GM-MR-3-Gas Station 1by Kelly Gates
On the south side of Minneapolis is a neighborhood called Tangletown, a unique collection of urban residences and small businesses woven into an asymmetrical grid that twists and winds along a jagged stretch of Minnehaha Creek.
Amidst the tangled territory sits a corner lot that was once filled with gasoline pumps, auto mechanic equipment, and quack grass. A site that now houses a garden center overflowing with green.
It is an urban oasis for residents of Tangletown to enjoy, along with plant enthusiasts throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul and beyond.
According to Scott Endres, co-owner of Tangletown Gardens, the business is a much better fit for the neighborhood than its predecessor.
“My business partner Dean Engleman and I bought the place when it was a transmission shop that was, well…extremely underloved,” Endres told Country Folks Grower. “It was one of those ‘junkyard dog’ kind of places that doesn’t make the best neighbor and we felt that the people in this area would respond well to our idea of an urban garden center. So we bought it and got to work transforming the place into what it is today.”
The first step in the renovation process was replacing the original terracotta roof tiles with brickwork. The copper detailing was once again exposed and restored to resemble the building when it was first built in 1939.
The creative co-owners paid homage to the structure’s origins, keeping the three service bays and repurposing them as display spaces, complete with garage-style doors that open to the outdoors.
Other architectural details were added too, including custom built, period style garage doors and two gatehouses that act as secondary checkout stations during the busy season.
Because the business sits on just two city lots, maximizing space was of utmost importance to Scott and Dean.
“We utilize every inch of our property here, constantly changing out displays of plants, pottery and other products as people buy what we have in stock,” said Scott. “We stock annuals, perennials, tropicals, house plants and quite a wide variety of unusual or hard to find woody plant material. We are constantly filling in with new items, which means that the entire place changes from week to week, keeping it interesting for our customers.”
One of the biggest hurdles most inner city garden centers face is managing an incoming supply of plants and other products. Fortunately, Scott and Dean had the perfect solution — Dean’s family farm located only 40 miles outside the Twin Cities.
The duo decided to lease 100 acres there to grow most of their own plant material. Eventually, they added produce production, a CSA and a landscape service division to the mix.
“We started out with one tiny hoop house on a few acres and now we have almost an acre of greenhouses,” explained Scott. “We use the greenhouses to produce all of our herbaceous and tropical plants. Our detail and landscape crews also work from the farm, checking in there each day before heading out to jobs.”
The farm is the company’s “elbow room,” he added. Bulk soil and mulch are stored there. Large containers of pottery, garden décor and other items are also shipped to the farm where it is stored until needed at the garden center in the city.
Approximately 35 of the 100 acres are used for growing produce in fields — with a small amount of indoor space for year round produce production. Some is also allotted for hay and forage for the Scottish Highland cattle, Large Black and Berkshire hogs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks that are raised as part of the company’s 350 member CSA, and their new business Wise Acre Eatery.
“When we first started growing produce, we started with a daily farmer’s market during the peak season, but we soon realized that people were interested enough to form a CSA,” said Scott. “Now, we grow plants for our garden center, forage for the animals, and produce for the CSA and our Wise Acre Eatery adjacent to the garden center that we opened two years ago.”
Sustainable agriculture is an everyday practice for Scott and Dean. They have been growing most of the plants sold at Tangletown Gardens and installed in their landscapes at the Plato farm for the past eleven years. More recently, all the fresh produce for Tangletown Gardens’ daily fresh market and CSA shares was grown at the Plato farm.
“We farm today in much the same way as the farms we grew up on,” said Engelmann. “Where every acre was nourished and cared for in a way that was good for that year’s crops but more importantly for the future crops that had not yet been planted. Our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers knew the way they treated their land would shape its future. We feel the same way and have chosen this same wise approach to growing.”
Nearly all of the greenhouses at the company are made by Poly-Tex. Some were purchased new while others were acquired from another grower who had gone out of business.
According to Scott, the simple structures work well for the type of growing Tangletown Gardens does. But striking the right balance of sustainability and energy efficiency took a few tries to get right.
“We tried biomass furnaces for a while, but they were so very labor intensive. Plus, treking out to the country to refill the furnaces on the coldest winter nights was not much fun for Dean,” he said. “Two years ago, we added 5000 sq. feet of solar panels that help reduce the carbon footprint and the energy needed to heat the acre of greenhouses and all of the other buildings at the farm.”
Their new restaurant, Wise Acre Eatery, is also an earth-friendly operation. And, true to form, it is housed in another vintage gas station.
Scott and Dean had been eyeing a1950s Standard Oil station next door to the garden center for years. Ultimately, they decided to purchase the property, with the goal of adding a storefront to the food related parts of their business.
In May of 2011, Wise Acre Eatery opened its doors and has quickly become the new darling of the neighborhood.
“Keeping things close to home, we produce 75 to 90 percent of all the food we serve at the restaurant, including the beef, pork, poultry, eggs, herbs and produce — all sustainably grown at our farm. It just doesn’t get any more local than that.”
The goal, he added, is to ensure that every bite of food grown or served by the business partners is made as it was long ago when everyone ate organic, free range, locally grown food that wasn’t fussy or high end. This philosophy has helped make Tangletown Gardens and its affiliated businesses as unique and edgy as the people who live in the Tangletown neighborhood.