Flower Farmer Beth Van Sandt Discusses the Doors That Opened Post-Dinner Tour

 

Beth Van Sandt of Scenic Place Peonies in Homer, Alaska, was in on the ground floor of the Certified American Grown Flowers movement. As Van Sandt puts it, she saw the value of the certification early on and knew there would be benefits from American flower farmers coming together under a single brand.

Beth Van Sandt and her husband, Kurt Weichhand on their peony farm in Homer, Alaska.  Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography.

In fact, Scenic Place was the first farm in Alaska to become Certified American Grown.

Left to Right; Jerry Hagstrom of the Hagstrom Report, Tim Dewey of Delaware Valley Wholesale, first lady Melania Trump, Kasey Cronquist, administrator for Certified American Grown, Beth Van Sandt of Scenic Place Peonies and Kurt Weichhand of Scenic Place Peonies.

But that was just the starting point for Van Sandt who has since leveraged nearly every aspect of the brand, including attending the First Lady’s Luncheon in Washington, D.C., that features all American Grown Flowers and hosting an American Grown Field to Vase Dinner on her farm in 2017.

The tables were filled with flower-loving guests at the Scenic Place Peonies Field to Vase Dinner.  Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography.

And oh the connections and opportunities that came from that dinner!

“The exposure the Field to Vase Dinner gave our farm made us recognizable and gave us a seat at the table industrywide. People know who we are now,” Van Sandt explains. “Wholesalers who may not have looked at us in the past see us as a reputable farm today.”

 

While volunteering for the the First Lady’s Luncheon in 2017, VanSandt met floral designer Kelly Shore of Petals by the Shore. The two hit it off, and later Shore agreed to be the designer for Field to Vase Dinner at Scenic Place Peonies. “Sitting at the table and meeting the designers, that was a great opportunity and it helped us promote the dinner tour at the farm,” Van Sandt recalls.

(Photo: Beth Van Sandt and Kelly Shore, of Petals by the Shore, designing arrangements for the First Lady’s Luncheon)

 

And when the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour came to Homer, the real fun (and exposure) began!

Florists Review did a feature on the dinner and included lots of images from the farm.

While in Alaska, Shore did a photo shoot featuring Van Sandt’s peonies for the Slow Flowers section of Florists Review, helping to further the exposure of Alaskan peonies for the industry to see.

And, last but not least, thanks to an introduction to Cal Poly Pomona Plant Sciences Department Chair Valerie Mellano, wife of Mellano & Company’s Mike Mellano (both who attended the dinner at Scenic Place Peonies), Van Sandt was able to start an internship program with four Cal Poly students.

Cal Poly students are spending their summer interning at Scenic Place Peonies learning about flower farming as a result of the connections made during the Field to Vase Dinner at Beth’s farm.

But how does Van Sandt know hosting the dinner tour stop was worth it?

“My phone blows up continuously with requests and my email inbox is always full. That’s proof that it worked. And it correlates with more cuts and more shipments out the door,” Van Sandt says.

Since hosting the dinner last summer, Van Sandt has continued her efforts to raise the profile of her Certified American Grown peonies, including having her Certified American Grown-branded truck in the Homer Fourth of July parade, along with Cal Poly interns wearing flower crowns!

And she shares the unique benefits and opportunities that come from connection to the brand with all who will listen.

Organic Valley Just Took the Next Field to Vase Dinner Up a Notch!

We promise American Grown Field to Vase Dinner guests an artisanal meal in the blooming fields of an American flower farm. It’s our brand standard. Thanks to our partners Organic Valley and Organic Prairie, that standard will be taken to a new level at our Sept. 8 dinner at John Zehrer’s Star Valley Flowers in Soldier’s Grove, Wisconsin.

In the ancient Driftless hills of southeastern Wisconsin, several local food and farming powerhouses will join their considerable talents to create a magical evening guaranteed to dazzle your senses.

