Three rows of tomato plants stretch over six feet in the air. With proper care, these plants can continue to produce for 12 to 18 months.

Returning to their roots, Wilseys open greenhouse

On the north side of the Elk Creek breaks along the Wicksville Road, a 26’x100’ greenhouse stands out from the regular livestock barns and machine sheds that normally dot the countryside. 

The greenhouse, which began taking shape in the fall of 2014, represents another aspect of the entrepreneurial spirit that typifies rural South Dakota.

Kent and Jo Wilsey, both South Dakota natives who have worked and lived in numerous states but most recently residents of Greensboro, N.C., made the difficult decision to change careers, locations and lifestyles in 2014 when they moved from their North Carolina home to join Kent’s parents on their ranch north of Lakeside. 

“We had been playing with ways to make a living in South Dakota for over four years,” Kent said. Kent, who is an aerospace engineer by trade, had spent his working life designing airplanes and space raft. At the time that the family decided to move to South Dakota, he was working for Honda Aircraft, designing the wing for Honda’s business jet. 

Kent and Jo knew that they would have to find some kind of supplemental income if they returned to the family ranch. Slowly, Kent became aware of the growing demand for locally grown food. He thought of his parents’ place and the growing potential it had. Considering the short growing season, though, Kent knew that a greenhouse would help give the plants more time to grow and produce. He began to investigate hydroponics and aquaponics. Hydroponics involves plants being raised in water using mineral nutrient solutions without soil. Aquaponics combines hydroponics with aquaculture, which is the raising of aquatic animals in tanks.

The urgency to return to the family ranch was heightened in 2013 when Kent’s father, Jim, mentioned that he was not sure he could make it through another South Dakota winter without some aid. Kent and Jo’s son, Zack, had just finished high school and decided to spend a year helping his grandparents on the ranch as he established residency in order to attend South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Zack eventually planned to attend college full time, though, so Kent knew this was only a temporary solution. 


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