Pyramid Flowers and B-Fresh Floral give a boost to Certified American Grown

For Fred Van Wingerden, the Certified American Grown organization has provided the strong voice that flower growers need in order to address the barrage of challenges they face.

From competition from foreign growers to government regulation, American flower growers need the organization to represent them, said Van Wingerden, president of Pyramid Flowers in Oxnard, California.

When California Growers voted out the California Cut Flower Commission this spring, we were very concerned about who would represent the domestic growers and thus started the process for an independent Certified American Grown organization.

“Unless we had another organization representing the cause of American growers, it would be, like they say, united we stand and divided we fall,” he said. “We needed to step up to the plate and make sure that the new organization received strong support. I’m a true believer in Certified American Grown because we need it to represent us as growers.”

Pyramid Flowers and its affiliated company, B-Fresh Floral (owned and operated by Fred, Rene, and Winfred Van Wingerden), all became supporters when Certified American Grown was reborn as an independent trade association representing flower and greens farmers nationwide. The companies made donations to the association’s Formation Fund to support its programs and help with operating expenses.

“It’s very important that the organization gets proper funding at the start so it’s strong right from the get-go,” he said.

In addition to representing growers, Van Wingerden said, it’s important that the association’s grown-in-America message continues to be conveyed to consumers. Imported flowers dominate the American marketplace, accounting for 80 percent of sales.

“That in itself is critical,” he said.  “We need to push that message into the marketplace even stronger. Studies have shown that when consumers are given a choice, they want to buy American. And unless we stand together and fund efforts like this, we cannot get that message out there.”

Van Wingerden has been in the flower business since 1979, and he comes from a long, long line of flower growers. Flower growing in his family extends back 15 generations to the 1600s in the Netherlands. In 1967, four Van Wingerden brothers, including Fred’s father, emigrated from the Netherlands to California to take advantage of the optimum flower growing environment along the coast between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

Pyramid Flowers was founded in 1991 grows eight types of flowers on 80 acres along the coast in Oxnard. It employs over 120 people.

Fred’s son, Marcos, now works alongside him and is part of the next generation of family flower growers. Having his son in the business has been invigorating, he said. “He brings new ideas and energy,” he said. “For me as a father, having a son in the business gives me more to work for as well. It’s like a shot of adrenaline.”

Van Wingerden is steadfast in his support of Certified American Grown, and while not on the association’s board, he intends to be involved.

Flower growers face many challenges and the association plays a vital role, he said.

“It unifies growers,” he said. “We learn from each other, we share with each other, and whatever problems come along, we can address them together. Each company by themselves would be very challenged to address all the things that an organization like Certified American Grown can.”

America’s Flower and Greens Farmers Have Just What You Need to Deck the Halls!

In a year (and holiday season) like no other, we’re all feeling a need to add a little extra holiday cheer to our homes. There’s simply no better way to make that happen than decking the halls with flowers and greens from America’s flower-farming families!

They’re making it easy with a host of specials and programs designed to help you affordably bring fresh fir and floral joy to your home. And florists, they’ve got offers for you, too!

You can use American Grown flowers and greens to create multiple small arrangements placed throughout the house, adorn your mantle, create textural garlands, or design swags and wreaths, notes Kelly Shore, owner and lead designer of Petals by the Shore and founder of The Floral Source.

Here’s a look at the special offers from a host of American flower farms:

Albin Hagstrom & Son is offering 24” wreaths in a number of designs for $30. Choose one for your home or to send as a gift at

Harmony Harvest is shipping holiday swags and holiday DIY boxes, and they go out via FedEx within two business days of ordering. Choose your favorites at and

The Flower Peddler in New Jersey is taking online orders for fresh fir, berries, and seasonal flowers at

Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers is selling a variety of protea wreaths that arrive fresh and can last for years in dried form. See all the designs at their Protea Store.

