Alaska’s Stone Circle Becomes Certified American Grown

Michelle Morton is an Alaskan peony grower by way of Los Angeles, Australia and Scotland.

 

She was born in Scotland, grew up in Australia and landed in Los Angeles as a young adult where she studied music, percussion specifically, at the Musicians Institute in

Hollywood. It was, she found, “a very strange place.”

“Somebody said ‘You should try Alaska,’ and I said ‘Alaska?’ And I ended up coming up with just a backpack and I loved it. It’s so extremely different from anything that I’d known.”

 

 

She put down roots in the state and eventually bought five acres in Homer, which would eventually become the home of her business, Stone Circle Peonies, a Certified American Grown flower farm. The property was filled with dead trees, the victims of a beetle infestation. After she cleared the trees, she was left with land she didn’t know what to do with.

 

It called out, however, to her lifelong love of gardening. She started with a small vegetable garden. That eventually led to enrolling in the USDA’s high tunnel program, where the government reimburses growers for building the enclosed structures that allow produce to be grown in a protected environment.

It’s a four-year program, “where they’re basically teaching you how to farm,” she said.

It was also a time when peonies were exploding in Alaska.

“There were workshops on growing peonies,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, what’s a peony? I’ve never even heard of a peony.’”

Morton found herself a budding farmer in a suddenly fertile flower-growing environment.

“I’d grown vegetables for the farmers market. I just thought I’m going to grow peonies, they’re beautiful and there’s a demand for them, it’s a new industry and there’s a lot of hype about them.”

 

Peonies had taken off in Alaska after a government pilot project in the early 2000s found that the flowers thrived in the state’s long summer days and were ready for harvest in July and August, a time when the rest of the world’s annual supply of peonies had been picked, sold and used up. It also coincided with the peak of the wedding season, which the big, showy blooms seem tailor-made for. And the flowers were relatively light weight and perfect for export via air. Alaska went from zero peony farmers in 2004 to more than 200 by 2014.

 

Morton was part of that boom. She planted a quarter-acre in 2012, and nurtured her plot for the four years it takes to develop a commercially viable crop.

The learning curve, however, was steep. “Everest steep,” she said. She’s grateful for the kindness of Homer’s other peony growers.

“I have a lot of people who have taken me under their wings and have been teaching me,” she said. “And I’m not afraid to ask people for help. A lot of the old-timers in Alaska have been helping me with understanding the soil and what things need to be happy. People have been very kind in helping me understand the needs of the peonies.”

Three years ago, she harvested a thousand blooms. Last year it was 6,000; this year, she figures the number is 10,000, and she sold all of them.

 

She manages to keep the farm going with just the help of her two children, Fiona, 14 and Seamus, 12.

Fiona designed Stone Circle Peonies’ website and does much of the marketing via Instagram and other social media platforms. Both she and Seamus help out in the fields.

 

“We post photos that show the flowers in the Alaska setting” Morton said. “Our theme is ‘love Alaska, love peonies.’ We want to show people what a beautiful place Alaska is and how beautiful peonies are.”

Morton sells the flowers to florists, flower designers and directly to consumers in the lower 48 states, and has her eye on the international market.

 

“Growing flowers, what a great job,” she said. “We’re not destroying the earth, we’re working with Mother Nature and we’re trying to do it as naturally as we can. I do my own compost, I talk to my flowers. It’s a happy environment. I work from home and my kids can be a part of it.”

 

Florists Get Creative to Promote Women’s Day

How Will You Promote This Flower-Giving Holiday?

Women’s Day, coming Friday, March 8, is a day to honor and recognize women’s achievements, and to celebrate the women in our lives by expressing our respect, appreciation and love. With efforts internationally dating back as far as 1908, the observance of Women’s Day in the U.S. continues to grow, as does its status as a flower-giving holiday.

Efforts to market Women’s Day as a natural floral holiday in the U.S. began in earnest in 2010 with help from Lane DeVries at Sun Valley Floral Farms. Since launching the initiative, retailers, wholesalers and other companies have joined efforts to grow the holiday and raise awareness and consumer interest in celebrating it with flowers.

