Fox Hollow Peonies Becomes a Certified American Grown Farm

Beauty Replaces Ashes at This Alaskan Farm

 

Fox Hollow Peonies, a Certified American Grown farm, has its roots in near total disaster.

In 2008, a forest fire threatened to destroy the home of Milt and Wanda Haken in Nenana, Alaska, a town of about 400 people in the interior of the state, 54 miles from Fairbanks.

Although the fire burned thousands of acres, the Hakens, along with neighbors and firefighters, were able to save their house. But they were left with a completely charred landscape.

The Hakens slowly cleared the burned property, and used the wood to heat their home. But what they were left with, Wanda says, was “a large, open field in need of a mission.”

What once was acreage burned by fire, is now fertile soil for 5,000 peony plants grown by Fox Hollow Peonies. Photos provided by Fox Hollow Peonies.

The Hakens discovered that mission in a roundabout way. Wanda, a school counselor, attended a class at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, on connecting students to the food they eat by bringing agriculture into the classroom. During the class, the head of state’s agriculture division was a guest speaker who gave an overview of state’s industry.

“She said, ‘If I had any land right now, I’d be putting in peonies,’” Wanda said. “She said, ‘Peonies are going to be Alaska’s next gold rush.’”

The class later went on a tour of North Pole Peonies, one of only three peony growers in the state’s interior at the time. It was there that Wanda learned about Alaska’s niche in the global peony business: The flowers bloomed in July and August, a time when no one else in the world had peonies for sale.

“I went home that day and told my husband, ‘I know what we’re putting in that field we cleared.’

“Of course, he’s mister macho man – he’s a retired police officer, a Teamster – and he says, ‘We’re putting in flowers – you’ve got to be kidding me.’”

The next weekend the university put on a seminar for people interested in growing peonies that was led by Patricia Holloway, the horticulturist who discovered that peonies could grow in Alaska. Wanda wasn’t able to attend, so she sent Milt.

“He came home and said, ‘Yep, that’s what we’re going to do,’” she said. “So, we ordered our first roots that fall.”

That was in 2010. Since then the Hakens have gradually expanded their operation, and they now have 5,000 peony plants and 21 varieties.

Growing peonies wasn’t a complete stretch for the couple. Both come from generations of farmers in the Midwest and they spent time on relatives’ farms growing up. Wanda has always had a garden and a greenhouse and had dabbled in selling some produce locally, such as tomatoes.

Still, getting Fox Hollow Peonies off the ground took some trial and error. Their first set of plants had a hard time breaking through the heavy soil. Before planting their next group of roots, they reached out to other growers who showed them how to amend the soil to create a better growing environment.

“We had real good success with them coming up the second year,” she said.

For the business side, the Hakens teamed up with other growers in the area to form a co-op – Arctic Alaska Peonies. The Hakens were a founding member of the co-op that now numbers 20 farms. They share marketing efforts, chillers for their flowers and negotiate for the best deals on shipping and supplies.

Wanda is a member of the co-op’s marketing committee and makes it a point to spread the word about Alaska peonies wherever she goes.

“Whenever I travel, I spend a day or two doing nothing but marketing,” she said. “I pack materials and go visit all the florists, all the garden centers and wholesalers wherever I am. There are still a lot of people out there who haven’t heard that Alaska has peonies in July, August and September.”

Wanda and her husband Milt have found an unexpected calling as peony growers.

Wanda has spent her career in education but in Fox Hollow Peonies she may have found her true calling. She recalls taking a career interest survey as senior in high school and it came back showing that she should explore the floral industry. So focused was she on becoming a teacher that she thought that idea was “ridiculous” and “crazy.”

Looking back now, she says the survey probably picked up on her affinity for gardening, her creative streak and the desire to work outside.

“I just enjoy working with plants,” she said. “I’ve started making bouquets for the farmer’s market here and I think that’s my favorite part of the whole thing.”

