“Black Hills boys” Todd and Kelly Gregson of Hill City grew up around gardening. Their grandparents guided their growth in agriculture and taught them a lot of the tricks they know, starting with digging up the garden in the spring all the way through harvesting in the fall. Now, later in life, the brothers have come back together making a hobby into a sustainable masterpiece.
“I worked in film as a costume pattern maker for about 20 years,” said Kelly, “living in New York and Los Angeles.” After his brother – a teacher of 25 years, at the time – called and asked if he wanted to start a hydroponic garden, Kelly packed up and headed back home. “I went from building costumes to building structures,” Kelly said as he pointed to the vertical gardens of white pipe covered with strawberry plants. “It’s all about design; it doesn’t matter what medium you’re using.”
And a beautiful design it is. As you walk into the enclosed, plastic structure, you emerge into a lush garden of greens, yellows, purples and reds. White pipe is transformed into watering channels for over 14 thousand plants, weaving and winding their way through the greenhouse located at 3609 Range Rd. in Rapid City (behind West Middle School).
But, Gregson’s Gardens isn’t just any greenhouse. The Gregsons have introduced a new, sustainable way of gardening called hydroponics – growing produce without soil. “This is the way agriculture is going to change,” said Todd. “Expanding traditional farming methods is the way we can make a difference.”
And after 13 years of research, trial and error and practice, making a difference is exactly what the Gregsons are doing – not only in planting produce, but teaching others about gardening.
“We do a lot of outreach programs,” said Todd. “We work with the schools and teach them about growing.” Hill City third graders got to see the production in action when Gregson’s Gardens gave students the opportunity to grow their own lettuce hydroponically. “We sent them a link to a weekly video [explaining the process of their lettuce growing] and in November they harvested and got to eat their produce.”
But, it doesn’t stop there. Gregson’s Gardens has teamed up with Marty Krause, Black Hills Works Vice President of Vocational Services and his team giving the opportunity to disabled adults to be served and work at the greenhouse.
In May of 2015, the Board of Directors at Black Hills Services, Inc. explored the options of hydroponic gardening to utilize their existing greenhouse. After meeting with the Gregsons, everything began to fall into place.
“We talked about our vision for the future, and their mission aligned perfectly with ours,” said Marty. “Talks proceeded very quickly, and by four weeks we had an official agreement.” They began using the little greenhouse and by July, Black Hills Works and Gregson’s Gardens began remodeling. By October they were growing, and a mere six months later – harvesting their first crops in November 2015.
What started out as a hobby, the Gregsons are excited to see what the future holds for the greenhouse venture. And with the support of their family and their partnership with Black Hills Works, this area is just beginning to see the impact this local business will make on our community.
Black Hills Works
The partnership between Gregson’s Gardens and Black Hills Works is truly unique. Built on the agreement of the greenhouse providing opportunities to adults with disabilities, the producers of this joint venture have gone above and beyond by designing a six-step apprentice module on how to grow hydroponically. “The longer-term goal is giving some of the people who have the ability and desire to garden the chance to operate their own micro-business,” explained Marty, the Vice President of Vocational Services at Black Hills Works. The first employee with a disability started in January, with plans to add more to the staff shortly. “I hope we are putting together a program that lasts longer than we do,” said Todd. “That’s our whole dream – that we can start this business and get a person served.”
Over 30 local accounts spread throughout the area are making fresh changes to provide their customers and clients with the healthiest produce options available. From Black Hills Surgical Hospital using the produce in their food options to Breadroot Natural Food Cooperative stocking with many of the 18 varieties of lettuce – Gregson’s Gardens is producing year-round. Staff are continuously planting, caring for, watering and harvesting, with deliveries two to three times a week. “Once you taste their lettuce,” said Marty Krause, “you’ll never want anything else.”
Written by Jenna Carda
Photos by David Schmalz
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