Bushel Boy Farms becomes the first company in Minnesota to produce cucumbers year-round – Agweek
OWATONNA, Minnesota — A Minnesota company that has spent more than three decades working to bring year-round fresh tomatoes to the region has branched out into producing cucumbers.
Bushel Boy Farms was started in 1990 by Owatonna entrepreneur Jay Johnson, who saw the need to produce quality garden tomatoes year-round in a climate like Minnesota.
“He saw a need there and just started building the business, one little greenhouse at a time,” said Chuck Tryon, president of Bushel Boy Farms.
In 2018, Bushel Boy Farms was acquired by another Minnesota company, Shakopee-based Rahr Corporation. Following the acquisition, the company gained the support needed to expand the variety of tomatoes it grows while looking beyond tomatoes.
The latest Bushel Boy Farms product to hit shelves is cucumbers, making the company the first in Minnesota to produce the crop year-round.
“Bushel Boy has been producing for 32 years now, and for those first 30 years, it was just tomatoes,” Tryon said.
Over the past two years, the company has added strawberries to this mix – and over the past month, cucumbers.
Tryon – who was named company president in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – said the strawberries were on trial when he arrived in the company’s brand new greenhouse.
“We really made a conscious effort to look at innovation and determine what product categories we could continue to add to our greenhouse infrastructure and provide to our customers,” Tryon said.
The reasoning that sped up the planning for growing cucumbers was two-fold, Tryon said. First, he said cucumbers could grow in the exact same infrastructure as his tomatoes, so it was an easy crop for the company to introduce into their greenhouse system.
The other reason was a customer need, he said.
“We had a customer base asking what else we could bring them year-round that they currently have to import from Mexico or Canada,” he said.
Tryon said the company started harvesting cucumbers around the beginning of October.
“We’re still in the trial period, so the good news is there’s no failure so far, but there is learning,” Tryon said of the culture. Cucumbers. “That’s why we started small but big enough that we could be in stores in Minnesota and not only get the testing and learning on the production side, but also the learning of the business side.”
He said staff needed to be added to pack the cucumbers, but on the cultivation side, more staff were not needed.
“For the most part, we’re really using the staff that we had in place that would have worked on the tomato crop that was in that same greenhouse,” he said. “Now they only work on cucumbers.”
Bushel Boy Farms has approximately 32 greenhouse acres at its Owatonna location, which has approximately 120 employees.
“An all-glass, high-tech, year-round greenhouse that has been built over the company’s 30-year history,” said Tryon.
The company also added a 17-acre greenhouse in Mason City, Iowa, about two years ago, which employs about 50 people.
“So we have almost 50 total acres of greenhouse production that we own and operate year-round,” he said.
The Bushel Boy Farms facility is all about sustainability, Tryon said.
“Greenhouse technology allows us to deliver water to the plants as well as nutrients in the plants, but whatever the plants don’t absorb is captured, recycled, sanitized and returned directly to the system,” he said. -he declares. “We don’t have any crop nutrients that are moved around, and they’re all continuously reused in the system.”
In the company’s greenhouse space are boxes of bees, which pollinate the growing plants.
“We have bees all over the greenhouse and hives that we have placed there, and these bees are busy doing their pollination work throughout the day and then come back to the hive every night,” Tryon said.
Tryon said between locations in Minnesota and Iowa, the company picks nearly 60,000 pounds of tomatoes each day.
He said he wasn’t sure how many strawberries were picked and said the company was still in the “small-scale production” phase of the harvest, with only two greenhouse acres dedicated to strawberries.
For cucumbers, which Tryon says “grow fast,” the company expects to produce nearly a million pounds by the end of this year.
Bushel Boy Farms cucumbers are available throughout Minnesota at stores including Cub Foods, Kowalski’s Market, Coborn’s Grocery Stores, Lunds & Byerlys, Hy-Vee and Jerry’s Foods, Tryon said.
Tryon said there are plans to expand throughout the Midwest, but not beyond.
“We’re proud to be a local Midwest producer, so we don’t venture beyond the Midwest,” he said. “The advantage of being able to do this is that we can have our products that we choose today in a store tomorrow.”
Tryon said one of the things that makes Bushel Boy Farms products unique is that the crops don’t need to be picked until they’re ripe.
“Products that come from the West Coast, Mexico or Canada are picked before they fully ripen and before the flavor fully develops,” Tryon said. “Our business model allows us to harvest it when it’s exactly good and ready for a consumer to experience.”