Linwood greenhouse business rebuilding more than two months after EF-4 tornado destroyed it

LINWOOD, Kan. – Rebuilding is underway at Free State Growers more than two months after a devastating tornado ripped through Leavenworth County.

The EF-4 tornado wiped out most of the greenhouse business on May 28. Owner Mark Illausky estimates they lost almost 10 acres of greenhouse space.

“We probably lost about 90% of our greenhouse structures,” Illausky said. “We still have a little under an acre that withstood the tornado, and what plants we were able to salvage we were able to get them into that greenhouse structure.”

The company managed to salvage some of the inventory.

They’ve been working out of the tight space and a few temporary greenhouses since, but Illausky said time is no longer on their side.

“We want to get built as fast as we can because we actually do have a lot of shipping in the fall with garden mums and, of course, it leads into poinsettia season for us,” Illausky explained.

The weather is also a driving force for the start of the rebuild.

“What we have here is a lot of house plants, tropical plants," Illausky said. “Right now, they’re doing OK in the weather we have. But if we start getting nights under 50 degrees, we’re going to have some problems."

Illausky said they’ve cleared about 60% of the debris left behind from the tornado.

They’re now in phase one of the rebuilding process, which focuses on just a couple of acres. Crews have been installing columns and clearing and pouring concrete for an area Illausky said will be much more efficient than the old space.

“Looking ahead, we actually may be able to do more with less,” he said.

Phase one of the rebuild is expected to be completed by the end of September. Illausky said the plan is to have most of the 10 acres of structure lost in the tornado erected by December.

“When you forget about all of this behind me and you look forward and see the steel coming in, the new greenhouses being built, we’re all just so excited because we know it’s a new chapter ahead of us,” he said.

Steel for the new greenhouses should arrive by the end of the week.

Free State Growers is one of the largest house plant growers in the Midwest, according to Illausky. He said his employees and customers have played a huge part in keeping the business afloat since tornado hit.

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