Terry Gerten opened the gates of his new Farm Market the morning after a blizzard in April 1983. With more than a foot of snow on the ground, "there weren't any customers that day," said Rosemary Piekarski Krech, family friend and Inver Grove Heights City Council member.
But Gerten's passion for growing — and giving back to the community — overcame any weather obstacles. Customers saw him every day at his folksy Gerten's Farm Market in Inver Grove Heights, which he owned and operated for 35 years.
"My dad's world revolved around this place," said daughter Katie Gerten, who works at the market. Gerten died in his sleep Aug. 18 at age 69.
He started selling vegetables as a kid growing up on a farm with nine siblings in Inver Grove Heights. Gerten was a hockey player and class president at Simley High School, graduating in 1967.
He attended Bemidji State University for a year and then enlisted in the Air Force, serving from 1969 to 1974 during the Vietnam War. Gerten returned to Minnesota and worked as an air traffic controller until 1981, when more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers were fired by then President Ronald Reagan.
Gerten was at a crossroads and was not sure what to do next.
"Terry was helping his brother Mike with a tomato growing operation but decided he wanted to be his own boss," said Piekarski Krech. So Gerten bought an acre in Inver Grove Heights near the old family farm, put up a store building and opened the Farm Market. At first, he stocked fresh produce and eggs and then evolved to growing and selling perennials, annuals, vegetables, herbs and lawn care products, working side-by-side with his mother Marge Gerten until her death in 2014.
His Farm Market is about a mile away from his cousins Lewis and Glen Gerten's much larger Gertens Greenhouses and Garden Center, also in Inver Grove Heights. Everyone refers to the two businesses as Big Gertens and Little Gertens, with Gerten carving out his own success with seven employees and five greenhouses.
Gerten hired and mentored local teenagers and taught them how to plant trees and transplant seedlings. He toiled with the crew daily, hauling carts of heavy plants and soil, digging trenches and even outperforming them, said Aj Gallegos, who worked at the Farm Market for three summers. "Terry had an ability to lead by action," he said. "And he made me feel like part of the family."
Loyal customers kept coming back for Gerten's knowledgeable advice and personal service. He knew their names, plant preferences and colors. Sindy Goodwill, a 20-year Farm Market regular, used Gerten's plants to fill her garden, which was featured in a garden tour. "Terry hung up photos at the store because he was so proud they were his plants," she said.
His no-nonsense advice to customers was "green side up and just let it grow," said Katie. "Although an easygoing boss, he expected, and also rewarded, hard work." He was at the market every day from January to June and "then you couldn't get him off the golf course," said Katie. During the winter days, he sometimes took a nap in a sunny greenhouse with a bag of perlite as a pillow, she said.
Gerten's Farm Market has strong family roots, and Katie and her siblings,Tony Gerten and Melissa Goski, will "keep things going with fall mums and bulbs," she said. "Then we'll be back in the spring for another year in our dad's honor."
Gerten is also survived by his children Krista Tessier and Sarah Tessier, former wife Paulette Gerten and seven grandchildren.
Services have been held.