Whole Foods Gearing Up for American Grown Flowers Month & Contest

Whole Foods Mid-Atlantic Division Is On Board for Second Year Due to Inaugural Success

 

July is American Grown Flowers Month as designated by Congress. But it’s also one of the slowest months of the year for flower sales. That is, until a remedy was put into place last year.

 

In 2018, nearly 1,200 retail locations participated in the first-ever American Grown Flowers Month Merchandising Contest, promoting homegrown flowers in their stores with displays, signage, customer promotions and all sorts of other innovative hoopla.

 

 

 

 

The average sales increase in the month of July for the top five stores from each participating company was more than 17.5 percent! Overall, participating stores reported an average increase in sales of 6.7 percent.

 

 

Diana Westcott, regional floral buyer for Whole Foods Market for the Mid-Atlantic division, had nine stores in her region participate in last year’s contest. Thanks to the success of the promotion, she’s hopeful that number will increase this year.

The Whole Foods’ Allentown, PA store created beautiful signage that invited customers to celebrate American Grown Flowers Month with a purchase of homegrown flowers and greens.

And she’s already making plans.

She’s focusing on Certified American Grown Flowers in all her communications to stores as they plan for July. She’s helping stores with special messaging that calls out products in their store displays that are Certified American Grown. And she’s encouraging participation – and the related displays and promotional efforts – in this year’s contest.

The Philadelphia Whole Foods store announced American Grown Flowers Month by placing their inviting flyer front and center.

That nudge started last year when contest winners were presented their awards in front of all stores in her region.

“We did see a lift in almost all stores that participated,” Westcott says. And while the increased sales percentage varied from week to week, one popular high-traffic participating store saw sales that were 85 percent higher than the previous year for the week of July 22.

Whole Foods Philadelphia, one of last year’s American Grown Flowers Month Contest winners, displays homegrown blooms making sure customers know where the flowers are grown.

For retailers considering participating in the 2019 contest, Westcott says the key is letting guests know which blooms are grown in the USA. “The most important thing is that call out,” she says.

As to the contest being a solution to slow sales? “It absolutely helped with the summer slump,” Westcott says.

Learn more at sign up to participate at americangrownflowers.org/julycontest.

Co-Leads for First Lady’s Luncheon Excited to Bring Certified American Grown Magic!

Collaboration Among Designers, Farmers is Event’s Secret Sauce

For 107 years, the First Lady’s Luncheon has been a bipartisan tradition. And when the event takes place in May in Washington, D.C., floral designers Mary Kate Kinnane of The Local Bouquet and Christi Lopez AIFD EMC of Bergerons Flowers will co-lead a design team that will create dozens of arrangements and other installations with over 15,000 stems of Certified American Grown Flowers and Greens.

Guests of the First Lady’s Luncheon will greeted by a room filled with American Grown Flowers and greens at this 107-year old tradition. All photos by Kirstin Smith Photography

Together with 20 other designers and a 10-person support team, they’ll create centerpieces, tablescapes, two flower walls for amazing photo opps and hundreds of boutonnières. It’s a proposition that would seem to be stress-inducing.

The flower wall is a favorite at the luncheon, with long lines forming to take a photo with this beautiful backdrop created by the design team.

Not so, say the co-leads. It’s a celebration of collaboration among some of America’s most talented floral designers and American flower farmers. And it’s an opportunity for designers and guests to see the amazing variety of flowers grown here in the U.S.

 

 

“I think seeing all the designers come together, both new and returning, and the variety of flowers that come in are the most exciting things about the event,” says Kinnane. “There’s so much talent helping you produce the designs, including some of the best wedding designers in the country, plus American flower farmers and event experts. There’s such a networking moment that goes on. You’re able to network and talk shop across the work table with people you admire on social media.”

 

 

 

 

 

There’s no denying the amount of hard work that goes into it, but that’s far outweighed by the good times, says Lopez.