After all, Women’s Day is a natural fit for the flower industry, and its timing helps bridge the gap between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day – the two biggest flower-related holidays in the U.S.

At Whole Foods in Landover, Michigan, Women’s Day is a relatively busy holiday, according to Diana Westcott. To drive sales, they’ll be offering two, 10-stem bunches of Certified American Grown tulips for $10, as well as a Phalaenopsis orchid plant grown in New York for $12.99.

Liezet Arnold of Bloem Decor. Photo by Eye Photos by Eye Connoisseur Photography

At Bloem Decor in Sacramento, California, owner Liezet Arnold, a past designer for the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour, will be giving a free California Grown rose with every Women’s Day purchase.

Ashely Atelier of Atelier Ashley Flowers. Photo courtesy of Atelier Ashley Flowers.

Ashley Greer, owner of Atelier Ashley Flowers in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, will celebrate Women’s by designing floral centerpieces for the annual Dress for Success Congressional Suit Challenge and Power Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

Dress for Success is an international nonprofit that provides women professional attire and job skills to succeed in the workplace and life.  For the past 20 years, Dress for Success has supported women in 150 cities and 30 countries.

In addition to providing event florals, Greer is collecting business suits and work attire to donate at the event.

Ready to promote join these innovative florists and retailers in promoting Women’s Day? Check out this resource page with information and advice to help you promote this flower-giving holiday!

America’s Flower Farmers Appreciate President Trump’s Commitment to Ending Unfair Trade Practices

Certified American Grown and America’s flower farmers congratulate President Trump on his State of the Union speech. We continue to appreciate his commitment to American businesses and American workers and we welcome his bold declaration that the theft of American jobs and wealth is over.

America’s flower farmers respect President Trump’s goal to level the playing field in all future trade agreements such as the USMCA and in ongoing discussions with China.  We support President Trump’s “America First” trade policy.  We’re hopeful that this administration will finally end the unfair trade practices that have adversely affected American flower farms and have marginalized the value of the American jobs they produce.  America’s flower farmers have spent the past 30 years fighting to maintain their livelihood in the face of trade agreements such as the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) that sacrificed this iconic American sector of agriculture to reduce drug trafficking.  Sadly, drug production in these Andean countries remains at an all-time high.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, America’s flower farmers appreciate President Trump’s “America First,” mantra and reminding Americans about the importance of those four beautiful words—”MADE IN THE USA!”

Albertsons Companies Welcomes BloomCheck Certification

BloomCheck Provides Domestic Farms With Path Forward

Debi Lilly florals are found throughout Albertsons companies floral departments.

Albertsons recently added the BloomCheck certification program to its list of approved sustainability certification programs used to certify the plants, flowers and greens sold through their Debi Lilly line of floral products. BloomCheck provides retailers and their customers with a third-party certification that assures that farms are not only following the high standards involved with agriculture production in the United States, but are also committed to continuous improvements in best practices involved with growing flowers and plants.

“We’re pleased to provide Albertsons and Albertsons customers with a sustainability certification program for our domestic producers,” shared Kasey Cronquist, administrator for BloomCheck. “BloomCheck certification is a rigorous set of standards designed to help set our farms apart and accurately credit them on what it takes to produce flowers sustainability here in the United States.”

Farms that complete the BloomCheck certification have undergone a complete review of their production practices with an “on-farm” auditor from Protected Harvest. Protected Harvest is a third-party nonprofit organization responsible for accrediting BloomCheck’s standards and providing the third-party auditors involved with the verification of our farms’ practices.

 

Top 10 Ways To Leverage Your Certification in 2019

Let's Go Big In 2019!

 

Happy New Year!

 

Thanks to all of our Certified farms, 2019 represented our best year yet!

With so much grown and success, 2019 is shaping up to be even better!

Certified American Grown is only as successful as the farms that are engaged, leveraging and promoting their affiliation with the campaign.

So, we compiled a list of the Top 10 ways you can leverage your certification for growth and success in this new year.

