5 Tips For Adding The Produce Restaurants Want To Your Greenhouse Crop Mix

Tangletown Gardens

With 9,000 square feet of production – and another 6,000 square feet coming in 2013 – greenhouse produce is an increasingly important part of the business mix for Tangletown Gardens. Owners Dean Engelmann and Scott Endres have been growing vegetables and herbs for retail in their Minneapolis-based garden center for about 10 years, and more recently to help supply an 18-week Community Supported Agriculture program in spring and summer. Much of the produce now is used to supply their own restaurant, Wise Acre Eatery.

With his unique perspective as grower, retailer and restaurateur, we asked Engelmann for five tips to help greenhouse ornamental growers looking to add produce to their own crop mix.

1. Offer Your Customer A Diverse Mix.

“We’ll try anything,” Engelmann says. “We grow all the expected things like lettuce, spinach, arugula and radishes. We do microgreens in trays. Even in the dead of winter, the restaurant is clipping those microgreens right as they’re going into salads. We do a whole gamut of herbs through the winter because nothing beats fresh herbs.”

The crop mix includes some unexpected items as well.

“We grow leeks and Swiss chard. We do things like pea shoots and popcorn shoots, which our chef has fun with. We’re actually getting really good at growing carrots in pots, believe it or not. We also grow mache or ‘corn salad’ – not a lot is known about it here, but it’s a very common European green in the winter and it’s very popular with the restaurant,” he says.

Particularly in the wintertime, chefs are dying for anything other than the sale old same old, he says.

“I would suggest going to a chef or a restaurant that may have the sensibility to explore something like this and say, ‘Tell me three things you might like.’ And then grow a sample to show them what you can offer,” Engelmann says.

“You have to do it really well, but chefs and restaurateurs can find a way to justify paying a little more for these things if they’re fresh,” he says.

2. Understand How To Maintain Clean Crops.

Crop protection programs are clearly different for food crops than for flowers.

“As ornamental growers, if we have an aphid outbreak we’re used to being able to just go in and knock it down. That’s very different with produce, obviously. You have reentry intervals and other considerations about the kinds of things you’re spraying on produce you’re selling to a restaurant,” Engelmann says.

“Sanitation and cleanliness are super important so you don’t get insects in the first place. We use lots of insecticidal soaps and apply them repeatedly to keep everything clean. The nice thing is the crop time is usually so short, you don’t have to do much of anything if you’re growing smart,” he says.

3. Keep Delivery Management In Mind.

Restaurants look for frequent deliveries to ensure the freshest produce for their customers.

“We’d love to load up and deliver once a week, but to stay true to the freshness, we harvest more frequently and deliver more frequently. We don’t want to stockpile lettuce and see how long they can get it to last,” Engelmann says.

The mechanics of making those deliveries feasible for your business are an important consideration.  

“I think the challenge for a lot of growers will be having enough diversity and enough depth of product so they can justify the delivery economically. You have both capital and labor costs you need to manage,” he says. “And in the winter, you will need a delivery vehicle that’s more than just the back of a pickup truck or a cooler, especially in areas like Minnesota, where we are. You have to have heat so things won’t freeze if you are traveling very far to make a delivery.”

4. Taste Trumps Everything

Growers may be tempted to look for the crops and varieties that are easiest to grow or produce the highest yield. But that’s not the best route to take.

“At the end of the day, taste trumps everything,” Engelmann says. “When you’re choosing varieties, don’t just look for a hybrid that will pump out something that looks like a tomato. You really need to consider taste. That’s what will sell to a restaurant. What does that tomato taste like? What does that pepper taste like? You need to find carrots that have a sweet flavor, rather than a bitter one. It’s often trial and error to figure out what works best for you, but it’s an important consideration.”

5. Consider Cost Benefits

If you’re an ornamental grower looking into produce as a new crop, chances are you’re doing so to fill some gaps in your production and help cover your overhead. Engelmann says that has been a big benefit for Tangletown Gardens.

 “We monitor our costs and produce really isn’t all that expensive for us to grow. Our greenhouses are minimally heated – we let the sun do a lot of the work. If we weren’t doing vegetables in the winter, that greenhouse would be dormant,” he says. “If you’re thinking about some capital expansion and adding a greenhouse and you want to help spread those costs out, it’s a great way to help. You can maybe take a few years off your loan and get that mortgage down quicker.”

