My background growing up has led me to this business. I was very poor growing up without a father as our mother struggled to raise three young sons. Our Dad was killed in a farm accident on his fifth wedding anniversary. Growing up on my Uncle’s dairy farm involved lots of hard work.
I attended UW Stevens Point for three years and studied Political Science, Psychology, and Public speaking. While attending UW Stevens Point I began dating Carol. I attended a three week internship in the Soviet Union and Poland in my third year. We were married soon after, and 28 days later I was in the Coast Guard boot camp.
I spent four years in the Coast Guard. Two years of this service involved teaching while attending night school in auto mechanics. My last two years I was in charge of an Engine Room on a ship. While teaching and taking night courses I also took a correspondence course in electronics. I built my own Volt Ohm meter and Oscilloscope.
Some of our greatest Joys and happiest moments occurred while in the Coast Guard. Our one and only daughter Jennifer was born. She is now married and lives with her family in the Seattle area. She even followed in her old man’s footsteps and worked full-time in a greenhouse for a number of years. We are blessed to have two beautiful granddaughters, and one handsome grandson. Carol and I miss the whole family so much as we only get to see them two or three times per year.
After the service I attended the UW Madison. The first three years I was enrolled in the Mechanical Engineering Department, while working in my Father-in-Law’s Tool and Die shop. I changed majors and received a degree in Horticulture. This degree, along with the six years I worked at The Wisconsin Cheeseman has really helped me to be able to grow this corporation. While working I attended night school in two programs. Journeyman Electrician and Journeyman Refrigeration and Air conditioning specialist. I completed two years of the three year program but had to drop out as the state changed the rules. We did not have a master journeyman working at the Cheeseman.
My wife and I have always been deeply involved with our faith. It was not until a Strawberry meeting in Stevens Point where I really found the Lord and things never have really been the same.
Our business began in the summer of 1977 when I was doing a summer internship helping grow strawberries and vegetables at the Berry Patch in Sauk City. I also sold cabbage at the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison and have been at the market every year since then.
In the summer of 1978 Carol and I started our pick-your-own vegetable business and planted our first three acres of strawberries on a 95 acre farm near Marshall. We became a regular at the farmers market in Madison. I built a 40 by 60 machine shed and a 12 foot by 12 foot walk-in cooler in 1979.
In December 1979 we helped Harvest Haven get off the ground and we moved to the west side of Madison, which is now Fitchburg. We planted raspberries, rhubarb, asparagus, and strawberries. The next summer my wife ran the Marshall farm and I ran the Harvest Haven operation along with helping in the farm market. I had lots of help from two other investors Lyle Hill (Vita Plus starter), and the Klars in the operation. In the fall I wanted to expand the strawberry acreage but the rest of the investors did not. I sold my stake and went back to Marshall the next spring.
Spring of 1980 we planted six more acres of Strawberries in Marshall and expanded the vegetables.
We continued to expand and in 1981 rented another 80 acre farm on the corner of Femrite and Von Dron in the city of Madison. Jack ( John) ( Father of our area state senator) and Joe Chvala were the owners.
We continued to expand until at our peak in 1983 we had 35 acres of pick-your-own vegetables, 5 acres of raspberries and 2 acres of asparagus, along with 23 acres of strawberries. We traveled all over the USA attending marketing and production conventions on fruits and vegetables. We even experimented with what they now call CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture). We did not get anyone to sign up though we ran a full page ad in the newspaper. In the fall of 1983 we had a major fire and I had to go back to work as we were underinsured and lost most of our equipment.
In the years that followed we closed down the vegetable and fruit operation as I worked full time from 1984 to spring of 1990 for The Wisconsin Cheeseman in Sun Prairie. I was responsible for the grounds and building maintenance. While I was there Carol and I continued to expand our interest in flowers and actually began growing them in Marshall in spring of 1987 in our first wooden greenhouse we built.
We were the first ones in the area with portable greenhouses. Ruth Robbins, Florence Thompson, along with Barb Raether were some of our first associates. We had lots of help planting in the spring from our relatives, along with our daughter Jennifer.
We purchased the farm in Cottage Grove Township in 1990 from Edward Eklof, who is still a very good friend. It came with an existing landscape company. We continued to do landscape installations for the next five years and continued to do landscape maintenance which includedThe Wisconsin Cheeseman for the next 10 years.
We continued to expand the greenhouses and in 1992 moved the last greenhouses from Marshall to Cottage Grove along with building a few more. In the spring of 1993 we moved into a new house/office on the property in Cottage Grove. We have continued to travel attending conventions and other learning retreats. We are always searching for that perfect flower.
In the fall of 1996 we began to build 35,000 square feet of ultra modern open roof greenhouses. We built another 14,000 square foot of hoop houses in fall of 1997 and another 10,000 square foot of hoop houses in fall of 1998. With our existing greenhouses we now had a total of about 83,000 square feet.
In 1999 we began to get serious about retail and have continued to refine and expand this.
In 2003 we paved the parking lot along with installing Retail Point of Sale system along with a customer Loyalty Card Program.
In the Fall of 2003 we visited England for almost three weeks to get a flavor of their gardens and history. I even learned how to drive on the left. We did not see all that we wanted to but perhaps we will go back. We saw a few new plants.
We continue to expand growing more perennials and now even shrubs.
Fall of 2007 and spring of 2008 again significant changes. Complete revamping of the retail area, forty more parking stalls, new perennial area, two new bathrooms, new office in the greenhouse and moved the production area in the greenhouse.
2010 again was a pivotal year for us. We began the move to where we had always wanted to go. Organically grown herbs and vegetable transplants. Compost tea.
2012 we leased another Garden Center with a Floral Shop in Edgerton, Wisconsin, located at 1101 North Main Street. Our intention is to purchase this facility at the end of three years. It has 10,000 square feet of greenhouses.
2013 was another year of change. After 26 years we stopped doing Portable Greenhouses at remote locations.
A typical year for us is: Ohio Florists show, Perennial Conference, trips out west to Denver and Seattle for flower trials, trips out east and Canada for flower trials, Garden Center Fall Group conference, and lots of other local meetings.