Energizing the Market | Oelwein Daily Register

Editor’s note: this is the second in a two-part series exploring Oelwein’s Corner Market and Greenhouse and its recent USDA Rural Development grant. When the season for fresh flowers concludes, Oelwein’s Corner Market and Greenhouse, Inc., through its associations with numerous, Mostly local producers are also able to offer fresh and seasonal table greens and similar products. While they used to grow many such items themselves, in recent years, “we’ve shifted out of vegetables,” the Greenhouse’s Travis Manske explained, due primarily to the intensive labor necessary to produce those commodities. Given their other interests, “it’s hard to do,” Manske said, referring to both raising and selling vegetables and fruit. This led them to establish connections with local and national growers to ensure they have the products their own retail customers desire. “We work with a lot of good growers,” Manske said, a roster which includes not only nearby Mennonite and Amish producers, but also those from several states away, as needed. By early July, for instance, before any local sweet corn or watermelons are ready, Corner Market calls upon its partners in places like Kentucky to provide them with the necessary goods. A bit later in the season, Manske said, “we get peaches from Indiana,” of which, during peak season, they receive “a semi-load every 10 days.” In their effort to provide the requisite quality, Corner Market is gone. As far as South Carolina to find the best peaches, Manske added. During autumn, meanwhile, the business brings in fresh apples, along with pumpkins and other traditional fall items, from various local and regional producers. At their location, visitors will also find “a large gift store with home décor,” in addition to, During the present holiday season, freshly cut Christmas trees and other festive evergreen decorative items, Manske said. Given its amazing variety and volume of business, it is little wonder that Manske decided to seek a more efficient method of powering the Corner Market’s operation, a search leading him to install, as he described it, “a bunch of solar panels.” The installation of these, meanwhile, occurred in two phases, Manske said, with the first taking place during the period 2019-2020, when the majority were added, and the most recent being put in place just last spring.The results have been nothing short of remarkable, Manske indicated, with many months’ energy costs being half of what they were prior. So extreme are the savings that, during some months, the Corner Market’s energy costs are pretty close to zero. It’s amazing,” he said. “It even produces on a cloudy day.”And while Manske said Corner Market “would have installed the panels, anyway,” the availability of outside support, such as their recent grant through the Rural Energy for America program, is welcomed and much appreciated. , as the installation of the solar panels “cost around $30,000,” Manske said. The recent USDA grant, which totaled $7,875, will be put toward offsetting the expenditures on the project, he indicated, also noting that, while costly, the quality and service he received from Ken’s Electric as they completed the project was impressive. “Ken’s was really good,” he said. “They do a great job.” In describing the Corner Market’s grant-winning project, the USDA reported, “This Rural Development investment will be used to help Corner Market and Greenhouse Inc., install a 7 kilowatt (kW) solar array at its garden center business in Oelwein, in Fayette County. This project will realize $1,464 per year in savings and will generate and replace 10,022 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year (20 percent of previous business use), which is enough energy to power one home.”“Our goal is to get our energy bill as close to zero as possible,” Manske said. Though initially expensive, Manske emphasized the long-term value of the move to solar energy. “It will pay itself back,” he said. “It was a good investment.” While receiving the USDA grant is pleasing, the process securing it was a challenge, he explained, so much so that he hired an outside expert to prepare his grant application, a decision he would advise others in that. position to consider. “The paperwork can be daunting,” Manske said, choosing his words carefully. I strongly recommend using a grant writer; it costs a little bit extra, but it was worth every penny.” Looking ahead, with the Corner Market’s thriving business and now shrinking energy costs, its outlook appears bright, Manske acknowledged. “It has been really good,” he said. In the immediate future, he noted the business “is looking into expanding the greenhouse,” while preparing for the next growing season is also top of mind when Manske considers what lies ahead. “We will be hiring this spring,” he said. Any labor challenges aside, with its forward-thinking leadership, special market position and decades-long standing as a genuinely local, family business, 2023 bodes well for Oelwein’s Corner Market.

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