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Exotic fruits, traditional fare found in Nebraska greenhouse
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Exotic fruits, traditional fare found in Nebraska greenhouse

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Exchange-Panhandle Greenhouse

Jeny Berge, with the NRD's Greener Gardens Greenhouse, shows off lemons that will grow to the size of a cantaloupe in August, 2021, in Scottsbluff Neb. (Jeff Van Patten/The Star-Herald via AP)

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SCOTTSBLUFF — The North Platte Natural Resource District’s Greener Garden Greenhouse is out to change the face of agriculture in the Panhandle.

In the greenhouse, you will find bananas, papaya, dragon fruit, pomegranates, limes and lemons the size of 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 a 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.

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“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.

Berge did say banana plants are easy to clone.

“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 mom. They’re in the grass family, so it’s like separating grasses,” she said.

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Berge said it is possible for the average gardener to grown banana plants in their house.

“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.”

NRD general manager John Berge said the greenhouse was made possible by the generosity of local donors, as well as a grant.

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“About four years ago, we had a discussion about building a greenhouse,” he said. “The previous assistant manager Barb Cross and I talked about that. I told her that I wanted to have a greenhouse. She did a whole bunch of research and we ended up getting a whole bunch of private donations and then we got a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust and built it.”

John Berge said part of the idea for the greenhouse was to see what alternative plants could be grown in the Panhandle.

“Our goals were to demonstrate that a different kind of agriculture can exist, even in this part of the state, and also to be able to provide food resources to those in need. … We’re also continually doing sort of ongoing agronomic research about what goes well in a greenhouse in this part of the world and the economics of it,” he said.

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The Dig Deeper Farm Tour will take place Saturday and give the community an opportunity to see where local produce is grown and connect with the producers by visiting any of the eight participating farms.

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