Bushel Boy Farms broadens its year-round greenhouse-grown product line
Bushel Boy Farms, best known for its flavorful greenhouse tomatoes, is now also growing and selling strawberries and cucumbers. By using hydroponic growing technology, the company can produce fresh, local vegetables and fruits all year long, despite the extreme range of Midwest temperatures. The new products are part of a big expansion at the company, which was purchased in 2018 by Minnesota-based Rahr Corp.
Tomatoes still account for the majority of Bushel Boy’s sales. “We hand-pick and package more than 60,000 pounds of tomatoes every day,” said Chuck Tryon, Bushel Boy’s president. More than 13 million pounds of tomatoes have been sold this year so far, along with 400,000 packages of strawberries and over 335,000 pounds of cucumbers. The company is projected to sell 1.1 million cucumbers by October, with the crop already making up 7 percent of its overall revenue.
“With the success of strawberries, consumers have given us permission to be more than just tomatoes,” said Tryon, who added that the company’s first strawberries were harvested in early 2020. “These are more what you’d get out of a garden or pick-your-own field; smaller, but much more flavorful and sweet. You can find cheaper strawberries, but we strive to grow the best tasting and highest quality in all of our products. Consumers want a local option; they want to know where it came from and that it’s fresh.”
Bushel Boy spent $35 million on a new 16.5-acre greenhouse growing operation in Mason City, IA, boosting the company’s production capacity. Plus, there is room to add more greenhouses in Iowa as demand increases. It has a 32-acre greenhouse at its Owatonna, MN, headquarters, with a 4.5-acre research and development resource, dedicated to innovation, sustainability and responsibility.
Bushel Boy is the first company in Minnesota to produce indoor cucumbers all year long. It grows both long, English cucumbers and mini cucumbers. “That one acre, over a 12-month time period, will produce about a million pounds,” said Tryon. “That’s a large enough scale to have quantities available for our core customers in the Twin Cities year-round. We’re also starting to offer cucumbers in other parts of Minnesota and Iowa. We’ll expand distribution to other markets as we scale production to meet demand.”
Cucumbers are only the second crop to be grown using the company’s high-wire production system. The greenhouse is 23-feet tall with vertical and horizontal fans throughout. “This is the new, best-practice design, which allows for the optimal microclimate for our tall, high-wire crops (tomatoes and cucumbers),” said Tryon. “We use a biological integrated pest and disease management program. For pests, that generally is a targeted beneficial insect. For powdery mildew, we use a proactive approach, which is about properly managing humidity and air flow.”
Thousands of bumblebees do nature’s work in the Bushel Boy greenhouses by pollinating the tomato and strawberry plants. but since Bushel Boy’s cucumbers are meant to be seedless, they are not pollinated so there are no bees in those greenhouses.
The company also strives to be environmentally responsible by capturing rainwater with a 96 percent utilization rate. It saves hundreds of gallons of water annually by capturing, filtering, sterilizing with ultra-violet light, and reusing excess water that is not absorbed by the plants. It also filters and redirects its CO2 emissions so that no CO2 is released into the atmosphere from its boilers.
What are the company’s plans for the future? Its website states, “As global economic, climate and supply chain challenges persist — such as, droughts, inflation, scarcity of arable land and transportation issues — Bushel Boy Farms continues to drive indoor farming industry innovation in the Midwest through crop exploration, technology, sustainability progress and product excellence.”
“Local has never been more important,” said Derek Eddie, Bushel Boy’s director of sales and marketing. “We’re going to continue to innovate and grow new things.”