Florabundance, a floral wholesaler, has taken the extra step of helping florists and retailers find the best selection of seasonal blooms and greens from American farms by creating a Certified American Grown section on its website ( Gift cards are also available at

Kelly Shore’s The Floral Source is offering an incredible curated winter greenery box from Fern Trust. The greenery essentials box includes: antler arbor vitae, gold tip cedar, princess pine, carolina sapphire, and pine cones on picks. Plus Shore will be live on Instagram throughout December providing tips on how to create with these long-lasting greens.

Place your orders today to bring winter abundance to your home, or send some of the American Grown blooms and foliage as gifts!

Florabundance becomes Certified American Grown Wholesaler

A lifetime of experience provides fertile ground for California wholesaler

To Joost Bongaerts, choosing to go into the flower business shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“I like to joke that once you’re in the flower business, you never leave,” he said.

That’s been the case for Bongaerts, who has been selling flowers in one form or another for 40 years. Since 2002, he has been a wholesaler via Florabundance, a Carpinteria, Calif., company that supplies florists and designers with flowers and greenery from 300 growers. Bongaerts started as a partner in the business and became the sole owner in 2008.

Florabundance was founded in 1994 as a grower-owned vehicle to sell to retailers. It aimed to reduce the amount of time from when a flower was cut to when it was in a retailer’s hands. Over the years, the company has grown through its strong internet presence, marketing efforts, and acquisitions.

Florabundance’s customers are professionals who can choose from a vast offering of flowers and greens, which can often be packaged in the same box and shipped nationwide.

“If you’re a flower expert, which I consider myself, it’s nice to get the best of the best from growers,” Bongaerts said. “We are not a wholesaler that fills up the cooler and hopes for people to come by and pick stuff up or push it out the door. That’s not our model. Our model is we buy premium quality flowers, sell them, pack them up, and ship them to customers.”

Florabundance also has a related website,, where consumers can buy flowers and greens.

“If you want a bunch of olive branches from California for your dinner table in New York, you can get it as long as you pay the shipping,” he said. “We’re the only ones in the country who can do that because we already have flowers coming in.” also sells DIY packages of wedding flowers and offers instruction on making bouquets and arrangements.

Florabundance recently became a Certified American Grown business. Bongaerts sees it as one more way to support the industry.

“People like it. Made-in-America is very popular right now,” he said. “Certified American Grown has a lot of field crops, which is great. Some people claim that the flowers are better. They’ve traveled less, that’s for sure. And we like to promote our growers and help keep them alive.”

Bongaerts said 70% to 80% of Florabundance’s offerings have always come from California. The rest come from around the nation, with some imports that help bridge the winter production gap. Florabundance has been in the same location for 26 years, Bongaerts said. “We’re good-sized, but we’re not a mega-wholesaler,” he said.

Florabundance supplies a wide variety of Certified American Grown products, including roses, lilies, snapdragons, and amaranthus.

Bongaerts was well acquainted with Florabundance before he came onboard. As the owner of a flower shop in New Canaan, Connecticut, he had been a customer of the company.

Since buying out his partners in 2008, Bongaerts has guided the business through some tough times: the Great Recession, fire and mudslides in 2017-18, and the coronavirus pandemic. There’s also been the rise of imported flowers and the decline of flower shops.

Bongaerts sees his acquisition of the company as a move that has helped the company thrive. His commitment and the move away from multiple owners made it easier for the company to navigate changes and stay on the cutting edge, he said. The company currently employs 17 people.

Bongaerts’ connection to plants goes back to his years growing up in the Netherlands, where his father managed agricultural landholdings, and he worked on the family farm during the summers. In college, he majored in plant science. He later thought he would be a veterinarian. During an exchange program at Michigan State University, he decided he wanted to live and work in the U.S.

Flowers provided the bridge for Bongaerts to establish himself in the United States. His first job was with the Dutch Flower Auctions & Exporters Organization as a marketer in the Netherlands and then in the U.S. In 1983, he started selling flower bulbs and perennial plants from Dutch companies to growers in the U.S. and Canada. He put 40,000 miles a year on his car as he traveled his territory in the Eastern U.S.

