By Ivan Raconteur
It began with two greenhouses in an empty field on the east side of Lester Prairie, just north of the Crow River.
The year was 1978, and Fred Holasek had been running a small greenhouse in Long Lake when the property at 18364 County Road 9 in Lester Prairie became available.
He purchased the land and the greenhouses, and founded Fred Holasek and Son Greenhouses. This week, the company will celebrate its 30th anniversary with an open house.
Holasek has been working in greenhouses since he was a 15-year-old high school student in Long Lake. His wife, Jane, married into the business 21 years ago (her words).
Fred is the head grower, and Jane handles inventory control and supervises the retail operation.
The open house is a tradition that Fred has conducted every year since he started the business to give customers their first chance to see all of the new plants that he has prepared for spring.
This year, the list of new items is several pages long.
The business is a hidden gem on the prairie, having grown from two greenhouses to 20 greenhouses of various sizes, covering a total of 70,000 square feet.
Customers are often amazed at how large the facility is. New customers who may have driven past the property many times and only seen the greenhouses that border County Road 9, have no idea what lies behind.
The inventory includes more than 1 million flower and vegetable plants.
While the company has grown quite a bit, that growth has been slow and careful, which has also been Holasek’s approach to growing plants.
“We don’t want to lose the quality. We are known for that,” Jane said.
“We carry unusual things that you can’t find at the big chain stores,” she added.
She explained that the big stores carry things that they can sell in large quantities to the mass market.
The Holaseks prefer to focus on quality, not quantity.
They do custom growing for some customers, and grow some plants in quantities as small as 10 flats, or even two or three for some items, Jane said.
At Holasek’s, one can find a wide variety of heirloom vegetables.
“These are seeds that have been discontinued; the kind of thing that your grandpa and grandma used to grow,” Jane said. “They have amazing flavors and colors, and they are fun to grow.”
The greenhouse offers plenty of choices. For example, the Holaseks’ customers can choose from 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and that is only one of many types of vegetables they sell.
The Holasek’s work with Seed Savers, an Iowa company that has collected specialty seeds from all around the country.
The Holaseks focused on the wholesale market for many years, selling to high-quality garden centers and professional gardeners, but recently, the company has been expanding its retail vision, Jane said.
They don’t just sell plants. They take the time to be sure that customers get the right plants for their situation, and that they know how to take care of them.
This time of year, many people get spring fever, and want to start planting right away, but the Holaseks won’t sell plants that aren’t suited for the temperatures.
They are committed to selling the right plants for the right conditions.
They have 40 varieties of pansies that are frost-tolerant to 32 degrees. Some vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, and onions are also tolerant to cold temperatures, Jane explained.
“We want customers to have success. That’s our main goal,” Jane commented.
To do that, the staff at Holasek’s will ask a lot of questions to make sure they understand the customer’s needs.
The people asking those questions have a lot of experience.
Fred started with three or four employees, and today, the company employs 30 full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees.
Some of Fred’s first employees, Evelyn Jungclaus and Bernice Fenske, still live in Lester Prairie.
The current employee with the longest tenure is Sue Alberts, who has worked at Holasek’s for 26 years. Many of the employees have been employed there for more than a decade.
“We’re all plant addicts, and our staff is very knowledgeable,” Jane commented.
Holasek’s offers classes through Lester Prairie Community Education to help people become better gardeners.
These classes often follow trends, such as healthy eating or container gardening.
Two classes will be offered this month, and both are scheduled for Saturday, April 26.
The first is “Container Gardening Made Easy,” from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The cost is $22. The second, “Vegetable Gardening Made Easy,” is scheduled from 11 a.m. to noon, and the cost is $10. Anyone interested can call Lester Prairie Community Education at (320) 395-2909 to register.
The Holaseks have been sharing their vision of “Flower Power” with customers for years, and they plan to expand on that theme.
The staff enjoys helping people discover gardening. Jane said gardening and getting one’s hands in the soil can be very relaxing and help to relieve stress.
With options such as container gardening, even busy people with stressful jobs can find time to enjoy gardening, and even put some fresh home-grown vegetables on their table, Jane said.
When they are not busy in the greenhouse, the Holaseks are active in the community and support local organizations.
Both are involved in St. Paul Lutheran Church. Fred is on the church board and is a trustee. Jane is a part-time organist and helps with drama and Sunday school music.
Fred is also involved in the Lester Prairie Task Force and the Lester Prairie Business Association.
Their sons, Alan, 16, and Jay, 12, also help out in the greenhouse when they are not busy with school activities.
The open house will be Friday and Saturday, April 18 and 19, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
There will be coffee, cookies, drawings and giveaways.
Visitors will also have the opportunity to tour the greenhouses and see what is new this spring.
The business is located 1.5 miles south of Highway 7 on McLeod County Road 9 in Lester Prairie.
Want to see what’s new this spring?
Fred Holasek and Son Greenhouses will conduct its 30th anniversary open house Friday and Saturday, April 18 and 19 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
There will be coffee, cookies, drawings and giveaways, as well as tours.
The staff will be available to show visitors what is new in the greenhouse this sping.