All About Middle Ridge Gardens
Middle Ridge Gardens was established in 1990 by Tom and Sue Woodworth. The adventures have been abundant along our 18 year trek so we thought we would give you an overview of who we are…
In the summer of 1990 we built the barn. On Thanksgiving Day; a cold, wet, miserable day, we started construction of the main greenhouse with the help of family and friends. The last of the plastic roofs were snapped in place on New Year’s Day and we were ready for our first season… Well, almost ready.
Our first season was a tough one. We had mud floors in the greenhouse- this made it tough to use the carts, no electricity and no automated watering. We found out that we had a salt-water problem after we lost most of the crop. We also had some people issues- we had no bathroom in the barn so bathroom trips became sort-of lengthy when you had to drive a couple of miles to the house to use the facilities. To help sell our product, we utilized Outdoor Markets. We had a 1954 truck that we called “Big Red.” So we would load up the plants and head to market on Saturday (Coit Road in Cleveland) and Sunday (Aurora Farms).
Our big improvements included installing city water-a water source that was not salty. A bowside (more growing space), some concrete sidewalks in the main greenhouse, and a hanging basket watering system. We also added a toilet to the barn, not a bathroom, just a toilet. We started going to Middlefield flea market on Monday. The first year was tough, the market manager stuck Tom out in the middle of a field, with no other vendors and few customers but promised to provide us a little better setup the following year. We also started going to Willoughby Farmer’s market on Saturday and Bloomfield Flea Market on Thursday.
Our retail business was starting to blossom and we needed to persuade (Con, beg, borrow and plead) some friends and family members into helping. Tom added lights to the greenhouse so that we could work all night- and there were several late nights spent pulling market loads. Another bowside (more growing space), more concrete in the main greenhouse, and automated watering systems were added to the main greenhouse. Part of the automated watering systems included two computer controlled watering booms. Tom named them Tom1 and Tom2 because they worked as hard as he did… although, when they broke down, their names changed to Kerry and Sue. Oh yeah, we also added some drywall around that toilet!
We added two stand alone greenhouses, more watering systems, bought another truck (A little newer than Big Red- this was a 1974 Ford that we called Orange & White.) The Aurora Farms flea market closed down so we replaced it with three new Sunday markets: Adesa in Akron, Andover Drive-In, and Four-Season’s in Youngstown. We also participated in the Unionville Around the Block Flea Market on Mother’s Day weekend for the first time. We bought another truck, a 1980 Ford that we called Big Yellow)
Big Red died. Two more stand alone greenhouses, more concrete and automated watering were added. Another addition was added to the main greenhouse. We started going to the Painesville Flea Market on Saturday.
Two more stand alone greenhouses, more concrete and automated watering were again added. We finally broke down and bought a flat filler. This saved oodles of back breaking labor hours. We dropped the Painesville Flea Market on Saturday.
We decided we needed to finish some projects like adding lights to the bathroom. The main entrance of the greenhouse was re-arranged. We added a driveway and a proper customer entrance. We bought a new seeding machine, did some computer upgrades and bought a batch soil mixer for the flat filler.
This was a big year for the greenhouse. We built a real sign, decorated the customer entrance, and started accepting credit cards. Sue quit her job and the greenhouse started supporting two full-time people (Tom and Sue). We started our perennial crop and started construction of seven more stand-alone greenhouses and a loading dock. Business at the greenhouse was booming so we dropped the Adesa market but added the Shaker Square Market on Saturday.
We finished the seven houses started in 1998 and added sidewalks to tie everything together. Automated watering was installed in the retail display area, a decorative fence was added to display our flowing pouches and we added a cashier’s area. We hired some Amish girls to help at the greenhouse. We stopped going to the Coit Road Market. We also became very active in the North Union Farmer’s Markets. Shaker Square replaced Coit Road.
This was a big year! Kerry had twins in the middle of May-Yikes! We established our official web site, MIDDLERIDGEGARDENS.COM (This site has the only known picture of Kerry pregnant!) We ran out of space in the barn and had to add an addition. We started construction of an office and kitchen in the barn.
Thus far, we have completed the office, kitchen, and painted the bathroom (finally). Kerry now works full time for us. We dropped the Andover Flea Market and completed a commercial request for the City of Willoughby- all of the baskets displayed on the streetlights are ours.
Kerry had a surprise little bundle of Joy in November named Graci May. We added a shade area between the stand alone houses in the back. This did not increase our growing space, but it did allow for a better quality growing space.
We started growing the baskets for Madison Village with the help of the Madison Garden Club. We expanded our perennial line to carry many of Sue and Kerry’s favorite varieties. We increased our coverage of the North Union Farmer’s Markets by adding Parma and Lakewood.