In 1991, he and his wife started Bon Fleur, their retail store in New Canaan. In addition to running the retail operation, Bongaerts imported flowers from the Netherlands and sold them online via First American Florist. Bongaerts sold his flower shop to its manager in 2002, and the shop is still in business today.

Over his 40-year career, Bongaerts has seen huge changes in the American flower business, increasing imports and a decline in retailers. With the Certified American Grown label, he sees a chance to promote the growers the company works with when only 20 percent of cut flowers and greens sold in the United States are domestic.

“A lot of our growers are already certified,” he said. “This is a chance to promote them as such.”

Retail florists and floral designers can now search by the Certified American Grown category.  The iconic heart logo further identifies certified flowers and greens. Visit today for premium Certified American Grown wholesale flowers and greens and join the movement to support our American flower and greens farmers.

U.S. Cut Roses Industry Disappointed by White House Decision to Remove Tariff Protection


WASHINGTON, DC, November 2, 2020 – The California Cut Flower Commission (“CCFC”) and Certified American Grown (“CAG”), representing the American fresh cut flower industry and hundreds of workers, and farmers, today expressed disappointment and concern at the Trump Administration’s decision to remove long-standing duties on imports of cut roses from Ecuador. As a result of the decision, a 6.8% duty that has helped protect the U.S. industry from large volumes of low-priced imports of Ecuadorian fresh cut roses has been eliminated.

“The U.S. industry lost scores of growers over the past 30 years due to trade policies that encouraged imports of low-priced roses from Colombia and then Ecuador, with our industry going from over a hundred to less than 20 large-scale rose producers in the U.S. today,” said Dave Pruitt, CCFC’s Chief Executive Officer and CAG’s Administrator. “It’s both surprising and disappointing that this Administration, which prides itself on protecting American agriculture and workers, would choose to put our industry at further risk. This is especially the case given the catastrophic impact the ongoing pandemic has had on American rose growers.”

Starting in the 1990s, official U.S. trade policies intended to support South America’s economic growth stimulated the growth of a massive export-oriented rose industry in Ecuador where none had existed. Ecuador has grown to become the second largest source of cut roses in the United States, using low prices to push American growers out of the market. The 6.8% tariff was the last remaining impediment to additional import growth.

“Ecuador has been consistently increasing its rose shipments to the United States, while domestic cut rose growers struggle to compete against their low-priced imports,” stated U.S. Congressman Salud Carbajal (CA-24). “The Administration’s unfortunate decision to add roses to the GSP is another devastating blow to our remaining domestic rose farmers, especially as the family farms in my district try to recover from the disastrous losses they suffered, and continue to suffer, due to the unprecedented COVID-19 shutdowns this year. Roses are America’s national flower, and this decision makes it harder for American growers to cultivate them on American soil.”

In March 2020, several importers and the Government of Ecuador petitioned the Administration to add fresh cut roses to the Generalized System of Preferences, thus eliminating the standard 6.8% duty covering these imports. CCFC and CAG opposed these requests, noting the long-term harm of growing imports from Ecuador, the already low import prices, and the risk to the overall future of American growers that would result.

“Our commitment to growing roses right here in America – the official flower of our country – remains unwavering and unchanged,” said Erik Van Wingerden, Chief Executive Officer of Myriad Flowers International. “The decision to remove these duties is a setback to our industry, but for the sake of our businesses, our workers, and our customers, we will continue to innovate and find ways to compete.”


About CCFC and CAG

CCFC and CAG are organizations whose members include American producers of cut roses and opposed the addition of cut roses to the Generalized System of Preferences (“GSP”). CCFC was established in 1990, and is a state agency responsible for representing more than 225 cut flower and greens farmers in California, which alone accounts for 77 percent of the total U.S. cut flower value. With roots going back to 2012, CAG is a diverse and unified coalition of U.S. flower farms representing small to large entities across the country. CAG members undergo a third-party system of source verification to establish the only guarantee in the industry that could ensure that the flowers, bouquets, and bunches were grown in the United States. The American flower and greens farms participate in a rigorous audit process prior to receiving their certification that qualifies them to add the Certified American Grown logo to their floral packaging, web sites, and other marketing materials.