 

We can’t wait to see what Driftless Café owners, chef Luke Zahm and wife, Ruthie, will do with the scrumptious organic ingredients provided by Organic Valley, Organic Prairie and more than 200 regional organic farmers as they craft the special menu for this dinner tour stop.

 

 

 

Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative representing more than 2,000 organic farmers in 35 U.S. states, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, along with its Organic Prairie meat company, is providing a long list of organic foods, including its signature Grassmilk® cheeses and Organic Prairie beef tenderloins.

And we’re thrilled for Organic Valley’s support and look forward to supporting its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming – and its regional model of producing, bottling and distributing milk where it’s farmed to ensure fewer miles from farm to table and to support our local economies.

Sounds a lot like our goals at Certified American Grown!

Oh, and in addition to enjoying an organic menu, guests will also find an additional treat from Organic Valley in their Field to Vase Dinner swag bags!

In the meantime, get to know Organic Valley by following @OrganicValley on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Then save your seat for this once-in-a-lifetime dinner!

During American Grown Flowers Month, You Can’t Miss Alaskan Peonies

There’s nothing like a field of peonies to positively impact your mood.  Even their names can brighten your day: Sequestered Sunshine, Blaze, Festiva Maxima.

Photo: Alaska Peony Cooperative

The peony’s beauty is certainly at the root of its popularity status with flower fans and brides. Available in every color but blue, the flower is popular in bridal bouquets (they are seen as a symbol of good luck) and are the superstars in summer arrangements and in bunches to bring home.

Photo: Jacqueline Patton Photo

Alaskan peonies just happen to be in all their glory in July – which is also American Grown Flowers Month! So we’re celebrating these gems, along with the thousands of other varieties grown right here in the U.S.

Photo: Arctic Alaska Peony

Here’s what you need to know about American-Grown peonies:

Alaska’s warm summers and perpetual daylight are the fuel peonies need to grow larger, bloom more vibrantly and enjoy a growing season that’s three weeks longer than in other locations. But it’s the state’s famous cold winters that are the secret ingredient: herbaceous peonies need a minimum of 400 hours of temperatures below 40 degrees and tree peonies need between 100 and 300 hours in that colder ground in order to flower.

Photo: Alaska Perfect Peony

The Alaska Peony Cooperative, formed in 2015 to help support the state’s burgeoning flower industry, has grown from a handful of farms with fewer than 1,000 stems to nearly a dozen growers expecting to sell a total of 40,000 stems this year.

“The secret is out: Our peonies are fantastic,” explains farmer Martha Lojewski.

Scenic Place Peonies’ delivery truck sports a new truck wrap showcasing the beauty of these stunning blooms, while proudly waving the flag for Certified American Grown.

Certified American Grown peony farms include Alaska Peony Cooperative, Alaska Perfect Peony, Arctic Alaska Peonies Co-op, Boreal Peonies, Cool Cache Farms, Giggly Roots Gardens, Joslyn Peonies, Scenic Place Peonies and Slimtree Farm.

Look for Certified American Grown peonies throughout American Grown Flowers Month in July and into August. You’ll be glad you did!

 

 

The East Coast’s Largest Flower Farm Becomes Certified American Grown

Bloomia, the largest cut flower farm on the East Coast, has become the latest Certified American Grown Farm.

With a mission of spreading happiness via sustainably grown flowers, Bloomia is committed to providing consumers with top-quality flowers at affordable prices that are grown in conscious ways. Bloomia even has a Sustainably Manifesto to back its commitment.

Bloomia grows nearly 100 million flowers a year, including tulips (year-round), hyacinths, muscari and peonies (seasonally) in 46 acres of temperature-controlled greenhouses. Most of the flowers are grown hydroponically in greenhouses equipped with biological control systems and incorporating precise techniques to avoid chemical use.

