Bushel Boy Farms among companies extending growing season for tomatoes in Minnesota
Gardeners love the flavorful tomatoes they nurture for a few weeks each summer, but they’d be astonished at the growing season in Owatonna.
There, beneath 24 acres of glass just outside the southern Minnesota city, each plant produces fresh tomatoes for about 27 weeks in a row. It’s the home of Bushel Boy Farms, where year-round production yields 12 million pounds of vine-on and beefsteak tomatoes destined for major supermarkets in and around Minnesota.
“We can put a tomato on your plate right here in Minnesota year-round that you know is safe, wholesome and will taste like a garden tomato in January,” said Keith Kersten, Bushel Boy’s CEO.
The greenhouse farm is riding a wave of success as the popularity of locally grown produce has become a nationwide trend. A pioneer in extending the growing season in Minnesota, the private company does not release sales figures, but in 2015 it added a 4-acre greenhouse to its older system, and plans to build another 4 acres this summer.
Rick Steigerwald, vice president of fresh foods for Lunds & Byerlys, said his company started partnering with Bushel Boy in 1995, when year-round tomatoes grown in Minnesota were “pretty unheard of.”
“They were ahead of their time,” he said. “They’ve done a great job building a brand around locally grown, but also what really made them successful over the years is the quality and the taste.”
Steigerwald said it’s unusual in the produce industry to have a brand, which he credits to the vision of Bushel Boy’s former owner Jay Johnson.
“Where Jay was also way ahead of the curve was that he wanted to be close to market,” Steigerwald said. “Their trucks go right from the greenhouses direct to our stores, and you can’t get much fresher than that unless you grew it in the store.”
That’s easier said than done.