For more information, visit and



Dave Pruitt

CEO and Administrator

(805) 710-0692

Certified American Grown Becomes An Independent Trade Association

Press Release

Certified American Grown, a diverse and unified coalition of small to large cut flower and greens farms across the United States, has transitioned from a marketing and governmental relations group under the auspices of the California Cut Flower Commission to an independent trade association representing cut flower and greens farmers nationwide. 

The reimagined organization is the only floral organization that certifies the origin of the flowers and greens the members grow, process, package, and market. Membership in the refreshed organization is building as farmers seek to connect with the past efforts of Certified American Grown to open markets, increase sales of domestic cut flowers and greens, and share the “origin matters” message with consumers. 

As a trade association, Certified American Grown will continue its efforts to lobby on behalf of cut flower and greens farmers in Washington, D.C., sponsor American Grown Flowers Month in July, host the annual American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour, and give consumers confidence in the source of their flowers and greens by providing the only third-party guarantee in the floral industry validating bouquets and bunches purchased were actually homegrown.

“I’m flattered and humbled to have been elected the first chair of the new independent Certified American Grown organization. I’ve enjoyed working with members of the Certified American Grown Council in the past and was thrilled when council members agreed to be part of our new board,” said Rita Jo Shoultz, owner of Alaska Perfect Peony. “We’ve worked well together in the past, and I’m excited to be collaborating again to continue to promote the importance, value, and unmatched beauty of American Grown Flowers and Greens.”

“This will be an innovative group to watch and I look forward to an exciting future for our new, independent association,” added Dave Pruitt, administrator of Certified American Grown. “We’re excited to continue to connect people to the amazing flowers and greens grown right here in the U.S. and to grow consumers’ bond to a product that connects and brings joy to so many.” 

Cut flower and greens farmers, industry vendors and potential contributors for Certified American Grown’s initiatives can reach out to Anna Kalins at for more information on the reimagined organization. 

Members of the Certified American Grown Formation Board are: 

  • Rita Jo Shoultz, Alaska Perfect Peony, Chair
  • Mike A. Mellano, Mellano & Company, Vice Chair
  • Ko Klaver, Botanical Trading Company, Secretary
  • Rene Van Wingerden, Ocean Breeze Farms, Treasurer
  • Benno Dobbe, Holland American Flowers
  • Diana Roy, Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers 
  • Lane DeVries, Sun Valley Floral Farms
  • FJ Trzuskowksi, Continental Floral Greens
  • Frank Arnosky, Texas Specialty Cut Flower
  • Michael Genovese, Summer Dream Farms
  • Andrea Gagnon, LynnVale Studios
  • David Register, Fern Trust
  • Erik Hagstrom, Albin Hagstrom & Son

By the end of the year, the new board will present its vision and goals, including a new 2021 schedule for the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour, a signature event from Certified American Grown. 

 # # #

About Certified American Grown. Certified American Grown represents a unified and diverse coalition of U.S. cut flower and greens farms, including small to large entities in all seven districts of the country. Certified American Grown flower and greens farms participate in an independent, third-party supply-chain audit to verify both origin and assembly of the flowers and greens they grow. When it appears on bouquets, bunches, and other packaging or store signage, the Certified American Grown logo gives consumers confidence in the source of their cut flowers and greens and assures them their purchases come from a domestic American flower or greens farm. For more information about Certified American Grown, visit 



Rita Jo Shoultz, Board of Directors Chair

(907) 299-0261

Additional Contact: David Pruitt, Anna Kalins

Ball Horticultural Supporting Certified American Grown as a Founding Member

When a company has an over 100-year history, you can bet it has seen (and withstood) just about everything. Market changes. Innovations. Recessions. Reinventions.