“It’s a huge opportunity to work with like-minded florists and farmers toward a common goal,” Lopez shares. “The number of new friendships and contacts it provides is immeasurable and to be able to design for such a prestigious historic event is an honor. To do it with other floral designers and with the help of flower farmers makes it fun.”

 

 

 

Adding to the fun is the somewhat spur of the moment nature that comes into play for the designers. Sure there’s a theme and a color palette, but there are still some surprises when the thousands of donated stems from American flower farms show up.

It’s a bit like Christmas when the designers open box after box with anticipation to see what stunning gift of beauty lies inside.

“You have to be ready for the surprises in the boxes,” says Kinnane, who’s designed exclusively with American Grown Flowers since 2003. “It’s so exciting and actually less stressful than our own weddings; there’s so much talent helping you produce this event!”

Mary Kate and Christy both participated in the 2018 Design Team creating limitless beauty that awed the guests.

So Kinnane and Lopez will do what they do best. Unpack gorgeous American Grown Flowers and Greens, lead dozens of volunteers in creating breathtaking floral designs and then let the beautiful outcome impress a couple thousand guests!

We couldn’t be more grateful!

 

 

 

 

 

Kelly Shore Returns as Featured Designer for Virginia Field to Vase Dinner

Her Commitment to Designing With American Grown Flowers is Unparalleled

Renowned wedding and event floral designer Kelly Shore, owner of Petals by the Shore in Virginia, will be the featured designer at the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner at Bloomia USA in King George, Virginia, on June 1.

At a recent wedding open house, Kelly created a beautiful installation using 300 of Bloomia’s tulips on the bulb. Photo by Brittany Drosos Photography

Shore is known for her lush, garden-style designs that feature high stem counts and tons of texture. Her clients appreciate her use of unique flower and foliage varieties, always paired with creative color play.

Shore’s connections to the Field to Vase Dinner Tour and Certified American Grown run deep. She’s long committed to designing with homegrown flowers 365 days a year and helping other designers do the same.

And she was the featured floral designer for the Field to Vase Dinner at Scenic Place Peonies in Homer, Alaska in 2017.

As the featured designer of the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in Homer, Alaska, Kelly created a stunning tablescape highlighting the beauty of the farm and its flowers .  Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography.

 

She’s also led the design team for the First Lady’s Luncheon in Washington, D.C., on behalf of Certified American Grown and has participated in fly-ins to meet with national policymakers alongside American flower farmers.

Leading the design team in 2017 and 2018, Kelly oversaw and inspired both teams of top designers from around the country and was responsible for creating beautiful arrangements for the First Lady’s Luncheon using all American Grown Flowers.  Photo by Kirstin Smith Photography

 

“It’s an incredible honor to be chosen to design for this dinner. The Certified American Grown family is a huge part of my life and designing with American Grown Flowers 365 days a year is a staple in my business,” Shore says.

Photo by Lauren Fair Photography

At Bloomia USA, Shore is planning high-style, out-of-the box designs that incorporate peonies, tulips and greenery for lots of softness and movement. The greenhouse location allows her to push the limits on scale and form, creating arrangements that are both event decor and art installations.

Shore’s work has been featured in national and local magazines and blogs such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Florists’ Review, Washingtonian Bride and Groom, Style Me Pretty, Weddings Unveiled, Cottage Hill, Ruffled, Once Wed and United with Love among many others.

 

 

Don’t miss the chance to see the incredible designs Shore has in mind for this dinner tour stop!

 

 

Congressman Salud Carbajal and Congressman Ted Yoho To Co-Chair Cut Flower Caucus

New co-chairs expand bipartisan leadership of important caucus

Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA 24th District) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL, 3rd District) have become co-chairs of the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus.

The Congressional Cut Flower Caucus was launched by a bipartisan effort of Congresswoman Lois Capps and Congressman Duncan Hunter in 2014. Since its inception, the caucus has grown to include a total of six co-chairs and over 25 members of Congress.