#1 Label Your Flowers and Greens

Certified American Grown is not a happy talk program.

Designed to drive sales and win back marketshare, Certified American Grown is the only guarantee in the floral industry that promises a 3rd party guarantee for consumers and your customers that the flowers they are purchasing were grown and assembled here in the United States.

Make sure your flowers, bouquets, bunches, buckets, are going out the door labeled.  Looking for American Made sleeves?  As our preferred provider, Noam and his team at Temkin are ready to help all of out farms with their sleeving needs.  #CertificationMatters

 

# 2 Promote the Celebration of American Grown Flowers Month!

Proven to drive sales!  Encourage your customers to avoid the “summer sales slump” by celebrating and promoting Certified American Grown Flowers all month long.  Have mass market customers?  Have them sign up for this year’s merchandising contest.

# 3 Advocate for Your Farm in Washington, D.C.

Join your fellow farmers for two days in our nation’s capitol, helping us to raise the profile of America’s flower farmers. This dedicated effort has proven to be effective in driving awareness and increasing opportunities and resources for our farms.  This year we’re going to the White House!

# 4 Wrap Your Truck!

In 2018, we saw some BIG branding efforts with some sweet truck wraps!  We have plug-and-play design ready to go for you.  Contact Mark Smith and get a quote from Signature Graphics, 615-569-4115.

#5 Participate in our Facebook Forum

Want to stay engaged each day?  Our Facebook Forum attracts designers, mass marketers and farmers who care about Certified American Grown.  Consider joining the daily conversation.  Already a member?  That’s great!  Share your experience and best practices with the program and engage with comments!

 

#6 Volunteer for the Rose Parade

We are always looking for farms to support our efforts in Pasadena. Primarily a CA Grown promotion effort (it is December…), but we had a number of you ask about supporting and help. Heck, we may even have another opportunity to certify an entry American Grown! Join us in 2019! Contact Anna Kalins to volunteer at Anna@AmericanGrownFlowers.org.

#7 Host a Field to Vase Dinner in 2020

Photo by Liraz Photography.

We are about to launch the 2019 tour, but now is the time to get yourself on the list for this award-winning marketing program in 2020. Applying is made simple on our website. The Field to Vase Dinner Tour is the most successful consumer-facing national promotion program in the floral industry. Bring this spotlight to your farm in 2020.

#8 Donate Your Flowers (or time) to the First Lady’s Luncheon

For the fourth year in a row, Certified American Grown will have the honor and privilege to provide our flowers to the 106th First Lady’s Luncheon. This is such a high-profile event and opportunity. We have an amazing team of volunteer designers that will be led by Mary Kate Kinnane of the Local Bouquet. If you can’t send flowers, but you’d like to work with our team of designers, let us know that too. Contact Anna to donate flowers. Contact Andrea to volunteer your time.

#9 Consider Participating in a Trade Mission

Certified American Grown is proud to lead international trade missions and explore economic development opportunities for our domestic farms.  In 2019, we will be going to SE Asia and South Korea.  If you’d like to learn more about these trips, contact Andrea at Andrea@AmericanGrownFlowers.org.

 

#10 Add Your Unique CAG Logo to Your Email, Website, Biz Cards, Etc.

Many of you already wave the flag everyday with each email you send, on your website and every business card you hand out.  These types of branding efforts really do go a long way in helping highlight that your farm is part of the bigger effort to help consumers find the flowers they really want…

Podcast Gets To The Heart Of Dinner Tour Excitement

Kelly Perry is a floral designer, teacher, content developer, business owner and a podcaster. She’s also the designer for the upcoming American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour Oct. 5 at Green Door Gourmet in Nashville.

Click on the image above to hear Kasey Cronquist talk to Kelly Perry about the Certified American Grown movement.

 

All of this is our way of saying that she’s a master of all things flower-related. And she’s got quite a reputation, thanks to being featured in publications like Southern Weddings and Martha Stewart Weddings.