In addition to sustainability and energy-efficiency efforts, Bloomia believes in giving back. With initiatives like Blooms for Hope, the Field of Tulips and The Bloomia Market, Bloomia and its customers have donated thousands of dollars to help communities in need through amazing partners charities like DC Central Kitchen that aims to break the cycle of hunger and poverty.

If the Bloomia brand sounds familiar, that’s because the farm’s flowers can be found at Wegmans, Whole Foods, Kroger, Woolworths, Kroger, Harris Teeter and Trader Joe’s.

“Bloomia is a global company with operations in four continents, with each having the same commitment and focus at the local level. Our passion drives us to deliver the best possible floral experience to the end consumer,” says Evan Kerkhoven, sales and purchase manager at Bloomia. “Becoming Certified American Grown is an honor. American Grown embodies the same goal and passion for flowers we thrive on every day.”

Bloomia joins 56 other farms that have become Certified American Grown, giving consumers confidence in the source of their flowers and assuring them that the flowers they purchase come from a domestic American flower farm.

“This is very exciting,” shared Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist, “Certified American Grown has become the most prolific origin-based brand in the floral industry. With Bloomia’s certification, the program now represents over half of all domestic production of cut flowers and greens.”

If you want to learn more about Bloomia, you can visit their website, blog or follow them on Instagram!

Why not join the #originmatters movement by becoming the next Certified American Grown farm? There’s no better time to get on board than during July – American Grown Flowers Month!

 

America Is In Season

By Bill Prescott of Sun Valley Floral Farms

“Flowers are the angels, whereby they write on the hills and fields mysterious truths.” 
 – Benjamin Franklin 

Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776; as of today, there are 56 Certified Flower Farms in the United States … coincidence? Yes!

Welcome to American Grown Flowers Month!

This is an opportunity for flower farmers large and small to step up their games and make July a record sales month! There’s no better time to shine the light on flowers grown in the United States.

It may surprise you to learn that there are 56 Certified American Grown farms in the U.S., and applications have been streaming in daily from flower farms across the nation. Know a flower farmer? Forward them this blog; now’s the perfect time to get certified and plug into this groundswell movement. (No Pun Intended!)

Flowers at Monticello

The resolution declaring July as American Grown Flowers month notes that the U.S. Senate recognizes: that purchasing flowers grown in the United States supports the farmers, small businesses, jobs and the U.S. economy; that growing flowers and greens in the United States is a vital part of the U.S. ag industry; and urges “all people of the United States to proactively showcase flowers and greens grown in the United States in order to show support for our flower farmers, processors and distributors as well as agriculture in the United States overall.”
This thinking is what led to the bipartisan resolution designating July “American Grown Flowers Month.” Yes, Democrats and Republicans actually agreed on something, which is in itself a cause for rejoicing!

Celebrating Independence Day with American Grown flowers on the table makes sense. The likes of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington always had American Grown flowers on their tables, right? It would have been weird to call them British Grown. Did this lead directly to the American Revolution?

Check out Jefferson’s epic Celosia and single-bloom Tuberose. Nice!

Books have been written about George Washington’s gardens at Mount Vernon, and if someone has made a vase in the image of your head, well, you must be a serious flower-lover.

A George Washington bust tulip vase!

Have a great flower-filled Fourth of July and American Grown Flowers Month!

You’re Going To China? Really?

Delegation of American Flower Farmers Return From Trade Mission To China

Do you really think there is opportunity for American Grown Flowers in China?

Why bother with exporting to China when there is so much work in our own market?

You can’t possibly imagine American farms will be able to compete with Chinese production, can you?

Lane DeVries of Sun Valley Floral Farms and Robert Kitayama of Kitayama Brothers arrive Beijing as part of a delegation of American flower farmers.

I’m not sure I would qualify these as “frequently asked questions,” but these are some of the logical questions that were asked before our delegation’s departure to China last week.

And for good reason.

Considering the current climate for trade relations, the known cost of production for U.S. farmers and high tariffs currently in place for importing to China, what could possibly make this trade mission an opportunity for serious consideration by our farmers?

