The circle of life cycle that powers Tangletown Gardens and its neighboring Wise Acre bears striking resemblance to the recycling emblem, traveling from a 140-acre farm in Plato to the storefronts in South Minneapolis and back again. And it’s a path paved with rich black gold: topsoil.
Proprietors Scott Endres and Dean Engelmann consider themselves “humble farm boys,” with Endres hailing from Hampton Township and Engelmann from the land they farm to this very day. Together, the friends have helmed the company for 19 years, through economic downturns and a global pandemic that continues to stretch into the foreseeable future. And they’ve done it without ever taking a shortcut.
In fact, they’re committed to taking a step forward by taking a few steps back, returning to what’s considered “regenerative agriculture.” This way of farming helps rebuild topsoil and reverse the effects of climate change with a focus on biodiversity, crop rotation and other earth-friendly tactics.
Their idyllic farm “has its own ecosystem,” Endres notes. “There’s this ebb and flow of energy to and from the farm. That energy is really important for the lifeblood of our businesses that serve so many people in our community.”
Although the buzzy phrase “farm to table” has unfortunately long since been stripped of any real meaning, Endres and Engelmann have in fact created a carbon-positive farm-to-table-to-farm formula that has allowed their business to bloom. And just as they diversify their crops, over the years they have continuously diversified their offerings to meet the needs and demands of the community. Today, the rich Tangletown portfolio includes the ornamental plants available at the cult-favorite garden center, dreamy garden and landscape design services, true farm-to-fork fare served at Wise Acre, a CSA program, and farm-direct meats and produce.
All of this begins with the dirt under their feet. “Our soil is alive,” Engelmann says. “If you come to the farm and scoop up a handful of soil, you’re holding more microorganisms than humans on the planet. It’s not just a substance we stick a seed in; it’s a living, breathing collection of organisms. You know that beautiful, rich, loamy black soil — you can smell it and almost feel it. You can stand there and admire the diversity of cover crops, wildlife and insects galore.”
“We have lush rolling hills and very rich topsoil that has been formed over tens of thousands of years,” he continues, noting that biodiversity across the region sadly has suffered as many farms have consolidated and become increasingly monoculture. “We’re trying to create and nurture a system that mimics what Mother Nature would do. There’s a lot of cross-pollination: Our pastures become fields, and fields become pasture. Nothing is static. It’s an ever-changing, ever-evolving rhythmic beat, where plants and animals work together to support a sustainable system.”
The farm’s roster includes cows, pigs, ducks, turkeys, an orchard, more than 100 kinds of vegetables, and thousands of ornamental plants. The flora is put to creative use in the brand’s trademark design services as well as showcased at the trend-forward garden center — complete with some of that magical soil. All the prep and packaging for Tangletown’s vast offerings happen right here, too. And when food waste gets scraped from plates at Wise Acre, it’s sent back to Plato to enrich that carefully cultivated topsoil.
“The farm is driven by one equation: Healthy soil leads to healthy plants leads to healthy animals and people,” Engelmann asserts. “Every decision we make is rooted in one thing and one thing only: how we improve our soil. It underlies pretty much everything we do. Modern industrial agriculture will feed the world — until it collapses, because we’ve mined out from underneath our feet.”
Although Tangletown’s unique approach is a direct response to today’s challenging realities, its proprietors remain optimistic, both for business and for the environment. “Throughout the pandemic, food has been good medicine for people,” Endres says. “Gardening has also been good medicine, letting people reconnect with something, nurture something, and feed themselves both in a physical and mental sense.”
“What’s important is that we’re not just taking from the land but nurturing it, leaving it in better condition than when we came to it,” he concludes. “That’s also true for how we approach our businesses and the way we present ourselves to our community. We always strive to give back to the community we serve.”