Another benefit is the people aspect.

“We also grow vegetables on 45 acres outside. By maintaining the greenhouse production through the winter, I can keep my manager on to manage that program all winter long. We’re not laying him off and hoping to get him back again for the summer,” Engelmann says. “From an HR standpoint, it’s a win-win.”

Leave a Reply

More From Vegetables...
Stephanie Whitehouse-Barlow, Peace Tree Farm

October 6, 2015

Generation Y’s Reluctance To Garden Linked To Fear Of Failure

The Rookie Gardener is easily spotted at a garden center by her nervous and unsure energy that’s as glaring as a scarlet letter, or by his exuberant, self-assured confidence that is only otherwise seen at a college fraternity party. They are our industry’s enigma, our Kryptonite, the treasure chest we cannot open. The Rookie Gardener’s reluctance to garden isn’t from our industry’s lack of targeted marketing or encouragement but from Millennials’ Fear of Failure (FOF). It is obvious that failure is a part of life, but we as a generation have been programmed to not expect or accept failure. Since early childhood, we were encouraged to always win, to do our absolute best at school every day, to beat the competition. “Focused on getting the grades or winning the game, these children have internalized the pressure, (which) paralyzes kids in their ability to take risks,” writes Holly Korbey in an […]

Read More
CropKing Fall Workshop Schedule 2015

October 6, 2015

CropKing’s Grower Workshops Offer Training On Growing In Controlled Environments

The next two workshops take place Oct. 9-10 in Oregon and Nov. 6-7 in South Carolina. Space is limited, so sign up quickly.

Read More

October 6, 2015

NASA Scientists To Discuss Indoor Agriculture Innovations That Could Be Used On Mars

The University of Arizona’s Controlled Environmental Agriculture Center (CEAC) will host Dr. Jacklyn Green, CEO and founder of Agate Biosciences, and Dr. Roger Kern, president and founder of Agate Biosciences: Science & Systems Engineering, on October 30, as part of its seminar series. Both Green and Kern are former NASA scientists and engineers, and they will discuss their continuing efforts to develop technology and seek innovations to address issues concerning urban indoor agriculture, with a potential for application on Mars. Through the creation of Agate Biosciences LLC, Kern and Green have turned their attention to earth-bound issues of food production, to provide advanced technologies for plant nutrition, biosecurity and the undertaking of scientifically based research in greenhouse design and controls systems, and in plant health under controlled environment agriculture. A recent NASA news release reports that the Mars Rover 2020 mission is planned to deliver an extensive array of instruments designed to explore the habitability […]

Read More
Latest Stories

September 18, 2015

Grimes Horticulture And Seeds By Design Form Partnershi…

The new alliance will allow the two companies to take advantage of each of their strengths in breeding and marketing of new vegetable varieties for greenhouse growers and farm marketers.

Read More

August 4, 2015

New 2015 California Spring Trial Edibles For The Patio …

If you are looking to capitalize on the foodie trend and spread your risk beyond Spring sales, new vegetables showcased at 2015 California Spring Trials offer plenty of opportunities to focus on unique, flavorful vegetables and edible plants that also hold ornamental value. Here are a few of new varieties Editor Laura Drotleff and Group Editor Carol Miller discovered at Spring Trials that will help diversify your crop mix.

Read More

April 20, 2015

Three Michigan State University On-Demand Webinars Offe…

The first rule of effective insect and disease control for vegetables is to take action to prevent problems before they occur. But in order to do that, you need to have an effective pest and disease management strategy in place that incorporates best practices to ensure a successful outcome. Michigan State University offers three pest and disease management on-demand webinars that will get you started and keep you on the right track.