Photo by Mark Boughton

 

 

With the Field to Vase Dinner just a few weeks away, Perry sat down with Green Door Gourmet’s owner and operator Sylvia Ganier as part of her Team Flower podcast. Ganier talks with Perry about the workings of the farm – from what’s grown to how it’s grown – and discusses what it looks like to grow organically, as well as providing helpful tips and resources for sustainable farming.

 

 

Photo by Linda Blue Photography

 

 

 

Check out the podcast (click on the photo to the right), and then meet Ganier in person at the upcoming Field to Vase Dinner!

 

 

 

 

 

Perry also recently talked to Certified American Grown’s very own Kasey Cronquist about the history of the organization, how it’s grown and why wholesalers and consumers are so thrilled about the movement to source homegrown flowers. Cronquist also shares insider details about the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour.  You can also meet Cronquist, and of course the amazing Kelly Perry, at the upcoming dinner.

 

 

 

But here’s the thing – due to the exciting Nashville location, the renowned designer, the top-notch chefs and the amazing farm, seats to this last dinner of the season are going fast.

We’ve only got a handful left! And prices go up to $200 tomorrow!

 

 

Hello, Nashville: Things to Do, See, Try

When the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour stops at Green Door Gourmet in Nashville on Oct. 5, the focus will be on American Grown flowers, hardworking farmers and fine food.

Experience the hospitality of Green Door Gourmet in Nashville, Tennessee and meet Laura (on right), resident flower farmer and greenhouse manager and her assistant manager Ally!

But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of everything “Music City” has to offer.

And since the dinner falls on a Friday, it’s the perfect excuse to make a weekend of it and check out all the Nashville happenings.

Like what, you ask? We’re fans of these tips from visitmusiccity.com:

Photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame

Your Nashville experience must include a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the world’s largest popular music museum with ever-changing exhibits, a full-service restaurant and two retail stores to feed your country soul. Keep feeding your love of country with visits to The Johnny Cash Museum, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum and the Patsy Cline Museum.

Photo as seen in Rolling Stone

Next, take a tour of Music Row and visit the historic RCA Studio B where Elvis recorded more than 200 songs and Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins and so many others also sang their hearts out.

Photo Courtesy of The Loveless Cafe

And don’t miss The Loveless Cafe, named “Top Down-Home Dining Spot” and one of the “10 Great Places to get a Southern-style Biscuit” by USA Today, plus one of the five must-see sights in Nashville by Southern Living.

Fans of the hit TV drama “Nashville” won’t want to miss The Bluebird Cafe, home to up-and-coming songwriters along with those whose music is regularly on the charts, including pop, rock, country and Christian artists.

Photo courtesy of Nashville.com

You’ll still have time to visit what’s been called the “Mother Church of Country Music,” The Ryman Auditorium, home to music legends since 1892!

Next, make some stops on what’s known as the Honky Tonk Highway — Tootsie’s Orchid LoungeLegends CornerThe Second FiddleThe StageLayla’s Bluegrass Inn and Robert’s Western World. You never know who you’ll see in these Lower Broadway clubs in the shadow of the Ryman.

Courtesy of Battle of Franklin Trust

Be sure to take the short drive south of Nashville to Franklin, often cited as one of the most beautiful downtowns in the U.S.   Site of “the most famous battle you’ve never heard of,” according to National Geographic, Franklin’s Civil War story will amaze and enlighten you

 

Courtesy of Off the Beaten Page Travel

 

Visitors can tour two homes impacted by the battle of Franklin. Then take in the charming main street filled with boutiques and antique stores, as well as amazing cafes and restaurants.

 

 

Finally, nothing says Nashville like the Grand Ole Opry. What started as a simple radio broadcast in 1925 has become a showcase for music’s superstars including current members like Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban.

Whew! That’s a lot of excitement for one weekend – and it all starts down on the farm at the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

You won’t want to miss it!

 

Driftless Café to Serve at Soldier’s Grove Field to Vase Dinner

For Driftless Café in Viroqua, Wisconsin, “The best” isn’t just a marketing slogan. This family eatery, serving a population of 4,362, has earned a big reputation for farm-to-table delectability. It was chosen as the state’s best small-town restaurant by Thrillist, and one of the Midwest’s 38 most essential restaurants by Eater.

