C.J.: Herb garden guru is spicy, snappy, plenty happy

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2012 - 4:33 PM

Labor Day was not a holiday for Dehn's Garden owners Bob and Bonnie Dehn.

Of course, every day Bonnie gets to spend with her husband and best friend is like a holiday, even though they work long, hard days. Monday, they were doing chores that the couple decided they'd rather take care of instead of passing them onto their daughters -- Jenny, the main grower in charge of the 18 greenhouses, and Norah, head of retail sales. The daughters, their husbands and their kids live in houses down the road from their parent's 105-acre Andover farm, which echoes with the sound of Bonnie's laughter.

She's a constant, pleasant presence, whether working those Thursdays at their farmers market stand on Nicollet Mall with Bob or back at the farm. I had no idea how hard Jenny and Norah work weekends at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. There's fresh cutting of herbs, which starts about 2:30 a.m. Then those herbs, potted herbs and plants are packed onto refrigerated trucks for the first trip downtown. On Saturdays, the Dehn's stand is replenished by eight to 10 truckloads of products brought down in vehicles running back and forth between Minneapolis and Andover.

Bonnie knows her way around all kinds of vehicles. She went to Bemidji State to become a secondary education teacher and used to ride a small motorcycle back and forth on weekends to help her late parents, Royce and Corrine Bennett, with their farm. When younger sisters got married before Bonnie, her dad joked he was about to put her on an auction bill. Along came Bob, who had to help Bonnie's dad work the farm on Fridays so Bonnie could go on dates Saturday night. They've now been married 39 years. Aside from Bob's 1979 health scare, life's been one laugh after another -- even about things some would find no laughing matter. "We named our daughters after his old girlfriends," said Bonnie (do I need to say with a laugh?). "Yes we did. He's not only handsome, he's smooth." My interview with Bonnie and a postscript with Bob:

Q Your herbs are prominent in Minnesota, but you had struggles with your business in the beginning.

A It was a hard sell. When we first started in 1979, fresh herbs were not used as much. A lot of dried herbs were used, but not as many of the fresh. Now today, look at us.

Q Do you still drive a tractor?

A I still drive a tractor. Not the big one -- the small ones.

Q Have you ever once parked a 2 1/2-ton refrigerator truck on Nicollet Mall?

A I certainly have, not once, but twice or more.

Q What is your guilty pleasure on TV?

A I love cooking shows. If it's chocolate, I'm there.

Q Have you read First Lady Michelle Obama's "American Grown"?

A I have started reading it. It's very good. I think everyone should read it. We need more people aware of what we eat and how much we eat.

Q Have you read "50 Shades of Grey"?

A No, I haven't. Maybe I live it, though.

Q Tell me about that verbal slip you made before a crowd of upper-crust Twin Cities women?

A We were discussing the different flavors of herbs. Pineapple sage has a really nice pineappley flavor instead of sage. I was spieling on about the different herbs and I said, "Now you're going to rub this between your legs." It was supposed to be "between your fingers." Whoops.

 

Q Thinking about Bob, by any chance?

A Absolutely! My mind was not on the topic.

Q You were by some standards an old maid when you married him at the age of 23?

A He is so handsome! I happen to love my best friend, and he's Bob. It's just phenomenal. If you can imagine being with your best friend every day of the week, all your life, and having fun holding hands.

Q Your husband is a beautiful man, but he's a man. So he must have annoying habits. What are Bob's?

A Putting his elbow on my shoulder. He'll lean if we're standing around.

Q Have you considered an "Herb of the Week" program -- hear me out -- where during the dead of winter, when the farmers market is closed, you mail herbs to subscribers?

A Never thought if it. But it inspires.

Q Since gardening is your vocation, what is the your avocation?

A I just love being out in nature. Love watching trees grow, love the birds. The farm has so many different animals on it. There's a coyote, an eagle and red tail hawk. We've got it all right there, in the middle of the suburbs.

Q What's the most versatile herb in your opinion?

A Basil. You can use it in salads, desserts. Basil ice cream. I even make jelly with it.

Q Do you think salt gets a bad rap?

A Yes. You need salt. The potassium in salt is very important to your body. But on the other hand, if you have a heart condition, limit your salt.

Q Parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme?

A That's a beautiful song. And I prefer rosemary.

Q Which herb are you and why?

A Peppergrass. Spicy.

Bob laughed and intoned: "I was going to say snappy."

Interviews are edited for space and clarity. Reach C.J. at cj@startribune.com and see her on Fox 9.

  • WATCH VIDEO of C.J.'s interview with Bonnie Dehn

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