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Johansen family farm adapts to the times

BOLINGBROOK – As Bolingbrook swiftly morphed from an agriculture community into a retail hub in the 1980s, the Johansen family found itself facing a tough decision.

The Johansens and their six west suburban produce stands were being pushed out by emerging supermarkets and grocery corporations.

So, in 1990, the Johansens did something that would have made their late grandfather proud: they adapted to their changing environment.

Described by his grandchildren as "hard working" and "willing to do anything to support his family," Hans Johansen emigrated from Denmark to Lisle in 1925. Shortly after, he settled down, started a family, cultivated a small plot of land, and opened a fruits and vegetables stand in Lisle.

As the family business grew, Hans Johansen's second oldest son, Cort Johansen Sr., followed in his father's footsteps, moving the business to 400 acres of farmland at the northeast corner of Boughton Road and North Orchard Drive in Bolingbrook and opening his first roadside stand in 1957.

Eventually, the business was rebranded and renamed "Johansen Farms."

Cort's death in 1990 left the Bolingbrook farm to his six children and wife, Dorothy.

Soon after, the Johansen's found themself faced with the advent of grocery stores and supermarkets. Also, the man who owned the 400 acres along Boughton Road planned to sell the property.

A family meeting was in order, recalls Cort Johansen's daughter and current part-owner Carol Johansen Cromeens.

"That was our livelihood, 400 acres of tomatoes and peppers and cabbage and all kinds of fruits," she said, adding that buying all 400 acres was not in the family's best interests.

The Johansen children and matriarch then decided to ditch traditional farming.

They purchased 15 acres of the Boughton Road land, building greenhouses and offering horticulture and home and garden supplies.

The family also made plans to expand the new business, achieving a dream Cort Johansen Sr. often spoke of.

"Dad always said that he wanted to buy (land near) the rock quarry on Route 53 (off Royce Road) and transform it into greenhouse space," Carol Johansen Cromeens said. "At heart, he was a farmer, but he always dabbled in flowers as well."

While the elder Johansen constructed greenhouses in the 1980s at the Boughton Road plot to sustain business during the harsh winters, it was still solely a fruits and vegetables enterprise.

With a combined 27 greenhouses at the two Bolingbrook locations, the Johansens now specialize in flowers, vegetables and herb plants, ferns and grasses. They have more than 2,000 varieties of plants, according to Carol Johansen Cromeens.

Although the Johansens no longer "farm," the quality of their plants and flowers comes from the nurturing they give the plugs – or, baby plants, according to Carol Johansen Cromeens.

"No garden centers around here grow the way we do," Carol Johansen Cromeens said. "We cultivate the plants, offering different ages and sizes. As a family, we take a lot of pride in our product."

Not only is Johansen Farms the largest and only commercial growing operation in the area, it remains a family owned and operated enterprise.

Tempers can flare within any family business, but the Johansen division of labor resembles a finely-tuned machine, as each of the four sibling owners tends to his or her area of expertise, said Carol Johansen Cromeens.

She is in charge of perennial flowers, purchasing logistics, and what and where to plant flowers. She also handles administrative duties and oversees the 32 employees.

Cort Johansen handles all the accounts and finances, Corey Johansen is the green thumb – tending to all plants and flowers, and Craig Johansen constructs and repairs everthing from sprinkler systems and irrigation lines, to lighting and mechanical work.

Their mother, Dorothy Johansen, designed the greenhouses and the property layout.

"Above all, we are family," Craig Johansen said. "We find a way to make it work, and everything works really well."

During the December to February offseason, the Johansens visit flower shows throughout the United States. Planting season then begins Feb.15 and the spring season opens around May 1. In the fall, the Johansens host a harvest festival and petting zoo.

"Our goal is to provide the Bolingbrook community with the best baskets, hangers and pots of blooming annuals in the Chicagoland area," Carol Johansen Cromeens said. "But, our mission is to live, work, act and react as a family."

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