US (NE): Greenhouse growing exotic fruits donates produce to local organizations

The North Platte NRD’s Greener Garden Greenhouse in the Panhandle grows bananas, papaya, dragon fruit, pomegranates, limes and lemons the size of a cantaloupe, among other plants more suitable for Nebraska soil.

The uniqueness of the greenhouse has garnered worldwide attention during its four years here, greenhouse manager Jeni Berge said. “I think our last tour was a group from Germany. It’s kind of interesting from the agritourism aspect. There have been a lot of people traveling here to see it,” she said.

The greenhouse, though, is much more than a tourist attraction and a test plot for what can be grown in the area. Most of the produce is donated to local organizations, Berge said.

“Before the pandemic, we donated to the (West Nebraska) Veterans Home, but they stopped accepting donations because of COVID. We did also donate to the Migrant Headstart program a few times because they have kind of a short season,” she said.
Berge said the donations are pretty frequent. “(We donate produce) two or three times a week in the summer. In the winter, it’s about once a week. We are able to donate year-round,” she said. They donate more than just produce, though. “We also donated a whole bunch of plants to the WNCC community garden, and also to CAPWN for people that maybe aren’t able to get some plants. We do donate quite a few,” she said.
Banana plants don’t grow from seeds like most fruit-bearing plants. The plants have to be cloned from offshoots. Berge said a lot of those offshoots have been donated to schools including Garden County and Bayard High Schools, Berge said. “Any of the extra offshoots that are not going to be in the banana chain you can cut out of there and place them in soil, and then you’ll have an exact replica of the mother plant. They’re in the grass family, so it’s like separating grasses,” she said.
“These could be for greenhouses or a sun porch,” Berge said. “You can have them outside right now and bring them inside and take care of them when the weather turns colder. You just need a sunny place to put it or a grow light.”

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