March 7, 2012

Natural Foodie: Year-round gardening in Maine? Really? Really.

By Avery Yale Kamila
Staff Writer

David Tidwell didn't intend to create a business.

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David and Marlene Tidwell plant kale in their unheated greenhouse on Feb. 29.

Photos by Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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David Tidwell built the greenhouse for Marlene. It grew into a company called Eden House, which is creating greenhouses for Maine gardeners.

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He only wanted to build a greenhouse that would allow his wife, Marlene, to grow organic vegetables year-round at their home in New Gloucester.

"I started two years ago," David said. "The first one I built flopped."

But his next attempt – featuring durable plastic covering and curved aluminum supports that can carry a load of snow – was more successful.

"Out of that has come our entire company," said David, the founder of Eden House, which creates greenhouses for Maine gardeners.

At the Tidwell home, the greenhouse is completely unheated. But with the assistance of thermal row covers on nights when the temperature dips particularly low, cold weather crops such as kale, mache and spinach can grow throughout the winter.

"Spinach and mache are the hardiest for wintering over," Marlene said as she pointed out the small green plants that she planted from seed in the fall and didn't expect to still be alive at this time of year. "If I'd covered it, it would have been a lot better."

The start-up greenhouse company makes its public debut tonight with the opening of the Portland Flower Show, which continues through Sunday at the Portland Company Complex. "The Flower Show will be a real test for us," David said.

Whether or not enough demand exists to support a viable business remains to be seen, but the signs so far look good.

"We hadn't even gotten our brochure made, and we already had three orders," Marlene said.

Manchester Elementary School bought the first greenhouse and is using it to integrate gardening into the school curriculum.

Terry Skillin, president of the family-owned Skillins Greenhouses in Falmouth, Cumberland and Brunswick, said the product is one of the best he's seen on the market.

"It's a perfect size for big garden folks and little backyard garden folks," Skillin said. "What he's offering is fairly unique. There are other things out there, but they're not going to put up with the elements as well as David's."

In fact, the prototype in the Tidwell's backyard withstood the winds of Hurricane Irene last August without any problem.

Skillin said the Eden House model is also more affordable than similar greenhouses. Without the end walls, a 12-foot by 12-foot model costs $800, and a 12-foot by 24-foot model costs $1,500.

David said each customer will receive a personal consultation to determine specific growing needs and what, if any, add-ons (such as roll-up sides, exhaust fans and thermostats) may be needed.

But for David, the motivation behind launching this business is not lining his personal bank account. Rather, he hopes to help people feed themselves and to eventually provide employment.

You see, David is the full-time pastor of the Crossroads Community Church in Gray. This affords him a front-row view of the effects of the ongoing recession.

"I've been frustrated watching people struggle without jobs," he said.

David's congregation includes a number of adults and teenagers who have been unable to find work, and he's already been approached by people hoping he might have a job for them at Eden House. Should orders take off, David intends to ramp up production by hiring local people.

David and Marlene have also witnessed community members struggle to provide enough food for their families. Each Sunday, the church offers free food to people in need through the Bread of Life Food Pantry.

"The food need is huge," David said. "We have a line every week."

As David sees it, a successful Eden House company will supply both jobs and the means for people to produce more of their own food.

"This is a practical means of helping people," David said.

And for Maine's avid gardening community, an Eden House greenhouse can offer the means to grow food year round.


Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


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