The caucus is open to all members of Congress and is dedicated to promoting the domestic cut flower industry, including educating members of Congress and staff on the economic and cultural importance of America’s cut flower and greens farmers as well as the challenges the industry faces. The caucus also sponsors events to provide a greater understanding of the issues and opportunities facing America’s flower farmers, their families and their flowers.

Rep. Salud Carbajal meeting with California flower farmers during the Certified American Grown DC Fly-In in February 2019.  Photo by Nony Park of Ken Pak Photography.

Carbajal’s district includes the largest flower-growing region in the United States by volume. For the last two years, he has authored a resolution announcing July as American Grown Flowers Month in the house.

Photo by Nony Park of Ken Pak Photography.

“It’s an honor to serve as co-chair on behalf of our cut flower farmers, who not only bring beauty into our homes, but provide tens of thousands of jobs across the country and billions in economic activity each year,” said Rep. Carbajal. “Representing the Central Coast, the highest-producing flower region in a state that produces three-quarters of all cut flowers grown in the United States, I know intimately the value of this industry as an economic engine. In this new role, I look forward to continuing to highlight the economic and cultural value of American’s cut flower industry, as well as raise awareness about the challenges our farmers and small businesses face in an increasingly globalized economy.”

Yoho’s district includes the largest greens-growing district in the U.S. For the past several years, he’s worked to have American Grown Flowers featured in the White House, including penning a letter to President Donald Trump to suggest the policy.

Rep. Ted Yoho also met with flower farmers from the DC Fly-In delegation last month. Photo by Nony Park of Ken Pak Photography.

“I’m honored to be a part of the leadership for the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus,” stated Congressman Ted Yoho. “It’s vital that America’s flower farmers have a voice at the table in this very competitive market and it’s our job as members of Congress to ensure that our farmers are able to continue to do the great job they do growing flowers and greens here in the United States of America.”

Photo by Nony Park of Ken Pak Photography.

The Congressional Cut Flower caucus continues to grow in size and influence.

“Our farms are fortunate to have these two great champions in Congress,” shared Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist. “Rep. Carbajal and Rep. Yoho know our issues, understand the value our farms bring to their communities and why time is of the essence to address the challenges they face. We look forward to working with them in their new leadership positions on the caucus.”

 

# # #

About Certified American Grown Flowers. Launched on July 1, 2014, Certified American Grown Flowers represents a unified and diverse coalition of U.S. flower farms, including small and large entities in multiple states across the country. Certified American grown flower farms participate in an independent, third-party supply-chain audit to verify both origin and assembly of the flowers they grow. When it appears on bouquets, bunches and other packaging or store signage, the Certified American Grown Flowers logo gives consumers confidence in the source of their flowers and assures them that the flowers they purchase come from a domestic American flower farm. For more information about Certified American Grown Flowers, visit www.americangrownflowers.com.

When Flower Farmers Go to Washington, D.C.

Progress Made on Many Fronts!

Last week, a delegation of flower farmers headed to Washington, D.C., to present the issues and concerns of American flower farmers to U.S. policymakers. These farmers left their farms, committed to the common cause, worked together, and shared their voices and insights on key topics, from immigration reform to ensuring the NASS floriculture report continues to requesting that the Trump administration feature American Grown Flowers in the White House.

Great accomplishments are made when farms come together for our D.C. Fly-In.  Photo by Nony Park of Ken Pak Photography.

 

This kind of trip isn’t possible without having a myriad of voices sharing their perspectives and passions in every meeting held. These flower farmers, along with floral designer Kelly Shore of Petals by the Shore, brought their A-games!

“I feel we made great progress in Washington, D.C., this year,” explained Benno Dobbe of Holland America Flowers, a Certified American Grown Council member and chair of the California Cut Flower Commission’s Governmental Affairs Committee. “This was the very best trip we’ve put together. Very productive.”

Dianne Feinstein took time to meet with our delegation and hear the issues that mattered to our farms. Photo by Nony Park of Ken Pak Photography.