And those are just a couple of the reasons why Driftless Café was selected to create the multi-course meal for the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in Soldier’s Grove, Wisconsin, on September 8.

Driftless Café owners, chef Luke Zahm and wife, Ruthie, returned to their Vernon County roots in 2011 after his interviews at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, revealed that much of the food they used was sourced from his hometown. Why not source it right out of the ground, in that case? Now, thanks to his delicious touch, the James Beard Foundation award-nominated restaurant is drawing attention across the Midwest and boosting the local economy turnaround to national fame.

Driftless Café’s entrees depend on what comes in from the field each morning from the more than 200 certified organic farmers the Zahms work with, so guests can count on a fresh concept with every menu.

That’s why diners look forward to culinary treats like black goat truffles, warm beet salads, organic prairie beef tenderloins, lacina kale and sugar snap peas.

We can’t wait for the Zahms to bring their from-the-field approach to the next American Grown Field to Vase dinner, just a few weeks away on Sept. 8.

 

Floral Designer Helps Peers Envision a 100 Percent American Grown Wedding

Last year, floral designer Kelly Shore committed to increasing her use of American Grown Flowers and foliage in her designs with a goal of getting to 100 percent.

Kelly Shore was the featured designer at the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in Alaska during 2017. That experience led to a passion for using American Grown Flowers in all her designs. Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography

She’s edging closer. Shore, owner and lead designer at Petals by the Shore in Maryland, is currently using 85-90 percent American Grown Flowers.

And with her passion still overflowing, she wanted to show other designers that they, too, could successfully source American Grown Flowers for events and weddings – and remain on-trend while doing it.

Photo by Kelly Hornberger Photography

 

That’s why Shore recently used nearly 750 stems of American Grown Flowers and Greens to create and photograph a mock wedding.

“I want to inspire other wedding and event floral designers to give American Grown Flowers a chance and to challenge them to source their flowers from more American farms,” Shore explains. “I wanted them to look at the photos, feel empowered and know that they can do it.”

 

 

 

She also wanted to give a hand up to a new wedding venue in the Washington, D.C., area that needed some photos to promote its space. So after working with leadership of the Congressional Club at the First Lady’s Luncheon (featuring American Grown Flowers and Shore as the lead designer), she offered to do an all American Grown wedding photo shoot at the Congressional Club building, a historic museum and luxury wedding venue.

Photo by Kelly Hornberger Photography

Thanks to support from five Certified American Grown farms and by sourcing a few additional varieties from nearby farms, Shore created a floral-bedecked staircase ceremony location, a “sweetheart table” tablescape, bride’s bouquet and a groom’s boutonnière. And she even managed to get a classic Rolls Royce to use in shots of the happy couple.

Photo by Kelly Hornberger Photography

She was sure to use a popular wedding palette (blush!) and to include a vast variety of American Grown Flowers, including delphinium, stock, tulips, snap dragons, larkspur, protea, callas, peonies, spray roses and seven varieties of garden roses.

Photo by Kelly Hornberger Photography

Shore also made the vibe relatable and recreatable, to inspire other designers to source American Grown Flowers to create beautiful weddings that meet the requests of today’s brides.

“I want designers to see what can be done and know that they can do it, too. Through my designs, I want people to feel empowered to connect with farmers, learn what grows here and become a storyteller through their flowers,” Shore explains.

“It’s about supporting American farmers, supporting our economy and finding new and exciting things that make you, as a designer, feel inspired.”

Legislators Battle It Out at Field to Vase Dinner

Lively floral design challenge entertains dinner guests

The most recent American Grown Field to Vase Dinner was unique, even for this remarkable tour.

It wasn’t on a farm.   It involved politicians and was held on the lawn of a state capitol.

With the California State Capitol in view, guests dined on an incredible meal and enjoyed the bountiful blooms that filled the table from around The Golden State.  Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography

And it was awesome.

