Growing Community in Custer: Dakota Greens- Custer Greenhouses & Nursery, Inc.
Dakota Greens- Custer Greenhouse & Nursery and Owners Jeff & Robin Prior hosted a SDSPA tour on Aug. 9, 2019 and shared production information to participants on their flower, nursery and tomato operation.
Jeff was raised and worked in a family greenhouse & nursery operation in Michigan. A 22-year career in the U.S. Army took its toll, including multiple overseas tours to the Middle East and a traumatic brain injury in 2006. It was also difficult raising a family. From 9-1-1 to 2007 he had been home with his family just five-and-a-half months. He was ready for a change. He and his wife Robin decided to dedicate their lives to their family and a community– Custer.
At first, due to the trauma and PTSD, he had a tough time even leaving the red barn on the property. Because Jeff grew up in a family nursery operation, he knew he wanted to grow tomatoes and found working outdoors calming. When Jeff left the Army, it was his family and their commitment to heal and grow a business where they could be together and provide quality annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, ornamentals, veggie and herb starts, and tomatoes to their surrounding community. It’s been the perfect therapy and has worked.
Today, Dakota Greenhouse sells 10,000 vegetables and herb starts annually. Fifteen-eighteen hundred trees are started from bare roots and sold all over Custer County and in Hot Springs. They also sell 120 different types of perennials. They create 300 big purple flower baskets for the Custer Community and Robin Prior maintains them throughout the season. Fifteen hundred of those baskets are sold each year. However, it is the U-Pick tomato operation from the end of August into October for which they are known.
Jeff has worked hard to develop a method for growing tomatoes in greenhouses and the public comes in each fall to harvest. He gets 23 pounds of tomatoes off each plant and utilizes beneficial insects and natural agents to help as well as a hybrid hydroponic system where tomatoes grow in buckets of soil. They usually have three greenhouses dedicated to tomatoes, but this year only one. They are in transition this year and remodeling their grounds.
Success didn’t happen overnight. When he retired in 2007 he just knew he wanted to grow tomatoes. The temperatures in Custer drop to 48 degrees on summer nights. In 2008 they lost everything the second and third week in August to frost. In 2009 they put in the greenhouses, but had to learn the process.
When you have a business in a small town, be ready to serve the community. Jeff serves on the Custer School Board and has found ways to get tomatoes into the school lunch program. Last year he taught a community education course on container growing and plans to do so again. His service also includes the Healing Garden at Custer Regional Hospital. Jeff has helped planners, providing plants for the garden as well as continued help with the planting. At the BFG Supply Company Minnesota Expo in the first week of August of this year, Dakota Greens won the Community Service Award for their continued support for the Custer Regional Hospital Community Garden.
We appreciate the great work of Jeff and Robin Prior and all the good people at Dakota Greenhouse. Thank you. Keep up the good work!
For more photos of the event, please visit our photo gallery- SDSPA Farm Tours 2019.