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US (NE): Greenhouse in the snow continues to flourish, adding international markets and commercial kits

An innovative idea from an Alliance man some 35 years ago has since blossomed into a company with sales across the United States and is now expanding into Canada and Europe.

Russ Finch, 91, retired from the U.S. Postal Service with an idea for a natural way to heat his home. That idea led him to create a greenhouse in which the indoor climate is warmed in the winter and cooled in the summer simply by utilizing the Earth’s natural temperature 8 feet underground, where it is a constant 52 degrees Fahrenheit. His geothermal concept conserves energy and reduces greenhouse costs.

The company Finch founded, Greenhouse in the Snow, has sold more than 700 greenhouse kits, utilizing parts that are manufactured in Alliance by Antioch Machine, LLC. Finch approached Allen Bright, owner of Antioch Machine, in 2010, and the two have partnered ever since. Today, Bright supervises the manufacturing, sales, and delivery of the greenhouse kits, along with conducting a steady stream of tours at the greenhouse in the snow at his home.

The original greenhouse at the home where Finch lives with his wife, Darlene, became an attraction for visitors who wanted to see for themselves how using low-grade geothermal heat and cooling could produce citrus, fruits, vegetables, and many varieties of flowers year-round. It stood as an example of Finch’s ingenuity for more than 20 years until it collapsed under the weight of eight feet of snow in 2022, Bright says.

“It was a total loss,” he says. “It got to be 20-below-zero within a day or two. We couldn’t save any of the plants. It was heartbreaking. Russ is a trooper, though. He’s still talking about rebuilding it.”

This year, the company is building its first commercial greenhouse model west of Alliance.

Finch and Bright have relied upon the advice and guidance of the team at the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) office in Chadron since 2010. Chris McCarthy, Chadron consultant for America’s SBDC – Nebraska, a program of the NBDC; several former NBDC consultants, and Chadron Office Assistant Jennifer Wittrock have provided a number of services to Finch and Bright, from research and advice about competition to website improvements and Finch’s plan to reduce his time with the company.

“Russ has been a very special client for us,” Wittrock says. “He gives credit to the NBDC, Dixie Nelson of the Alliance Chamber of Commerce, and Allen Bright for helping him succeed, all without ever going into debt. The business is still paying for itself.”

In 2014, the NBDC named Greenhouse in the Snow the Sustainability Business of the Year. The following year, the Small Business Administration (SBA) recognized the company as the Nebraska Congressional District III Small Business of the Year, third place.

Greenhouse in the Snow sells greenhouse kits that include frames, polycarbonate glazing, and detailed instructions for building greenhouses. Greenhouse kits are priced by the lineal foot and are available in 6-foot increments. The greenhouses are 17 feet wide. Most kits range from 78 feet to 102 feet long.

“We just sold our largest ever, 180 feet long, to a buyer in Colorado,” Bright says.

Bright says he will continue to seek the guidance of the NBDC in Chadron as Greenhouse in the Snow expands into new markets, most recently establishing sales in Canada and Europe. “The people at NBDC take small business seriously,” he says. “Everybody thinks about big companies like Microsoft and Amazon, but across Nebraska, it’s the little businesses that make everything run.”


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