Shane Clouse makes a difference on his farm

January 1, 2015

Wreaths, Peppers and a Pink Grizzly

If the building wasn’t Pepto-Bismol pink you might
miss it. The Pink Grizzly Greenhouse is located on
busy Russell Street in Missoula and the property has
been in the Clouse family since 1956.
“This was a nursery even before my parents bought it,”
says Shane Clouse who is bustling around the greenhouse
checking on peppers, helping a customer buy a
few chrysanthemums and answering the phone. It’s a
busy late summer day at the Pink Grizzly.
“My dad grew up on a farm in Michigan, and my parents
wanted their eight kids to have a background in
agriculture and develop an entrepreneurial spirit,”
Clouse says. “The Pink Grizzly name came about in the
1970s. My dad built the building. At that time there were
seven kids and not a lot of money, so dad bought bright
pink paint on special. The Pink Panther movies were
popular so we were going to call it that, but the name
was copyrighted, so we opted to use the word ‘grizzly’
because of the University of Montana mascot. Growing
up, it was kind of like the boy name Sue. It made me
tougher to own a pink building. My parents had a gift
shop there and sold produce from their truck garden at
that site, so the name just stayed through the years.”
Although the name is fun, Clouse takes his business seriously.
“The name of our corporation is AgroVitae. Agro
means cultivate and vitae, life. We grow over a million
individual starter bedding plants and ornamentals each
year. We have 26,000 square feet of greenhouse space
under cover and another three acres outside. We grow
40,000 petunias and 6,000 fl ower baskets, just to give you
an idea. Another aspect is when our ornamental plants
are gone we grow peppers for restaurants and Kalispell’s
regional medical centers. Although we grow fl owers and
ornamentals, I fi nd it especially fulfi lling to grow food.”
Clouse has been a lifelong advocate for agriculture. “In
my time at Montana State University and being in AGR,
I wanted to grow food for folks,” he says. “Peppers work
well for our environment. We grow all sorts of peppers—
red and yellow sweet bells, poblanos, anaheims
and three varieties of hot peppers. Although the peppers
aren’t the most profi table, they create income where
there was none before.”
When the bedding plants, ornamentals and pepper
season is over, the Pink Grizzly doesn’t sit dormant. It
swings into high gear with forest products. “We sell several
thousand Christmas trees. We don’t grow them but
they are harvested locally. We got a Forest Service permit
for cutting our own materials for Christmas wreaths. We
cut four different species to use as raw materials for our
wreath business.”
They added a “Montana Select” wreath to their line which
incorporates wheat, sagebrush and red twig dogwood.
“This product is unique to Montana, and can be used not
only as a Christmas wreath but a decorative one. We’ll
add in Montana plants we fi nd on the ranch such as yarrow.
This really delineates our products from a wreath
you can buy from any other state. The only part of our
wreath that isn’t from Montana is the metal frame.”
The hard-working entrepreneur believes their business
is popular because it still has that mom-and-pop feel.
“My parents started this greenhouse business as a way
to teach their kids about agriculture and as a way for
those kids to make money for college,” Clouse explains.
“This has provided me with a career. Instead of staying
in a corporate job that I had for several years, I was able
to come back to Montana.”
The business employees 28 people seasonally and fi ve
full-time. Three generations of the family are directly
involved in the business. “I serve as the onsite director and
fi eld manager. My brother, Shaun, handles the technical
aspects of the business. One of my nephews is my manager.
My mom is 86 (sadly, Dad passed away two years
ago) and makes the jam we sell,” says Clouse. “My sister
sews pillows and tree skirts. We have a nephew whose
wife is a talented welder and makes gifts for the store.”