Our product line started to change in 2003- most gardeners were moving toward container gardening and we embraced it by expanding our potted plants. This lead to a bit of a “Situation” we did not decrease our other lines- Flats, baskets etc. and we tried to stuff 10 lbs of Potatoes into a 5 lb sack. We also bought a little white box truck named “Sue’s Ride.” This truck is great!!! It has an automatic lift gate, a fantastic radio and AIR CONDITIONING!
Once Sue learned she could stuff so many “Potatoes” into the greenhouse, she has been doing so ever since. The 103 house was designated as a staging area where we could prep orders and hold market loads. We had so many plants this year, we used it a growing house. After suffering through our busiest weekend without a staging area- we rethought our product mix for 2006. We also added a line of cut flowers to our summer market mix. Lisianthus was a great hit with customers.
Again we used the 103 as a growing area and had to build a temporary perennial area. We added three more cities to our commercial customer list. Sue is planning on adding more cut flowers to our summer line. Let’s hope for a wonderful growing season.
We had a little water issue in the summer- city water became a little pricey so… we built a new barn to house a watering system. The system allows us to use our ground water. Kerry and Sue (under Tom’s direction- huh) did a lot of the work on the barn including setting the trusses and roofing the barn. Tom thinks that if we decide not to farm anymore, we may have a future as laborers. The girls decided that flowers are much nicer than hammers!
We added potatoes to our summer market offering. We grew red, white, blue and pink fingerlings!!! We decided not to use potato beetle spay on them and had the kids walk through the patch twice a day to squish bugs with their fingers- who says we lead dull lives?!
This was tough year due to the economy. Our customers had to decide between buying milk and gas or flowers. Our crop looked great but our sales were down significantly. To make up the lag in spring sales we added more sweet corn and tomatoes to our summer crops production and went longer to market. We added a new market at Chagrin Falls on Sundays and went until the end of October- what a long year! We also teamed up with three other local greenhouses/garden centers to host Passport2Plants. An event designed to help save our family farms and encourage the city folks to come out to the country for a day to visit all four of us.
The North Union Farmers market started a Garlic Festival and we sold steamed corn with garlic butter, of-course, and fresh tomato salad. We were a big hit with the corn!
The economy continued to be slow, so we started cutting back on our crops a little. Instead of completely filling up the 103 house with extra plant material, Sue only filled half of it. We learned that it is much more fun to grow a business than to shrink one!
Again we cut back on the crop and only had excess baskets in the 103 house- the whole floor was available for staging. Truth be known, it was nice to have a staging area.
Tom made a new year’s resolution that he would never dig a potato again. So we dropped the fingerling potatoes and added peas to our offering. Who knew that Sue does not like to pick peas! We had an “oh-my-goodness” moment when many of the kids that worked for us in the beginning came as a collective group one day for lunch….and they were talking about their kids. Oh! We also started seminars at the greenhouse- we hosted fairy gardening for children and a separate one for adults. It was fun.
We celebrated 25 years!!! Kerry’s twins started working for us. After 25 years, one would think that we would have made every mistake possible. Not true, this year we sent Kerry to market with an empty truck (she is supposed to come home with an empty truck). She got to market, opened up the truck to find it completely plantless. Not to worry, we let her think it was her fault most of the day!!!
Was a year of change, again. We added a little more wholesale to our mix which allowed us to drop the Youngstown flea market. This was a bittersweet change because the Y-town market was always fun and full of characters, but the drive was 1.5 hours each way. We will miss “Fat Cat”, “Maria”, pepperoni rolls, fresh donuts, and the worlds best funnel cakes! Hummm, I wonder what the ratio of sales to food purchases was for us at that market.
Sue turned 50! We added more classes to our April offerings including Herbalicious. Watch out the twins are learning to drive this year and Kerry’s baby, Graci, started working for us.
We continued to raise produce, tomatoes, raspberries, corn, beans and figs. We had experienced our first heartbreaking equipment failure; we loaded the 205 house with plants in Mid-March- spent the whole day doing it, and the heaters quit working that night, the alarm system failed, and the entire house and all of the plants froze solid. We were so upset, we shut the water off (because all of the pipes froze) closed the door and didn’t go back out there for a few days. So our spring offering was a little scimpy. But we were able to laugh about it in June. And decided to try again next year.
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Over the years we have gone through many changes. We continually try to improve the way we do business by offering new varieties and products and by improving the production facilities. We would like to thank our Customers, Friends and Family for our success and their patience with our mishaps. Many of you have watched us “grow-up” over the last 26 years and your loyalty is greatly appreciated. So… happy planting, good growing and thanks again.
Your friends at Middle Ridge Gardens