Bushel Boy Farms becomes first Minnesota company to produce cucumbers year-round
Chuck Tryon, president of Bushel Boy Farms, said the company will produce almost a million pounds of cucumbers by the end of the year.
OWATONNA, Minn. — A Minnesota company that has spent more than three decades working to bring year-round fresh tomatoes to the region has expanded into also producing cucumbers.
Bushel Boy Farms began in 1990 by Owatonna entrepreneur Jay Johnson, who saw a need for backyard garden quality tomatoes to be produced year round in a climate like Minnesota.
“He saw a need there, and just started building the business, one small 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 to expand the variety of tomatoes it grows along with looking beyond just 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 going on 32 years now, and for those first 30 years, it was all tomatoes,” said Tryon.
In the last couple years the company has added strawberries into that mix — and within the last month, cucumbers.
Tryon — who was named president of the company in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — said that strawberries were in trials at the time of his arrival, in the company’s newest greenhouse space.
“We really made a conscious effort to look at innovation and figure out what are the product categories that we could continue to add into our greenhouse infrastructure and provide to our customers,” said Tryon.
The reasoning which accelerated the planning to grow cucumbers was twofold, said Tryon. First, he said cucumbers could grow in the exact same infrastructure that its tomatoes grow in, and so it was an easy crop for the company to introduce into its greenhouse system.
The other reason was a need from its customer base, he said.
“We had a customer base that was asking what else we can bring them year round that right now they have to generally import from either Mexico or from 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 that there's no failing so far, but there is learning,” said Tryon of growing cucumbers. “That’s the reason to start small-scale but large enough where we can be in stores in Minnesota and get not only the trial and the learning on the production side, but also the learning on the commercial side.”
He said some staff had to be added for packaging the cucumbers, but on the growing side, more personnel wasn’t needed.
“For the most part, we really utilize the staff that we had in place that would have been working on the tomato crop that was in that same greenhouse,” he said. “Now they're just working on cucumbers instead.”
Bushel Boy Farms has about 32 acres of greenhouse at its location in Owatonna, which has around 120 employees.
“All-glass greenhouse, high tech, producing year round, that's been built up over the over the 30-year history of the company,” 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 acres in total of greenhouse production that we own and operate year round,” he said.
Facilities at Bushel Boy Farms are focused on sustainability, said Tryon.
“The greenhouse technology allows us to provide water into the plants along with nutrients into the plants, but anything that the plants don't take in, gets captured, recirculated, sanitized and goes right back into the system,” he said. “We don't have any crop nutrients that are being displaced, and they're all being continually reused within the system.”
In the company’s greenhouse space are boxes of bees, which pollinate the growing plants.
“We have bees throughout the greenhouse, and hives that we have placed in there, and those bees are busy doing their pollination work throughout the day and then back in the hive every night,” said Tryon.
Tryon said between the Minnesota and Iowa locations, the company picks almost 60,000 pounds of tomatoes every day.
He said he’s not sure about the number of strawberries picked and said the company is still in the “small-scale production” phase of the crop, with just two acres of the greenhouse dedicated to strawberries.
For cucumbers, which Tryon said “grow fast,” the company projects it will produce almost a million pounds by the end of this year.
Bushel Boy Farms cucumbers are available throughout Minnesota in stores such as Cub Foods, Kowalski’s Market, Coborn’s Grocery Stores, Lunds & Byerlys, Hy-Vee and Jerry’s Foods, said Tryon.
Tryon said there are plans to expand throughout the Midwest, but not beyond that.
“We pride ourselves in being a Midwest local producer, so we're not venturing out beyond the Midwest,” he said. “The benefit of us being able to do that is that we can have our products that we pick today in a store tomorrow.”
Tryon said one of the things that makes Bushel Boy Farms products unique is that the crops don’t have to be picked before they’re ripe.
“Products that are coming from either from the West Coast or from Mexico or Canada are being picked before they fully ripen, and before the flavor fully develops,” said Tryon. “Our business model allows us to harvest it when it's exactly right, and ready for a consumer to experience.”