We all have career goals and dreams we hope to achieve in our lifetimes, and for Tom Kasper, a South Dakota owner of a lawn and landscape business, that dream was to own and operate his own greenhouse. He even specialized in greenhouse management at North Dakota State University, just to show how much that greenhouse dream meant to him. While he has achieved very much since graduating in 1990—the city of Duluth’s head gardener, manager of Engwell’s garden centers, featured expert of WDSE-TV’s “Great Gardening” program for 14 years—as a local gardening authority, Kasper’s greenhouse dreams had eluded him. That is, until now.
Kasper and his son Michael recently bought Burchfiel’s Greenhouses 12 miles northeast of Duluth, which had, like many other local greenhouses, been a go-to place for quality plants before going out of business. “We’ve been looking around for an opportunity for some time,” Kasper said, who has recently reopened the greenhouse as Burchfiels-Bending Birches Greenhouses (named for the Robert Frost poem), though Kasper will drop Burchfiels once the community is familiar with the new business. “It’s pretty emotional,” Kasper said. “It’s a dream come true for me to do this and to share my dream with my children.”
For their business, the Kaspers will take a green, environmentally stable approach by selling annuals, vegetables, herbs, perennials, shrubs, and fruit trees more suitable for the region. Specifically, their plan includes being “organic and pesticide-free and [doing] a lot along those lines to give people choice in what plants they buy.” While they purchased the land too late to grow their own plants, they will be selling hanging baskets, shrubs, and fruit trees from regional vendors—including Jahn Hibbs, who grew half of the Kaspers’ vegetable plants organically from seed at her Duluth home.
“I’m thrilled,” Hibbs said, “because there isn’t a greenhouse in the region that grows without using chemicals…And the chemicals are very hard on honeybees. And we’re all concerned about the [pollinators].” Neonics, harmful pesticides currently being discontinued by many vendors, won’t get anywhere near Kasper’s plants, he says, as they get into the plants and soil and harm beneficial insects, contributing to the collapse of many honeybee hives.
With Burchfiels’s reopening, Kasper is keeping alive the tradition of the family-owned greenhouse, especially with his other son Mitchell working there too. “It’s hard to sell a greenhouse,” Kasper said. “They’re a lot of work, they take expertise, and then there’s the competition.” Greenhouses are sometimes put up for sale without bites, the owners retire without someone to carry on, or sometimes they falter against large stores as competition. Either way, as Kasper puts it: “The local connection for greenhouses is going, but I think people still want that experience of going to a greenhouse and walking down the aisles of plants. I want people to experience a real greenhouse,” and he’s finding that many people support that and Kasper’s own now fully realized dream.