Flower Farmers also went to the White House to discuss a key request: to have American Grown Flowers and Greens exclusively featured within the White House. This very special meeting went especially well, as the delegation explained why it was important that, like the wine and food served in the White House, President Donald Trump should take an “America First” approach to the flowers that are displayed in White House floral arrangements.

This year, farmers had a landmark opportunity to meet with White House staff.

“I’m very encouraged by the year-over-year progress we make in Washington, D.C.,” shared Rita Jo Shoultz of Alaska Perfect Peony and a Certified American Grown Council member. “This trip and these meetings have really helped elevate the value of our farm in the minds of our elected officials, their staff and members of this administration.”

Members of the delegation met with Senator Murkowski of Alaska.

All in all, it was the group’s general consensus that this year’s trip was our most successful D.C. fly-in on record! Voices were heard. We met with the right people and made new connections. We grew the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus. And we came back with a sense that we made good progress on key topics.

The delegation heads to the White House to lobby for American Grown Flowers and Greens.

Our thanks goes out to the following farmers, as well as Kelly Shore and federal affairs representative Jumana Misleh who did an outstanding job putting the schedule together and setting up meetings for our delegation:

  • California

    • Fred VanWingerden – Pyramid Flowers, Oxnard
    • Edith VanWingerden – Pyramid Flowers, Oxnard
    • Ivor VanWingerden – Ocean Breeze Flowers, Nipomo
    • Brooks VanWingerden – Ocean Breeze Flowers, Nipomo
    • Bruce Brady – Mellano & Company, San Luis Rey
  • Washington

    • Benno Dobbe, Holland America Flowers, Woodland
  • Maryland

    • Ko Klaver, Botanical Trading Co, Beltsville
    • Kelly Shore, Petals By The Shore,
  • Virginia

    • Werner Jansen – Bloomia, King George
  • Florida

    • David Register – FernTrust, Seville
  • Iowa

    • Quinton Tschetter – Tschetter Flowers, Oskaloosa
    • Carolyn Tschetter – Tschetter Flowers, Oskaloosa
  • Alaska

    • Rita Jo Shoultz – Alaska Perfect Peony, Homer
    • Betty Joslyn – Josyln Peonies, Homer

If you would like to be part of next year’s delegation, experience the process of advocating for your farm and being part of a team effort that makes a difference, email Andrea Philpot at Andrea@AmericanGrownFlowers.org to sign up. The trip will be held February 25-28, 2020.

Members of congressional hill staff showing their pride for American Grown Flowers and Greens during the annual flower and wine reception on Capitol Hill.

Certified American Grown Council member and chair of the California Cut Flower Commission’s Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Benno Dobbe of Holland America Flowers tips his new hat before heading to Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

 

Certified American Grown Council member Rita Jo Shoultz of Alaska Perfect Peony pins a Certified American Grown boutonnière on Congressman Don Young of Alaska.

 

Congressman Salud Carbajal (CA-24) with California Cut Flower Commission CEO and Ambassador and Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist.

Wild Lark Farm: First Oklahoma Farm Certified American Grown

For Terri Barr, making the leap from civil engineering technician to flower grower was a natural move. She had farming in her blood, a lifelong love for gardening and a desire to work outdoors.

The result is Wild Lark Farm in Claremore, Oklahoma, which she started in 2018 and is building from the ground up. She’s growing specialty and heirloom flowers – mums, old-school lilacs and sunflowers among them – on about an acre of the 40-acre spread where she lives with her husband and their three children. It’s a former cattle pasture with clay-like soil that she’s slowly transforming into an organic, sustainable growing operation.

But her path to becoming a flower farmer, and earning Certified American Grown status, is decidedly indirect.

She grew up on a farm in Kansas where her family grew corn, wheat, milo and soybeans. She went to college in Oklahoma and graduated with a degree in interior design. But instead of designing rooms, she went to work as a technician in a civil engineering firm. She put her drafting skills to work in designing infrastructure – water lines, sewer lines, parking lots.

