Donahue's Greehouse

The Donahue family, which owns and operates Donahue's Greenhouse in Faribault, was named Rice County Farm Family of the Year. (Photo courtesy of Rice/Steele County Extension)

Agriculture and farming come in an abundance of different forms. This year, the Rice County Farm Family of the Year could be called non-traditional farmers. This year's family doesn’t raise cash crops or livestock, instead they are masters of floriculture: the Donahue family.

The Donahue’s Greenhouses have been a highlight to many peoples’ summers since they began doing business in 1972. Upon arrival, customers are captivated by stunning views of bright colors coming from all the plants, and the vastness of the greenhouse. Members of the Donahue family are spread throughout, welcoming everyone as they walk through.

Donahue’s has always been a family owned and operated business. Currently, there are three generations involved in the operation of the greenhouse. Family members include Lois, the original owner, seven of the Donahue children, one son-in-law and two grandchildren. Other family members pitch in and help when they can, like the kids when they are on break from school.

All hands are needed for the labor-intensive speciality, the clematis, that the Donahue’s are known for. When the business was originally bought, it was a chrysanthemum business. In the early 1980’s all clematis that were sold were sold as dormant plants. Seeing an opportunity for change, they decided to do something different.

Instead of dormant plants, they started growing rooted clematis with well developed foliage. The Donahues revolutionized the industry on how the clematis was shipped and sold.To this day, they are one of just three prominent growers for clematis across North America. They ship clematis from January to October, sending out 1 million plants all across the country annually. One of the siblings, Mark Donahue, has introduced two new varieties of clematis into the market, Rosalie and Kilian Donahue.

The Donahues have 4½ acres of enclosed greenhouses and a total of 40 acres in Morristown that they use as their grow location. The labor of love goes deeper than just the hand tying of the clematis. Every plant at Donahue’s Greenhouses has been grown by them by both seeds and cuttings. Besides the family, there are 14 full time employees and 45 additional staff that help during the busy season.

Typically the busy season is February through June, and when retail opens, there can be anywhere from 350 to 400 people in the greenhouse at a given time. 2020 was very different. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the greenhouse opened the retail store 10 days later and closed two weeks earlier than normal. Wholesale kept selling continuously.

Every member of the Donahue family is involved in one way or another. Each serving on different boards and donating time for local churches and schools. The family donates to Relay for Life, Ruth’s House of Hope, Divine Mercy Catholic School, the Faribault American Legion and Bethlehem Academy, among others.

Family members have participated in local garden tours, showing their own personal gardens. The Donahues leave their mark all over town by growing the Faribault city flower baskets each year. Office Manager Kathy Donahue Nass mentioned how they are a favorite part of the summer to her  and that “no two baskets are the same. I love hearing ‘did you see the one down on this side of town’ or ‘yes, but have you seen the one over here.’”

Getting to do something they love, and share with the community makes it fulfilling for the family

Through all of this, Kathy pointed out how family is the most important. They see and work with each other every day, and they still get together for the holidays. It is a family business through and through.

As Kathy put it, “my kids grew up here, they walk in the door and it’s home. I hope someday we can pass this on to them and keep the business in the family.”

Mercedes Moffett is the interim extension educator- agricultural production systems for Rice and Steele counties.

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