Although they don’t know each other, Pat and Cammie Wohlgemuth and Murray and Lisa Warkentin have much in common. Both couples have had experience doing missionary work for their Mennonite community in Third World countries, and both returned afterwards to the same rural southern Manitoba region with the idea of operating their own commercial hydroponic greenhouse.
“We got the idea from friends while we were in Haiti (as missionaries),” said Murray Warkentin.
Their 12,000-square-foot Greenland Gardens, near the town of Landmark (which is about a 40-minute drive southeast of Winnipeg), is in its seventh year of operation. The Warkentins grow tomatoes and cucumbers, which they sell to restaurants and organic food stores in Winnipeg.
Pat and Cammie Wohlgemuth grow a variety of greens – including romaine and butter lettuce, basil, pea shoots, red amaranth, arugula, and red mustard – in their 4,500-square-foot greenhouse just a couple of miles away from Greenland Gardens. They also sell their produce to Winnipeg restaurants and organic food stores.
Unlike the Warkentins, the Wohlgemuths are relatively new to the greenhouse business. They were strawberry growers before heading to Africa on a six-year church mission. They returned to the Landmark area and bought Neva Hydroponic Farms from the previous owner, Darren Barkman, who built the greenhouse five years earlier.
“Growing strawberries is seasonal and you only get one crop a year,” Pat explains. “We wanted a year-round operation with a steady cash flow. We took over the business and the customers from Darren, who also gave us technical advice on how to run the greenhouse.”
He adds that what he likes about operating a small hydroponic greenhouse is the simplicity. “There’s no soil, so there is very little dirt,” he said. “We just need a tank and some hoses and fittings.”
Each week involves two days of seeding and two days of harvesting. They use coal to heat the greenhouse. Supplemental lighting is utilized.
The Warkentins use a combination of coal and biomass (wood and straw pellets) to heat their structure; however they don’t operate year-round. “We don’t have grow lights,” explained Murray, “so we can’t operate in the winter.”
They operate from the end of April to early December. “Last year, we expanded the length of time we were open because we have found that it is difficult competing with other tomato producers in August. The local market is only so big. If we can get people to taste our tomatoes, they appreciate the quality.”
Neva welcomes consumers who want to buy directly at the greenhouse, as long as they call ahead. Greenland hopes to be open for direct sales this spring.