the buildings at Navarra’s in Gaines.

GAINES – March 2017 weather brought misery for residents across Orleans County, but for brother and sister Amanda and Markus Mrzywka of Navarra’s Farm Market and Greenhouses on Eagle Harbor Road in Gaines, the severe weather was just one part of a series of life-altering challenges which came just as the intense work of preparing for the upcoming growing season got underway.

First, there was the devastating wind storm of March 8, which resulted in the loss of four of their six greenhouses. The following week, the late-season snowstorm dumped two feet of snow.

Then, on March 21, Paul Navarra, the owner of Navarra’s, and Amanda and Markus’ uncle, died unexpectedly.

Still reeling from the weather-related challenges, the siblings – including sister Jenna, their mom Joan, aunts, uncles and cousins – moved forward by pulling together as a family and utilizing amazing resilience to get the business back on its feet.

Amazingly, despite all the unexpected setbacks, Navarra’s greenhouses are back up and functioning and full of lush, young plants destined for area gardens and municipalities. The business opened for the season April 28, just as it has for years.

“We are very afraid that customers will think we are not opening this season because of the loss of my uncle and with all the damage we went through,” Amanda said. “Many think we couldn’t possibly get our greenhouses fixed and ready in time for this season.”

One of the main greenhouses at Navarra’s bursting with plants and hanging baskets. Herbs in the foreground are just getting their start.

The family overcame the early March windstorm damage by moving quickly. Amanda and Markus said they were eating a mid-day meal March 8, when they realized how severe the winds had become and discovered the plastic which covers greenhouses was beginning to tear.

They knew the plastic would have to be completely removed immediately to prevent it from blowing into the nearby roadway. The seedlings and young plants already growing in the damaged greenhouses had to be transferred to ones that were still intact.

Amanda Mrzywka demonstrates how to use Navarra’s new needle seeder, which is run by an air compressor.  Acquiring the seeder was a dream of her late uncle Paul Navarra. It makes the process of starting seeds much easier and faster. Amanda said she can plant a 512 count tray in 1 minute, 40 seconds with the seeder. Eventually, Navarra’s would like to be able to offer custom seeding to area growers.

After the wild early March weather, the family worked swiftly to reconstruct the greenhouses which had been lost.

“We had a lot of crews come out to volunteer and help us replace plastic and wood,” Amanda said.

All the help from family and friends enabled Navarra’s to continue with the early spring work of seeding and starting new vegetable, flower and herb plants to sell for the coming growing season.

The family is also working to cope with the grief of the loss of Paul. Amanda and Markus say Paul had undergone hernia surgery in late February and was recovering, when he died unexpectedly at home on March 21.

The three Mrzywka siblings have been a part of the greenhouse business and farm their entire lives and were determined to keep it going. Amanda and Markus have become co-owners, and will carry on a family tradition which began decades ago. Their sister, Jenna, also helps out as does their mom, Joan Navarra-Mrzywka, aunts, uncles and cousins.

“We are a fourth generation farming family,” Markus said.

Paul Navarra was well known in the area for his attendance at the Rochester Public Market, where for about 30 years he sold vegetables, fruits and flowers grown on the farm and in the greenhouses.  Markus will now focus on maintaining that tradition and will be at the market at least four days each week through the growing season. He is also in charge of the farming operation.

Markus and Amanda pose behind Martha Washington geraniums under the familiar tent at Navarra’s on Eagle Harbor Road. Markus, who is taking charge of the farm side of the business, said he is hoping the weather will dry out soon so he can focus on planting vegetables and fruits.  The produce will be sold at the Rochester Public Market and at Navarra’s Market and Greenhouses.

Amanda says Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren presented the family with a certificate of recognition for Paul’s dedication to the Rochester Public Market. It will be framed and hung in a new seasonal building at Navarra’s Farm Market and Greenhouses.

The building will have a prominent spot at the market and be used as a protected spot for cash registers and displaying gardening items, vegetables and fruits. Customers will see the familiar tent again this year outside the greenhouses, but the seasonal building will add a new dimension to their shopping experience.

Lucy, Navarra’s popular greenhouse kitty, checks to see that the Gerbera plants are growing properly.  She welcomes treats and affection from customers.

Visiting Narvarra’s now, it’s hard to tell what the family has endured preparing for the 2017 season. The greenhouses are back up and functioning and the assortment of plants – most grown from seed on site – is astounding.

“It makes you stronger,” Joan Navarra-Mrzywka said regarding the unexpected obstacles the family and business has faced this spring. Paul Navarra was Joan’s brother and the two were especially close.

“We just take it one day at a time,” she said.

Navarra’s is open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.  The Farm Market and Greenhouses are located at 3272 Eagle Harbor Rd. just north of the canal.

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