Certified American Grown hosted two seminars for floral industry wholesalers, importers and retailers while in China. Members of the American Grown Flowers delegation pictured left to right: Jim Omoto of Kendall Farms, Mel Resendiz of Resendiz Brothers Protea, Cathy McClintock of Kendall Farms, FJ Trzuskowski of Continental Floral Greens, Lane DeVries of Sun Valley Floral Farms, Christy Hulsey of Colonial House of Flowers, Robert Kitayama of Kitayama Brothers, Diana Roy of Resendiz Brothers Protea and Kasey Cronquist of Certified American Grown.

Resting on these reasonable assumptions, you couldn’t justify the trip.

However, it is our first-hand accounts, previous experience and recognized opportunities that had us returning to China.

Each farm sent product to showcase at each seminar. FJ Trzuskowski of Continental Floral Greens stands by his table during the trade seminar in Beijing.

 

A number of the attendees join our delegates for a photo after the seminar in Beijing.

Christy Hulsey provided design demonstrations with Certified American Grown Flowers for attendees.

In 2017, our farms returned from an exploratory mission and found that, despite conventional wisdom, opportunity for American Grown Flowers existed in China. In fact, since that time, our farms have already begun selling into the country.

Unlike the exploratory trip in 2017, this most recent trip was for market development. Certified American Grown hosted two seminars featuring American Grown Flowers and a presentation of floral design by floral designer Christy Hulsey. The seminars were attended by wholesalers, importers, retailers and floral designers. Over 50 people attended each of the seminars, providing our farms the opportunity to showcase their flowers and discuss business opportunities within the Chinese floral market.

The final two days of the trip included a visit to the Chinese growing region of Kunming. China enjoys massive production. China boasts over 1.3 million hectares of fresh cut production, growing over 12 billion stems per year and generating over $22 billion. Over 180,000 farms grow for the cut flower industry, with the average farm just under an acre of production. Many of the large farms are over 20 hectare. We visited two such farms on our visit to the Kunming region.

The American Grown Flowers delegation while in Shanghai.

 

Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist kicked off each program with an overview of the Certified American Grown program.

Our delegation met with the general manager of the Yunnan United Floral Transport & Marketing Co, otherwise known as FLY. They were established in 2002 and they represent approximately 80 percent of the production sold within the industry. They manage the floral auction, which operates much like the Holland auction did.

Our visit to Kunming Yang Chinese Rose Gardening Co. provided our delegation with first-hand insights into both the current production and future expectations for the floral industry’s expansion in China.

 

The delegation toured flower markets in Beijing, Shanghai and Kunming.

Ultimately, optimism for opportunity for American Grown Flowers continued to grow throughout the week. Despite high tariffs, a rocky trade environment and an enormous amount of local production in China, niche opportunities to present American Grown Flowers as high-quality, sustainably grown and produced by great flower farmers in the United States do exist.

The idea of selling American Grown Flowers into China at a better price than our farms might get in the United States may sound counterintuitive, but if it can be done, it would sure help our farms at home grow.

We’ll see where the next steps take us, but based on all that our farms learned and experienced, this week’s trip was invaluable.

The delegation visited Kunming, China’s flower growing region. China has over 1.3M hectares in cut flower production.

About the Trade Mission: 

This trip was developed out of a USDA Foreign Ag Services grant program. Certified American Grown received a Market Access Program (MAP) grant and a Quality Samples Program (QSP) grant to return to China to develop market opportunities on behalf of our farms. A delegation was formed and the group left on June 23 to host seminars on American Grown Flowers in Beijing and Shanghai. The group traveled to Kunming to learn more about the industry and its growing regions.

Kelly Perry to Lead Design at Nashville Tour Stop

Renowned Designer is Known for Her Entrepreneurial Spirit

Kelly Perry of Team Flower and Philosophy Flowers will bring her creative energy and breathtaking designs to the tablescapes at the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in Nashville, Tennessee, on Oct. 5.

