Growing together: Rosenbergs family turns garden hobby into business
WORTHINGTON -- "One, two, three, four ..." Three-year-old Callie Rosenberg sits on a picnic table, counting miniature pumpkins as she moves them from one container to another. She heeds Mom Lori's directive to be careful with the improvised toys, which will soon decorate someone else's home.
It's coming to the end of a busy season of growing and selling produce for the Rosenberg family -- Lori and Scott and their daughters, Ashlyn, 10, Brigette, 6, and Callie, They market their homegrown wares at three weekly farmers markets as well as the upcoming Fall Marketplace at the Historic Dayton House in Worthington. What started as a hobby for Lori has become a family business enterprise.
"This is my ninth year," said Lori about Lori's Country Garden, the nursery business she operates at their home located five miles west of Worthington. "Next year will be my 10-year anniversary. It's been good."
Lori, a native of Fairmont, and Scott, who grew up on a farm between Ceylon and Fairmont, first met at the Fairmont Hy-Vee store.
"We went our separate ways for college," explained Lori, who attended Mankato State University for a degree in elementary education while Scott went to South Dakota State University in Brookings, "then we got back together later on."
They were married a year after Scott took the job of park supervisor and city forester in Worthington and moved to their rural home 13 years ago. Initially Lori didn't have any aspirations of running her own nursery.
"My dad had always liked flower stuff, but I didn't know that I did," she recalled. "When we had Ashlyn, I started staying home, and Scott built the greenhouse as a hobby greenhouse. The next year, it became Lori's Country Garden. We started out with the 8- by 8- little greenhouse; now we have the 8- by 8- and an 8- by 32-foot one. We started out with a little bit of garden; now we have three acres of garden."
Lori's grandparents came up with the Country Garden name and provided some of her earliest inventory.
"When I started out, I had my grandma's green ribbon grass, variegated hostas and green leaf hostas," she said about her perennial stock. "Then I just had a whole bunch of different annuals. I found out that people wanted to stick with the tried and true, the things they know well. So I had lots of different vegetables, petunias, geraniums, spikes -- all the ornamental stuff."
While she likes to experiment with new things, Lori continues to grow those basic garden items, and she's expanded her own gardens to display the perennials so people can get an idea of how they will look in their own flower beds.
Not all potential customers find their way out to the Country Garden, so the Rosenbergs bring their goods to three weekly farmers markets: Tuesday afternoon-evening in downtown Worthington; Thursday evening in Luverne; and Saturday morning at W-2's on Oxford Street in Worthington.
The family enterprise has transformed the Rosenberg girls into businesswomen at an early age. Ashlyn and Brigette earn money picking beans; they have to save half of their earnings and get to spend the other half.
"Ashlyn used hers to get an iPod touch, and Brigette is saving for a laptop computer," Lori noted. "They learn to save money and earn money. If they work to earn it, they appreciate it more."
Even the youngest member of the family gets in on the act. Callie picks and sells gladiolus; consequently, they are her favorite. The girls also help out at the weekly markets.
"Usually Scott and Ashlyn go to Luverne" for the farmers market, Lori detailed. "The girls and I do the Tuesday one, Scott comes to help after work, and Saturday is an everybody one.
"They learn young," Lori added. "It's funny watching them, just trying to be like us and sell stuff."
And because they've grown up growing vegetables, the girls are willing to sample all their wares.
"Callie doesn't eat meat, and neither does Brigette," said Lori. "But they love all the vegetables. She (Callie) will go out in the garden and start picking peas off the vine and eat them. They'll pick lettuce and bring it in and say, 'Make me a salad.'
"Here, we have so many things to try, and I've learned to make a lot of stuff," with produce out of the garden, Lori continued. "When I make pumpkin bars, I use our own pumpkin, and they're a lot moister. I do stir fry, cut up whatever we have and put it in there. I make cheesy potatoes with our own Yukon gold potatoes."
Lori enjoys the anticipation of spring and watching her perennials emerge. However, fall is her favorite time of year.
"I look forward to the pumpkins in the fall, and it's so cozy, and there is so much to decorate with," she said.
Last year's pumpkin crop was disappointing, but this fall the Rosenbergs have an abundance of pumpkins, gourds and squashes to bring to the markets.
"We plant a whole pumpkin patch," Lori said. "This year we have a great crop -- last year was horrible, this year is wonderful. I guess it's the luck of the draw. You just hope the vines come up, there aren't any bugs and the wind isn't too bad because it will break them off the vines."
The pumpkin array varies from the tiny white and orange varieties that Callie played with to ones weighing 75 pounds.
"We have white ones and blue ones -- I love the white ones, because they look almost painted," Lori detailed. "The Cinderellas are the flatter dark orange ones. We save each of the girls a real big one to carve; each one gets to pick their own special pumpkin from the patch."
For the upcoming Dayton House Fall Marketplace, Lori will decorate the Historic Dayton House's porch with her wares, including pumpkins, gourds, ornamental corn, squashes and broom corn, all of which will be for sale.
"I love it there. I get to see everybody as they come in and visit with them," she said, although adding that the weather hasn't always been ideal. "Two different years when they've had it, it's been snowing or raining. You just dress warm. Things still sold really well; it always sells fast there. People hit me on their way out."
Lori anticipates attending farmers markets for a couple of weeks after the Dayton House event, then the season will come to a close. While she's ready to get her greenhouses winterized, the garden patches cleaned out and everything put away, the end of the season is always bittersweet.
"We spend lots of time together," she said about the benefits of her family's business. "And we get to be outside all the time, which is wonderful."