PINE ISLAND — Joel Flemke can’t walk around town without being recognized.
The 68-year-old Pine Island man is known for his greenhouse, which has been a staple of the community for decades. Joel's Greenhouse, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has grown from a small setup in 1971 to 12 greenhouses over 12,000 square feet.
“Time just goes so fast, and it speeds up when we get older,” Flemke said about being in business for half a decade. “It doesn’t seem real.”
Flemke grew up around avid gardeners. His passion for gardening was passed down from his grandmother to his parents, and then to him.
His first garden was just little plants, such as tomatoes, on the window sill. It slowly started growing from there, into his first greenhouse.
It wasn’t much, but it was a start. The first greenhouse was 19 square feet, and his father helped with construction. With the aid of an extension cable, lightbulb and an oil burner, Joel’s Greenhouse was up and running.
Flemke said they started out selling tomatoes, cabbages and a few basic flowers before they began growing.
“We just started slowly and kept adding little by little, you know, always a little more product,” he said. “It just was a slow process, slow and steady. We never got big quick ... always just small steps.”
The greenhouse eventually grew to the point where it was time for Flemke to take his first big risk with the business.
For the first 20 years, Flemke ran Joel's Greenhouse while also farming and running a dairy farm. By 1990, he and his wife, Nancy, made the choice to fully commit to the greenhouse.
“My wife and I knew that this is what we wanted to do,” Flemke said. “And so, we eventually sold the cows, … put up a new retail building, and went from there.”
Flemke credits much of the business’ success to Nancy. When they got married in 1976, she became a part of the business and helped grow it. Nancy took over the books and helped keep the greenhouse up to date with current trends in terms of the type of products and the greenhouses’ design.
“She's played a big role,” Flemke said. “Nancy has helped me. We worked as a team. We've been married 45 years this month, so she's worked right alongside me all the time … We always have the new catalogs that would come in, and we'd stay up late at night looking at them, and then she couldn't sleep because she was so excited about the new things that were coming down the pipeline.”
The two have since created one of the premier greenhouses in Southeast Minnesota.
“We sleep and breathe a greenhouse,” Flemke said.