Kelly Perry brings her passion for celebrating the moments of life with the beauty of flowers to the Field to Vase Dinner Tour on October 5, 2018. Photo by Heather Payne Photography.

Perry, who as a sixth grader convinced classmates to create silk flower corsages for a friendship banquet and then started a cake-decorating business in seventh grade, has built an incredible following of flower-lovers throughout the floral industry and beyond.

Perry will invite guests to take in the beauty of American Grown Flowers during our Nashville Field to Vase Dinner at Green Door Gourmet with stunning tablescapes like this one.
Photo by Heather Payne Photography.

Her passion and entrepreneurial spirit are mesmerizing.

At Team Flower, a global flower community that provides professional learning about floral design and growing flowers, Perry heads up all content development and classes.

Photo by Heather Payne Photography.

Perry also operates Philosophy Flowers in North Carolina, a boutique floral design business that specializes in weddings.

Her work has been featured with Southern Weddings, Martha Stewart Weddings and nearly 60 other publications.

Perry is a believer in the transformative power of small exquisite moments. Once I really started noticing the beautiful little things, like poppies blooming along the side of the road, a life shift began to happen,” she told Flower magazine.

 

 

“For me, flowers are all about celebrating the present moment. That’s why I love working with American Grown Flowers, especially ones grown close to home. Seasonality is important to me. Designing with these types of ingredients connects us to the moment, something that’s easy to breeze through in our busy world. I’m looking forward to creating for the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in partnership with American farmers and my Team Flower friends. May it be an invitation for us all to slow down, settle in and celebrate the day, ” Perry shares.

You don’t want to miss this opportunity to connect with one of the floral industry’s most vivacious and inventive designers and teachers!

 

Dinner Guests Get a Hands-On Flower Experience

F2V Boutonnière Bar is a Guest Favorite!

At every American Grown Field to Vase Dinner, guests are invited to visit a boutonnière bar where they can design a custom floral “wearable” with flowers from the farm they’re visiting.

Beautiful blooms at the boutonnière bar await guests of the Sacramento Field to Vase Dinner. Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography.

This hands-on experience is one of the most popular aspects of the event!

Making their own boutonnière gives guests a chance to be creative and they absolutely love it.  Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography.

Guests love learning how to create a boutonnière (or corsage), adding in their own personal style and then getting to wear the floral swag they create for the rest of the event.

Smithers Oasis/Floralife is the celebrated sponsor of this guest favorite.  Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography.

At each stop, the available flowers and foliage at the bout bar, kindly sponsored by Smithers-Oasis/Floralife, change, reflecting the blossoms and greens grown at the farm we’re visiting.

Guests have designed with Florida ferns, California protea and Alaskan peonies, to name a few. And when they don they’re creations, we’ve noticed they have a bit more spring in their step or swag in their swagger.

Plus they’ve learned a new skill they can use again and again for other special events – always using Certified American Grown Flowers, of course.

Just one more way guests, and our amazing sponsors like Smithers-Oasis, are getting involved in this amazing dinner tour that’s crisscrossing the country!

 

We’re headed to Star Valley Flowers in Soldier’s Grove, Wisconsin, on Sept. 8.

You don’t want to miss this next stop!

 

American Flower Farmers, Designer Head to China on Trade Mission

Christy Hulsey of the Colonial House of Flowers will join Certified American Grown for a trade mission in China.

 

A delegation of American flower farmers, accompanied by Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist and renowned floral designer Christy Hulsey of Colonial House of Flowers, is headed to China on a trade mission focused on market development activities.

 

 

During the trip, the group will meet with targeted importers, wholesalers and retailers in Beijing, Shanghai and Kunming to establish contacts and present business information. They will also tour the largest Chinese cut flower growing region in Yunnan Province to gain an understanding of production, its market structure and distribution network.

Last year, a delegation from Certified American Grown met with industry representatives in China.