That’s why the fact Ball Horticultural Company has signed on as a founding member of the reimagined Certified American Grown makes all the difference.

As President and CEO Anna Ball puts it,

Cut flower growers need our help right now. I say let’s give it to them.

Ball, a third-generation leader at Ball Horticultural, notes that her grandfather was a cut flower grower for 40 to 50 years, making cut flowers part of the company’s DNA.

Launched in 1905 as a wholesale cut flower operation, Ball Horticultural has grown into a global family of companies that includes breeders, research and development teams, seed and vegetative producers, and distribution companies. Among those operations is Ball SB, known to cut flower growers as an innovative supplier of cut flower propagation material.

Ball Horticultural supplies cut flower growers in the U.S. and around the world with seeds, cuttings, plugs and tissue cultures for flowers, including snapdragons, lisianthus and delphinium – all the unique varieties that make a bouquet special – through its distribution companies like Ball Seed, which serves North America.

Today, the company is the only American-owned and family-owned global horticultural breeding company. And it’s a company that believes in giving back.

“We believe in organizations like Certified American Grown because we think it’s important to support the industry. If you can afford to give, you should. And I hope if we were ever in the position of needing help, people would give to an organization that could do so,” Ball says.

In addition to supporting the new Certified American Grown, Ball Horticultural has sponsored the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour since 2015. Ball says the event provides everything you want in life: “flowers, wonderful people and a unique environment.”

“And the dinners expose the cut flower industry to people who really don’t know where flowers come from,” she adds. That’s key to the future of the industry.

Ball Horticultural has also supported the cut flower industry through advocacy efforts. “During the first few months of the pandemic, some members of our team worked full-time, along with trade organizations, to have flowers deemed essential with various governors,” Ball says. “When things get rough, you depend on your trade organizations and that’s why we support them.”

This support takes place in tandem with innovations at Ball Horticultural Company that will also bolster the cut flower industry. The company is currently building an R&D advanced technology center in West Chicago, with an expected completion date in March 2021. As a central hub for horticulture research, it will also support the company’s partnerships with research, breeding and production locations worldwide.

“Our main investments are currently in R&D, that’s where we’re putting our resources right now,” Ball says. The focus is on creating more flower varieties and products that are even more interesting, easier to grow, and more disease resistant.

Proof, once again, of Ball Horticultural Company’s commitment to a healthy, resilient cut flower industry.

American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour Delayed Until 2021

We Can’t Wait to See You In Person On an American Flower Farm!

We can’t deny that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught all of us a lot of lessons, and some of them are actually positive. 

Flowers not only brighten our homes but support positive mental health. They’re the perfect way to let those we’re unable to seen in person know that we’re thinking of them. And buying domestically grown cut flowers and greens support hardworking American farmers and their families. 

In other words, flowers and greens are essential! 

WilMor Farms, Georgia

In the course of the pandemic, we’ve also learned that there are some things that simply must happen in person. Among those is the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour. 

With the health and safety of our guests at the forefront, we’ve determined that we must cancel the 2020 tour. We greatly value the in-real-life connection and intimacy of the dinners, and we just can’t see a virtual or socially distanced event having the same impact. 

The good news: We plan to bring the tour back in 2021, getting as many flower lovers as possible to some of America’s most beautiful cut flower farms to learn from farmers, meet a renowned floral designer, enjoy a gourmet meal and connect to America’s agricultural heritage.  

We are grateful for the 2020 Field to Vase sponsors who repurposed their funds to help support Certified American Grown. Those fantastic companies who generously support the floral industry are Ball Horticultural Co., B-Fresh Floral, Dramm & Echter Farms and Continental Floral Greens. 

This will ensure that we can continue to host our amazing F2V dinners. Please stay tuned as we plan the 2021 American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour! We can’t wait to see you in person on an American flower farm!

