Four Season Production in a Northern Climate Greenhouse

Final Report for FNC01-347

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2001: $3,896.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information



We have owned, operated, and gardened organically at Wildrose Farm since 1975. Ten of the 21 acres we own are registered as a Minnesota Tree Farm. The forest is a mature stand of pines and hardwoods, and we practice a sustained yield harvest for lumber, never clear-cutting, but harvesting select trees and planting seedlings yearly. The open acres of the farm include horse and goat pastures, the farmstead, sewing studio, and organic vegetable and herb gardens. Our herd of dairy goats, kept for 25 years has now been sold. We currently keep the horses, heritage turkeys of three different breeds, and a flock of laying hens. We have areas of permaculture, fruit trees and bushes, and perennial herbs. The rural area around us is rapidly turning into neighborhoods of houses with and acre or so of land each, and the deer population has increased while their habitat has disappeared. Our farm is home to these herds and our gardening practices have altered to plant close to the buildings as we prepare to garden more underglass and manage this problem.

Our primary source of income continues to come from the manufacture of organic cotton clothing, started in 1996. Most of the organic cottons we use are grown in the Southern US, and are milled in North Carolina.

The greenhouse we built in 1975 was used for season extension and spring seedlings. It now is remodeled into living space, and with this experience we move onto the larger, more versatile greenhouse.



The objective of this project is to grow organic fresh vegetables and herbs for Northern states year round in a greenhouse, serving as an example for future greenhouses. Locally grown, vine ripened produce is non-existent during the winter in Northern climates, but essential to health. Greenhouses have not been economically feasible in cold temperatures because of the high cost of heat. Our proposal is to run a greenhouse built to use heat efficiently, and grow produce year around for the local population. Sales of herbs on the open market can be unpredictable, so our production will be geared for local fresh sales, and value added processing of tea bags sold retail under our own label. Production records for herbs are needed for a data base, to be made available for farmers interested in diversity and sustainable agriculture alternatives. Keeping records on amounts of seed planted, growing space, days to harvest, and harvest weights and values to be used for a data base.

This project has expanded and improved in scope and quality with the additional time that has passed. The boiler system originally in use by the house and sewing studio has been evaluated in light of improved models. We worked with an engineering company on biomass burning furnaces, and although they are currently working on their prototype #3, it is not up to expectations yet. Our alternative is an improved model from the manufacturer of our original boiler, as they have made improvements on heat efficiency and lowered emission outputs.

We have added 5 solar collection units that heat water and a heat storage system of water tanks. This storage system allows for different climate zones within the greenhouse for plants, along with a savings of less bio-fuel needed.

Purchase of an electric car has added an interesting facet to the overall project, as we will be able to charge it with solar energy, and deliver produce to the local area with almost no dependence on fossil fuels. The car, an Endura, is a hand built proto-type from the 70’s that was never put into production, and is possibly the only one in existence of its kind. It came missing parts and batteries and with outdated electronics, so we are enlisting the help of an electrician and a solar expert in restoring the car.

The proposed tea bagging operation is expanding into a processing plant adjoining the greenhouse built over a root cellar storage area. A stainless steel kitchen will be certified to process the organic produce.

Although the project has been delayed by personal health problems, the financial obstacles of additional funding through other grant applications drying up and an agriculture loan application that was turned down, we fell excited and encourages about the broader scope of the continuing project. We are appreciative of your continued faith in our project as the results are a valuable combination of sustainable production, processing, and distribution with almost no dependence on the fossil fuels in a future of rising prices and decreasing supplies.


Charles Knierim is our primary in design and construction. He operated the tractor for leveling and excavation of the site, and is the general contractor for the building.
Karen Knierim is handling reporting and bookwork, but is on hand as needed to round out a crew. She still works full time at the organic clothing business.
Gary Mosberger has labored as general handyman and cement expert in the greenhouse foundation.

Jason Eldens of RREAL, (Rural Renewable Electrical Alternatives) has located and refurbished the solar collectors, and is working on the electric car.
Joel Lindstrom, a master electrician, is also working on the electric car.
Jim Chamberlain, of the Soil and Water Conservation District is an advisor on the project.
Jonathon Wallin, construction and general farmhand and is the newest addition to our crew.
Brad Irwin is our advisor in the Farm Business Management program at Central Lakes College.
Jack Johnson, of AURI Technical Assistance, is advising us on herbs and tea bagging.
Mike Demchik, Extension Educator, did a walk through of the farm and advised us on mush room production.
Renne Soberg, SARE Recipient, and greenhouse operator.


What we are learning from the endeavor is the importance of the stable economics in sustainable agriculture as the cost of petroleum based agriculture products escalates. Local production including season extension and year round production will become even more competitive in the future. This, of course, will depend on sustainable agriculture practices utilizing renewable resources.


We have conducted dozens of tours for individuals and groups. Some are impromptu as the interested parties show up and others are for times reserved by phone in advance. The electric car and solar collections system are additional highlights for our visitors.


The North Central Region SARE Program is to be commended for its wonderful program. The focus on the small producer and family farm contributing valuable information and research is inspirational. In an era where the major funding and research is directed toward corporate and large agribusiness concern, and chemical agriculture, the SARE Program has the foresight to direct it’s energies to sustainable practices and the environmental health of the land and people.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.