 

The delegation headed to China this year includes:

  • Kasey Cronquist, Certified American Grown
  • Lane DeVries, Sun Valley Floral Group
  • Christy Hulsey, Colonial House of Flowers
  • Robert Kitayama, Kitayama Brothers
  • Cathy McClintock, Kendall Farms
  • Jim Omoto, Kendall Farms
  • Mel Resendiz, Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers
  • Diana Roy, Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers
  • FJ Trzuskowski, Continental Floral Greens

The trip is a result of months of work by Certified American Grown to secure federal grant funds through the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to develop export markets for American Grown Flowers.

In 2017, Certified American Grown conducted a comprehensive assessment in China to determine the Chinese market potential for increased sales of American Grown Flowers and greens. A five-member team of U.S.-based experts traveled to China to assess the market. As a result, several U.S. flower farmers began shipping to China.

Standing in front of the floral American flag she designed, Christy Hulsey declares her pride in American Grown Flowers.

As part of this trip, designer Hulsey, a longtime friend of Certified American Grown and last year’s Mayesh Design Star. Hulsey was responsible for creating the beautiful all-American Grown American flag installation at WFFSA in 2016 and served as a lead designer for Certified American Grown at the First Lady’s Luncheon in 2017. She will be bringing her design prowess to events being held with flower buyers in Beijing and Shanghai.

As a lead designer for the event, Christy Hulsey brought her talents and love of American Grown Flowers to the First Lady’s Luncheon in 2017.

 

Senate Declares July ‘American Grown Flowers Month’

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced a resolution on June 12 designating July as “American Grown Flower Month.”

The resolution notes that the U.S. Senate recognizes: that purchasing flowers grown in the United States supports the farmers, small businesses, jobs and the U.S. economy; that growing flowers and greens in the United States is a vital part of the U.S. ag industry;  and urges “all people of the United States to proactively showcase flowers and greens grown in the United States in order to show support for our flower farmers, processors, and distributors as well as agriculture in the United States overall.”

American consumers spend almost $27 billion per year on floral products each year. While the majority of consumers would prefer to buy homegrown flowers, only 20 percent of the flowers sold here were grown in the United States.

Flower farmers met with Senator Diane Feinstein in February in Washington, D.C. The Senator recently sponsored Senate Resolution 540 declaring July American Grown Flowers Month.  Photo by Nony Park of Ken Pak Photography.

“California grows nearly 75 percent of American-grown cut flowers – including tulips, gerbera daisies, lilies, irises and gladiolas,” said Senator Feinstein. “Americans want to support local businesses and growers, but often are unaware the flowers they’re purchasing were grown outside of the United States. Our resolution will help raise awareness and encourage consumers to look for the ‘Certified American Grown’ label before buying flowers.”

Flower farmers met with Senator Dan Sullivan in February in Washington, D.C. The Senator recently sponsored Senate Resolution 540 declaring July American Grown Flowers Month.  Photo by Nony Park of Ken Pak Photography.

“Alaska’s moderate weather and cool soil conditions allows for a growing season that brings beautiful American grown flowers to market throughout the summer,” said Senator Sullivan. “In Alaska, our local peony growers – family owned farms across our state – provide some of the most beautiful and saturated blooms to weddings and events around the country; well after the traditional growing season has passed in other states. American Grown Flower Month is only one small acknowledgment of the value and support we share for these local small business owners, but an important one.”

Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist noted the importance of the national designation recognizing America’s hardworking flower-farming families. “We’re honored to have earned this important recognition and we join flower farmers nationwide in celebrating this wonderful recognition,” said Cronquist. “Naming July American Grown Flowers Month also opens the door for florists and wholesalers to continue to discuss the virtues of homegrown flowers – a point that’s resonating with consumers who want the flowers in their homes to be as fresh and sustainable as the food on their plates.”

To learn more about American Grown Flowers Month, visit AmericanGrownFlowers.org/AGFM