Members of California’s state assembly participated in the annual Floral Design Challenge hosted by the California Cut Flower Commission. Pictured left to right; Assemblymemember Rocky Chavez, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, Assemblymember Monique Limon and Assemblymember Anna Caberello.  Photos by Eye Connoisseur Photography

It started with a beautiful reception where guests enjoyed watching members of the California state assembly compete in a floral design competition hosted by the California Cut Flower Commission. For the last three years, the California Cut Flower Commission has hosted this design competition involving legislators to help raise awareness that June is California Grown Flower Month. Combining the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner with this annual tradition by CCFC was not only fitting, but it also really helped guests, including California’s lawmakers, understand just how valuable the American Grown Flower movement has become.

Assemblywoman Monique Limón takes the trophy from California Cut Flower Commission CEO and Ambassador Kasey Cronquist, winning this year’s Floral Design Challenge.  Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography

After the vote was tallied, Assemblywoman Monique Limón was announced the champion of the 2018 Floral Design Challenge. Limón will receive a delivery of fresh American Grown Flowers each month for an entire year to display in her office.

Assemblymembers Chaves, Cooper, Limon and Caballero delighted and entertained guests with their floral design skills.  Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography

One guest commented that the design competition was “entertaining and a great local touch.”

J.J. Pfister Distilling created a refreshing Raspberry Lemonade Cocktail for guests to enjoy.  Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography

The reception included delicious hors d’oeuvres, a very popular floral-inspired cocktail by J.J. Pfister Distilling Company [link https://www.jjpfister.com/] and great local brew by Track 7 Brewery [link https://track7brewing.com/].

Smithers Oasis is bringing a smile to the face of our Field to Vase guests with their sponsorship of the boutonniere bar. Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography

Always a guest favorite, the boutonniere bar brought lots of smiles and delight, thanks to sponsor Smithers Oasis.

The tablescape at the Sacramento Field to Vase Dinner was as unique as the location with each arm of the table representing the flowers of a different region of the state.  Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography

Designed by Liezet Arnold of Bloem Decor of Sacramento, the dinner’s tablescape was a stunning arrangement of flowers and meaning. Rather than the tradition of one long farm table, Liezet took the opportunity to showcase growing regions by arranging the table like a compass, highlighting the different growing regions throughout California. Starting in the north, with lilies, iris and tulips and through the state to the south where her designs showcased protea, pincushions, leucadendron, eucalyptus, Italian ruscus and wax flower. It was one of the most beautiful table settings we have ever had on the tour.

Chef Dan Watterson of Statehouse at the Capitol did a masterful job of creating a California-inspired menu.  Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography

Statehouse Chef Dan Watterson walked everyone through the menu, highlighting the great care that went into procuring the evening’s ingredients. He explained that the potatoes and carrots were sourced from Full Belly Farm, which he had a chance to visit himself prior to the dinner. The entrée was a delicious rack of lamb that was sponsored by the California Sheep Commission and provided by Richard Hamilton, who was in attendance with his family. Richard was acknowledged and thanked for his contribution to the dinner. Last, but certainly not least, California Grown Strawberries, donated by the California Strawberry Commission, rounded out the meal for dessert, a light and refreshing strawberry shortcake.

A light and airy dessert made with strawberries from the California Strawberry Commission was the perfect ending to a beautiful evening.  Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography

We’ve since received some wonderful feedback from our guests:

Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography

“We enjoyed the entire dinner experience! From the tour of the capitol, the flower arranging competition, looking at all the beautiful arrangements, listening to the music in such a beautiful setting, we loved every minute!” ~ Denise C.

“There’s something really special about being surrounded by so many flowers. The boutonniere bar was my favorite part of the event—what a great idea! And it was terrific to be able to bring so many amazing flowers home, thank you!” ~ Anonymous

“Thank you for the amazing hospitality! Loved the boutonniere bar. The swag bag was a fun treat!!!” ~ Sarah H.

“I love the idea of field to vase as it is in keeping with farm to fork.” ~ Nancy K.

We love it too, which is why we’re headed to Star Valley Farm, in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, for our next dinner on September 5.

Only two more dinners remain!