But despite working for a company she liked and with “fantastic” colleagues, she knew she wanted to be outdoors. The turning point came in 2017 when she attended a floral workshop in the Mount Vernon area of Washington. It was there that she found what she was looking for. She was with flower people from all over the United States and enjoyed hearing their stories. Everything about it was a good fit.

Photos provided by Wild Lark Farm.

“This is what I want to feel. This is perfect,” she recalls thinking at the time. “There was really nothing like that in Oklahoma. So when I came back here I just decided to give a go.”

As a daughter of farmers, she knew what she was getting into.

 

 

“I didn’t go and start this farm with the idea that this is going to be amazing and I’ll be dancing in flowers every day,” she said. “I knew it was going to be hard work. It’s hot and humid and when it rains, it rains too much or it doesn’t rain enough. So, I knew going in that this is hard.”

But it’s where she’s found fulfillment.

“Last year was the first year I really increased what I was growing and really put myself out there. I just wanted to gauge how much interest people had, if they were receptive or if they thought it was just the craziest idea that they’d ever heard. But people have loved it. That’s been really positive.”

 

She got her first customer by walking into a new florist shop in Claremore with some of her flowers in a bucket.

“I said, ‘These flowers are just for you to use. If you like them, great.’ And I gave them my card. They loved them and they posted them on Instagram.”

The response was almost immediate. Three florists in Tulsa who saw the Instagram post reached out to her to ask if she sold to other people. Her response: “Yeah, sure.”

 

 

Those florists have given her a foot in the door and something to build on. In the meantime, she’s building an organic, sustainable operation.

Although she could draw on her farming background, she knew she couldn’t farm like her parents. Practices had evolved and she was adamant about it being organic.

“For one, I have kids and I don’t want all the chemicals and the pesticides out there. I want people to be able to walk out there and be able to touch and can smell everything. So they know what they’re getting is the real deal.

“And since I’ve worked so hard to get my soil in good condition, I want to make sure that it’s sustainable.”

In addition, she feels an obligation to Oklahoma tradition to leave the land better than she found it.

 

“One of the slogans in Oklahoma is ‘Keep the land grand,’” she said. “People are really conscious that we humans aren’t here forever. You want to keep the land nice, you want to keep it sustainable for people who come after you. A lot of people here have that mindset of make it better than you found it. So, that’s what I try to do.”

Three to five years down the road, she would like to have a farm she can share with the public.

“What I would really love to do once I get things established is to open it up and make it accessible to people. Not necessarily a you-pick thing, but just so people can come out and physically enjoy it, to see how it works and see where flowers come from.”

She follows other farms on Facebook and Instagram and sees that many of them keep their operations closed to the public.

“I get that it’s hard to do what you have to do and have people around. At the same, I want to be able to share as much as I can. I don’t want my farm to be closed off. There’s so much out there, there’s so much beauty, that I just want to share as much as I can.”

 

 

New Newsletter, New Name!

If you’re reading this, you likely already agree that origin matters. Where the flowers and greens consumers’ purchase come from and how they were grown matters.

Homegrown flowers matter. And the origin of flowers has become an important call to action in the floral industry.

It’s that thinking that led us to change the name (and format) of our newsletter from Field Notes to Origin Matters, starting now. And the new publication will also arrive in your inbox weekly, instead of monthly. Because we’ve got so much news, so frequently, that it can’t wait 30 days!

You need to read about what’s happening related to the origin of flowers more often and in a more accessible format. So that’s what we’ll be providing every week!

After all, Field Notes was originally created to share news specific to California, but with the growing success of Certified American Grown and BloomCheck, and the demand for homegrown blooms increasing, a weekly Origin Matters newsletter will let us capture all of those news-making items that help people find what they’re really looking for in the floral industry today.

#OriginMatters makes for a great hashtag on social media.

 

It will open the door to more storytelling. More thought-provoking ideas. More timely news.

Because origin really does matter, and we can’t wait to share how many ways and places that’s being proven!