Could Your Startup Greenhouse Operation Benefit From Sharing Greenhouse Space?

Sharing. It’s a skill you learn as a toddler. I should know, currently I’m in the midst of that stage with my own toddler. But as adults, as business owners, there are certain ways to share and maintain a healthy, well-balanced partnership. Below is a guest blog post from Chris Lukenbill, owner of Fresh with Edge, who is currently sharing greenhouse space to ensure he can deliver quality product to his customers. His advice is all about respect, and I love that. ~Katie Ketelsen

Urbanite’s doing ag.  With the mass migration from country living into the big city it’s becoming a more popular theme these days and as many are figuring out, agriculture has its own set of challenges that are only compounded when you live in the city.  Some people are finding solutions right in town, growing their greens in warehouses, on rooftops or converted storage containers.  For us, we found our solution in a somewhat more “conventional” way.  So when I say conventional, I’m referring to the fact we’re growing inside of high tunnels and greenhouses.  Conventional definitely doesn’t apply to our vertical, aquaponic growing style or even our sales model which revolves around selling herbs and greens that are still living and growing.  We’ll talk more about all of that in a future post some time, but for now, let’s discuss greenhouse growing.

Specifically, let’s talk about greenhouse growing when you are like us and find yourself as a greenhouse vagabond!  As city dwellers ourselves, we just don’t have the space to be growing at any scale on our own property.  As this is a common problem for a lot of people out there who are excited about growing their own food and growing food for others, we thought we’d share with everyone the things to consider when solving the problem like we have, sharing greenhouse space.  We have spent the last summer as a greenhouse partner at Squash Blossom here in Rochester, MN and have had a wonderful time.
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So here it is, the top five things to consider when you’re sharing greenhouse space:
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1. Find someone as equally excited.
The very first step is finding someone who will be excited to have you in their greenhouse.  Yes, you’re still going to need to pay rent and you’re still going to need to sell them on the idea, but having someone who is excited to have you sharing their space will go a long way.  There will be times where something you’re doing is going to adversely effect their growing or make life more difficult for them and having them excited about what you’re doing goes a long ways!
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2. Always be considerate.
Even though they are excited about having you there, understand that you are a guest and as a guest, you need to always be on your best behavior.  This includes how you set up your growing and how your handle your day-to-day.  For us, the biggest challenge was that we only had a few square feet available for us to touch the ground.  Now, this most likely won’t be your case, but for us…we were able to make that work…because we prefer to farm the air space anyways!  This does tend to make the way we work a little more complicated, but you have to be accepting of that and be ready to make it work by putting in a little more hard work every day.
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3. Be ready to work a little harder.
Not being in your own setup, having to change your methods and working around another individual’s operation is always going to require a little extra work.  Understanding that from the beginning will help you to focus on how you can improve on your situation and deal with the added work required.  At the same time, you’ll find that sharing space is going to save you a little work in other places, so don’t be afraid to put in that hard work because you’ll be able to save at some point, in some way, down the road.
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4. Capitalize on the cross-promotion.
Sharing greenhouse space can be difficult, but the advantages go beyond just a savings in infrastructure costs.  When you are in someone else’s greenhouse, there is always potential to share.  That ability to share even reaches out to customers.  One of the wonderful experiences we’ve had is the cross-promotion we’ve been able to do with people who come out to visit one operation or the other. Squash Blossom has a beautiful community of foodies and general local food aficionados.  People that loved to visit Squash Blossom already were elated to see something new and exciting coming to the farm.
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5. Plan for your exit.
As all good things go, they must either come to an end or at least change in some way.  For us, we hope to always be able to have some presence at Squash Blossom as long as they’ll have us.  However, at the same time, in order for us to grow and improve our efficiencies to expand, we have to grow into our own space.  So while you are enjoying all the rewards of sharing a greenhouse, be planning for that next step.
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Overall, sharing greenhouse space with someone is a great way to get things started.  However, like any agricultural endeavor you have to be ready to do whatever it takes to make things work.  Keep your eyes out for way to improve upon your situation while also taking advantage of the benefits of your unique situation.  Growing healthy and local food for your community can often be difficult, but it will always be some of the most rewarding work you’ll do.  Have fun with it and enjoy!

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Fresh With Edge has successfully completed their first year of production which was used as a proof of concept.  They have proven that Rochester embraces the idea of living produce ready for consumers to harvest and are excited by the reception they have received up to this point.
For year two, production will expand to a larger offering at the farmer’s market, greater diversity of herbs available at the local food co-op and even a few restaurants who have already committed to having green walls in their restaurants featuring living herbs.
To make all of this possible (along with a potential living CSA) Fresh With Edge has halted production in order to work full time on the infrastructure to support that growth.  Ramping up for an exciting year two, Rochester MN and the surrounding community have a lot to look forward to!
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