• Sallie Traxler

A Destination Market Blooms in Ellendale


A Destination Market Blooms in Ellendale

You wouldn't know it to see the massive garden center in Ellendale, ND today, but in 1997 Harvest Gardens got its start with two friends and a dream, a hobby greenhouse on loan from a community member and a credit card.

James Johnston and John Lenhoff worked for Trinity Bible College as groundskeepers, and in the summer of 1996, they decided they wanted a change. The partners started a greenhouse business. Little did they know what the North Dakota weather had in store for them. As James's wife Brenda recalls of that first year, "It was a horrendous winter, with lots of snow. The spring brought a huge blizzard and ice storm, and they lost 80% of their plants." But James and John did not give up. With a greenhouse on loan, they replanted nearly everything and made $800 in their first year. With continued hard work, their income increased bit by bit each year. As the business grew, they purchased property and a greenhouse. "The cash registers were in the greenhouse and all I can remember was that it was so hot," said Brenda. Soon they added a 24x24 storefront for sales and products. In 2007 John passed away. His wife continued as a partner in the business for the next three years.

Owner operators of Harvest Gardens, the Johnston family, surrounded by plants and flowers in the garden center

"When we did our first building no bank would loan us money, so we used a credit card," said Brenda. In 2014, Brenda and James knew they needed financial support for the next stage of growth. They found a partner in Aaron Tschosik, Market President at Starion Bank in Ellendale. Aaron worked with them to finance their business expansion with collateral support provided by the Red River Corridor Fund (RRCF). The project included two large, connected buildings and the demolition of an old house.

Harvest Gardens building exterior with a large kneeling horse sculpture outside

"I don't know how it is in every small town, but certainly here in Ellendale when it comes to new construction, the appraisal rarely covers the cost of that construction but is usually quite a bit lower. If it had not been for the RRCF, this deal wouldn't have gotten done," explained Aaron.


We appreciate the Red River Corridor Fund stepping in and helping us. Without them, we couldn't have gone forward with our project. Brenda Johnston, Co-Owner, Harvest Gardens

Harvest Gardens draws customers from all over North and South Dakota and sees its fair share of visitors traveling along HWY 281. The expansion provided for a large retail area and air conditioning so customers can shop in comfort. "The structure has helped our community. It is a beautiful building that gave our community hope. It shows progress," said Brenda. The Red River Corridor Fund creates jobs by helping small business access capital. The fund was initially created with funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury as a part of the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) program and is now an evergreen fund. The RRCF is a coalition of 36 municipalities who joined together to bring this capital resource to their communities. Praxis Strategy Group and Development Capital Networks manage RRCF's capital resources on behalf of the consortium to foster small business growth and enhance job creation throughout the state of North Dakota. Starion Bank is a participating lending partner.