If you are interested or want to learn more about becoming one of our supporters, please contact us at 

American Grown Flowers Month Celebrated Throughout the Country

Retailers and farms report it is their busiest July ever!

This year was certainly different from other years but that didn’t dampen the success of American Grown Flowers Month. Actually, people more than ever were seeking out flowers to adorn their homes and lift their moods. In fact, we have heard from more than one retailer that this was their busiest July year to date and not just flowers overall but American Grown flowers!

United Supermarkets in Texas celebrated!


“We are supporting American Grown promotion. We need some positive vibes right now, and we are doing our best at bringing flowers and happiness to our guests.” – Bradley Gaines, Business Director of Floral for United Supermarkets

In the Mid-West, SpartanNash set up displays in their 155 stores with patriotic boxes, big AGFM seals on sleeves and equally large AGFM buttons.


“I know we will be repeating this promotion next year! With a few tweaks, we’ll be able to push it even more!! Thank you so much!” – Jennie Garbarek, Manager, Floral Merchandising SpartanNash Company

American Grown Flowers Month was celebrated across the country and across all distribution channels not just by retailers. Certified American Grown Wholesaler DV Flora ran a contest for free promotional materials.

John Burke, E-Commerce Project Manager for DVFlora in Sewell, NJ announces give away on Instagram.


Our farms have also been busy shipping out boxes directly to consumers or in partnerships with designers and doing farm to porch local deliveries.

A farm to porch delivery made by Lynnvale Studios in the Washington D.C. area; Boxes ready to ship out the last Alaskan peonies to The Floral Source (Kelly Shore) American Grown at Home Virtual Workshops.


As consumers were also seeking that connection for in person and on the farm events,  farms held workshops in the fields with plenty of space and fresh air in honor of American Grown Flowers Month.

The social distancing floral design workshop held by Destiny Hill Farm in Washington, PA for 45 participants on July 15th was a huge success. Owner Nancy Cameron educated the audience on American Grown flowers and incorporated Eufloria Flower’s roses.


In just a few months, we’ll begin planning for American Grown Flowers Month 2021! Retailers, Wholesalers, Florists and Farms – you don’t want to miss out on this unique way to drive sales and share the #americangrown message with customers!

Remember, promoting domestic flowers is not just for July, you can celebrate American Grown flowers and greens all year long!

The Posey Patch Flower Farm Joins Certified American Grown

The Posey Patch takes flight in rural Alabama

When Ashley Bolton decided she wanted to start a flower growing business on the chicken farm she owns with her husband in a rural corner of Alabama, she hit the books.

Her only gardening experience up until that time had been at the just-for-fun level, tending gardens on their 60-acre farm in Russellville, Alabama.

“When I knew I wanted to make this a professional thing, I just hit blogs and podcasts and books and every possible source of information that there was just to research it on my own,” she said. “I wanted to learn as much as possible to really figure out how it was different from just the home garden. Obviously, it’s a whole different scale.”

The result of Bolton’s efforts is The Posey Patch, a flower farm of about 300 rose bushes and 300 dahlia plants, along with an assortment of other blooms including daffodils, tulips, zinnias and sunflowers.

“I just wanted to give it a try and see if it was something that we could make feasible,” she said. “We live on a farm, so we’re familiar with that lifestyle. We thought it would be good to try to use the remainder of the property for something that could be productive.”

The Posey Patch is in the midst of its first season. So far, so good, Bolton says, especially considering the unexpected effects of the coronavirus.

“I didn’t have high expectations for the first year,” she said. “When Covid happened, I knew there wasn’t going to be anything crazy because all the weddings and events where a large amount our flowers would go to weren’t going to be happening. So, we’ve kind of adjusted.”

Bolton’s goal was to sell wholesale to florists and designers. But she has had to change up her game plan to offer more direct-to-consumer sales via her website. She also offers some bouquets on consignment at a shop in nearby Florence, Alabama.

She also wants to attract the home gardener by selling nursery-style plants.

