By Barbie Porter

Editor, Frazee-Vergas Forum

For many, spring conjures up images of buds appearing on trees that may transform into fruit. For others, visions of dirt under the fingernails, and soon-to-be vegetables in a bed of soil appear. 

Regardless if the crop is fruit or vegetable, Tom Meinhover of Grass Roots, is hoping to provide the trees, plants or inspiration gardeners are looking for this spring.

The 76-year-old offers a full range of plants and fruit bearing trees and bushes, as well as 170 different herbs at his business, Grass Roots. The greenhouse is located at 34830 447th Ave. in Ottertail. 

Gardening has become a popular pastime for many in the Midwest. As people become aware of foods with high pesticide residue, the go-to plants for the season sometimes coincide with the Dirty Dozen list.

“People learn that many of the dirty foods are things we eat daily,” Meinhover said, noting strawberries and apples are the most common repeat offenders.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) creates a list of fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide residue and another for the least. The non-profit group specializes in research in agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants, and corporate accountability.  

In March EWG released the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 for 2021.   

The items on the Dirty Dozen included:  strawberries, spinach,  kale/collard and mustard greens, nectaries, apples, grapes, cherries, peaches, pears, bell and hot peppers, celery and tomatoes.

“When people ask what they should grow, I tell them grow one of those,” he said.

The items on the Clean 15 list included: avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, sweet peas (frozen), egg plant, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi, cauliflower, mushrooms, honeydew melon and cantaloupe.  

Meinhover has plenty of gardening knowledge, but recommended those just getting started in gardening seek advice from a grandparent or parent first. If one is still stumped, or from a family that has never gardened, he welcomes visitors to stop by for a chat and friendly advice.

Meinhover also makes getting into gardening easy by providing starter plants, all of which are grown from seedlings by the Grass Roots crew.   

“We grow everything ourselves and generate about 40,000 plants,” he said. “Every plant is clean food, safe and no use of unnecessary chemicals.”

Year-round greenhouses changed the face of 

gardening in the Midwest

The 1962 Perham High School graduate went on to earn a teaching degree at Moorhead State. After graduating college, he put his degree to practice by joining the Peace Corps. He spent three years in the jungles of Borneo where he taught English to children.

“After being outside, working inside didn’t work for me,” he said. 

He began learning about horticulture and with it found a new career. Meinhover attended classes to learn about best practices. 

Being in northern Minnesota, the growing season was limited. However, that reality altered after working with professor Paul Read at the University of Minnesota. A year-round greenhouse was developed, which  extend the growing season. Meinhover became educated on the green house system and opened one in the Alexandria, Minn. area.  

In 1974, Meinhover  moved back to Perham with is wife Debbie Gluesing so he could be closer to his aging father. He  was 25-years-old then, and shortly after his return to Perham he opened Grass Roots.  

His wife was also one of the first women in Perham to own a business when she opened Gluesing Sales in the 1970s, he said. The Perham business (which also has a show room in the Twin Cities) has been handed down to the next generation, Meinhover’s daughter, Katie. 

“Perham is a successful community, I think, because a lot of Baby Boomers came back to Perham because we liked growing up here,” he said. “Now those businesses contribute to the success of the business community.”