Hansen's Greenhouse garlic

Success, garlic in the air in Cleveland

Hansen’s Greenhouse has been a fixture in Olmstead Falls on the west side of Cleveland since 1966, when Lois and Gayle Hansen’s parents opened the doors, bringing locally grown fresh-cut flowers and vegetable plants to the area.

Their parents continued to run the business over the next two decades until 1989 when the sisters took over the greenhouse and continued their parents’ tradition.

Hansen’s provides cut flowers, vegetables, herbs, greens, and a speciality, garlic, every week throughout the summer months at North Union Farmers Markets in Crocker Park, Chagrin Falls and Cleveland Clinic’s main campus markets as well. But, the business is an all-year-long undertaking.

Lois Hansen-Polcar
Lois Hansen-Polcar is part owner of the greenhouse and her husband, Jerry, runs the farmers market for the business.

Hansen’s Greenhouse is truly a family business. Gayle handles day-to-day operations, as well as irrigation, row planting, and customer service. Lois divides her time between the greenhouse and her “other job” as a professor of chemistry at Cuyahoga Community College. Lois’ husband Jerry Polcar takes care of running the farmers markets for Hansen’s Greenhouse. According to Gayle, the business occupies an often overlooked agricultural niche, cultivating plants year-round on an estimated ¾-to-1 acre under plastic or glass, and four acres farmed outdoors. This special niche is something that’s made the Ohio Farm Bureau an integral part of doing business.

Proud Farm Bureau members

Gayle Hansen at Hansen's Greenhouse in Olmsted Falls, Ohio.
Gayle Hansen at Hansen’s Greenhouse in Olmsted Falls, Ohio.

Gayle and her family have been Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau members for over 50 years; she’s been personally involved for over 30 years. She credits the organization with helping reduce the cost of doing business by providing opportunities to participate in energy aggregate groups, workers’ compensation groups, and help with Current Agricultural Use Value program opportunities that lower taxes.

“It’s a great organization,” she said. “If you have issues with local planning or have legal questions, someone at the Farm Bureau has the answer for you. And if they don’t, they’ll connect you with someone who does.”

Impact of the pandemic

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Easter and Mother’s Day flowers were cultivated in late winter. When forced shutdowns caused churches to cancel orders, it resulted in benches of beautiful blooms waiting in the greenhouse. Thanks to help from friends, Hansen’s was able to sell these plants online, bringing spring cheer to the strange days of shut downs and helping the Hansen’s continue working and growing.

Summer flowers, herbs and vegetable plants needed tending in the greenhouse in early spring, waiting to be planted in local garden plots and patio containers when the weather warmed. “While many worried about the ramifications of business shutdowns, we went about the business of growing plants,” Gayle said. “ In 2020, we never stopped.” This hands-on approach has helped this small, family-run operation continue to thrive.

Luckily, the work paid off in the greenhouse, just as Farm Bureau and local growers lobbied to designate greenhouses and farmers markets as essential businesses that spring. “We had a phenomenal spring,” Gayle added. “We were out of (plant) stock by Memorial Day, which never happens.”

A return to the Cleveland Garlic Festival

A resurgence of backyard gardening helped Hansen’s rebound from the less than ideal start of the season last year. This year, the sisters also look forward to the return of an annual tradition – the Cleveland Garlic Festival in Shaker Square – which was canceled by the pandemic last year.

Festival attendees and vendors can choose from the 14 varieties of hard and soft-neck garlic that range from mild to spicy. In addition, Hansen’s garlic-growing experts provide judging expertise in some of the festival’s many garlic cook-offs as well. The festival, which this year is planned for Aug. 28 and 29, is a mecca for the region’s garlic lovers, offering typical garlic-infused foods like garlic fries alongside atypical items like garlic beer and garlic ice cream.

“As a part of the North Union Farmers Market for 15 years, getting involved with the Cleveland Garlic Festival was a natural fit for us,” Gayle said. “We work hard to raise a nice product and serve our customers to the best of our ability.”

Photos by Bryan Rinnert