Read More

April 16, 2015

American Takii’s Asian Vegetable Line Is Designed…

Unlike many of the other breeders displaying at Spring Trials, American Takii didn’t have many new introductions. But it did have a new program that has prompted many visitors to post to social media — its Asian vegetables. Takii, which is well known for its vegetable breeding, is in the process of vetting the eight to 12 vegetables it will include in the program, and it should have its list fully complete by fall 2015. It is selecting plants that will be easy to use in Asian cooking and will help it stand out from the many vegetable programs in the ornamental market. The Takii marketing team designed bright-red Chinese food takeout containers to act as plant sleeves and a small booklet with five recipes. Honey Chicken With Pak Choy looked especially tasty. Take a look at how the program looks and let us know what you think.       HilverdaKooij is a […]

Read More
Zucchini 'Brice' (Syngenta Vegetables)

April 14, 2015

18 New Vegetables For Easy Growing And Healthy Eating

Current breeding efforts have focused on vegetable varieties that cater to small space and urban gardening trends and offer consumers good performance with minimal efforts. As a result, new, easy care vegetable introductions packed with flavor and loaded with fruits have swept onto the market. Here are 18 of the newest vegetables already on the market or hitting the market in 2016.

Read More

April 13, 2015

Keeping Your Greenhouse Vegetables And Fruits Safe: Ove…

This is the first installment of a four-part series that will bring you up to speed on what it takes to fulfill food safety mandates for greenhouse production.

Read More

April 10, 2015

5 Selection Principles For Vegetables That Sell

You gain a competitive edge when you select vegetable varieties that are right for your greenhouse and right for your customers. Here are five pieces of advice from breeders to help you stay ahead of the game.

Read More

March 31, 2015

California Summer Vegetable Trials To Be Hosted By Nati…

Vegetable breeding companies will come together this August to host the Summer Vegetable Trials in California. Like the long-standing California Spring Trials that are held annually in California, attendees will have the opportunity to visit breeding companies' trial sites in seven locations throughout the state, from August 20-21, 2015. National Garden Bureau (NGB), the non-profit organization promoting gardening on behalf of the horticulture industry, is organizing and publicizing this event on behalf of its members.

Read More

November 24, 2014

Root Crops And Plug Trays: A Perfect Match

Growing a plant to maturity in plug trays might be foreign to ornamental growers, but with a little help from plug tray manufacturers and breeders, there is little to hold growers back in this root crop category.

Read More

November 14, 2014

First Vegetatively Propagated All-America Selections (A…

All-America Selections (AAS) honors two vegetatively propagated impatiens with AAS winner status.

Read More

October 8, 2014

Gotham Greens To Build Rooftop Farm In Chicago

Gotham Greens announced October 7 that it has partnered with Method Products, an eco-friendly cleaning product company - to build what they are calling the "world's largest rooftop farm" at Method's new manufacturing plant in the Pullman neighborhood, on Chicago's south side.

Read More

August 19, 2014

A Look Ahead At Food Safety For Commercial Greenhouse V…

If you grow food in your greenhouse that is sold for consumption, food safety regulations will affect you. Here is a recap of Debbie Hamrick’s (North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation) Cultivate'14 presentation on food safety for commercial greenhouse vegetable production.

Read More

July 22, 2014

Bright Farms Launches Crowdfunding Campaign To Build Ur…

Urban farming pioneer Bright Farms is attempting to crowdfund what it hopes will be the "world's most productive urban farm," in Washington, D.C.

Read More

July 18, 2014

Meeting The Demand For Edibles: Go Green Agriculture In…

Read about how Go Green Agriculture Inc. took its business from the classroom to commercial reality in one of four articles on how growers are appealing to the growing interest in edibles.

Read More

July 18, 2014

Meeting The Demand For Edibles: Peace Tree Farm

Interest and response to Peace Tree Farm’s annuals and foliage plants continues to increase, but herb and vegetable starter plants is where the company makes its money. Read about it in one of four articles on how growers are appealing to the growing interest in edibles.

Read More

July 18, 2014

Meeting The Demand For Edibles: High Meadows Farm

Grants brought opportunities for High Meadows Farm to start growing raspberries and tomatoes. Read about it in one of four articles on how growers are appealing to the growing interest in edibles.

Read More

July 18, 2014

Meeting The Demand For Edibles: Altman Plants

Read about Altman Plants' venture into greenhouse vegetable production in one of four articles on how growers are appealing to the growing interest in edibles.

Read More

July 15, 2014

Cultivate’14: Vegetable Production Tour Highlight…

Check out photos from Greenhouse Grower's visit to CropKing Inc.'s research greenhouses as part of he vegetable production tour at Cultivate'14.

Read More