“A lot of people garden around here and there’s a high demand for that. It’s very popular,” she said. “I want to bring in some unique roses for kind of a dual purpose: Show the cut flower and hope people will love it and want to buy the plant.”

Bolton has gotten The Posey Patch off the ground while holding down her full-time job as a technical expert for the Social Security Administration. She also has two young daughters, who like the flower-end of the business, but not so much the weeding, she said. Still, it’s all quality family time “whether they realize it or not,” she said.

For all the work of planting and weeding and fending off plant-eating pests, The Posey Patch has been a source of satisfaction for Bolton. On her website, she says, “I enjoy the manual labor in the flower field a million times more than anything else I have ever done.”

For Bolton, one of the unexpected benefits of The Posey Patch has been becoming part of the floral community. Everyone, she said, has been welcoming and supportive.

“I’ve made a lot of contacts through networking,” she said. “I just love the whole community of flower farms and growers and designers. They’re just so supportive of each other and I just really enjoy it.”

The Posey Patch recently became a Certified American Grown farm. Bolton says she sought the certification for marketing purposes but has found the community it has opened up to be just as valuable.

“It’s a good way to break the ice and talk to folks,” she said. “It’s been way more helpful than I anticipated.”

In her first season, Bolton has learned that growing flowers “isn’t for the faint of heart.” Coping with pests is particularly vexing.

“When you have a home garden, you might not pay much attention to it and just think, ‘Oh, they ate my garden a little bit. That stinks.’ Now it’s like, ‘No, those are my roses, that’s my livelihood!’ I call them very bad names.”

Still, the payoff eclipses those challenges.

“Anytime I come in with an armload of flowers, my husband laughs at me because he says I’m like a little kid, I get so excited,” she said. “You’d think by now I’d be used to it but I am excited every time I come in with more flowers. That’s a good thing. I guess it kind of keeps us young.”


Contact Information:

North Pole Peonies Joins Certified American Grown

In Alaska, North Pole Peonies makes the most of short, sweet growing season!

When it comes to growing peonies in Alaska, North Pole Peonies was there at the very beginning.

Ron and Marji Illingworth started with about 100 plants in 2003 and with some uncertainty about whether peonies were a viable crop in interior Alaska’s brief growing season. Seventeen years later, they have 12,000 plants, sell their blooms worldwide and are central figures in the state’s peony industry. They have been leaders in the Alaska Peony Growers Association, mentored new growers and helped with research on growing and shipping issues.

Since the Illingworths planted their first peonies, the number of growers in Alaska has grown from a handful to more than 100.

Chris Beks, the Illingworths’ son-in-law and operations manager of North Pole Peonies, says peonies were no sure thing when the farm started. Peonies take three to five years to produce marketable blooms, so it required a leap of faith to make the investment of time and money.

“People might not say it now but I think they were pretty skeptical that this was going to work,” Beks said.

The Illingworths had experience with growing vegetables at their small farm near North Pole, Alaska, just outside Fairbanks and near Eielson Air Force Base. They sold their produce at the local farmers’ market.

They were also professors at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Ron in English and Marji in early childhood education. It was there they learned about the possibility of growing peonies.

A fellow professor, horticulturist Patricia Holloway, was doing research on growing peonies. Interactions with growers and buyers from outside Alaska made Holloway think that the state might be perfectly situated to grow peonies. The blooms were ready for harvest in July and August, a time when the rest of the world’s annual supply of peonies had been picked and sold. It also coincided with the summer wedding season, which the big, showy blooms seem tailor-made for. And the flowers are relatively lightweight and perfect for export via air.

Holloway suggested that the Illingworths give peonies a try. They were among about a dozen growers involved.

Beks, a native of the Netherlands, said his in-laws thought his heritage made him a natural to grow flowers.

“They said, ‘Hey Chris, you’re Dutch, you know about growing flowers,’” he said. “Almost everybody in the Netherlands has a brother, cousin, uncle or somebody that works in the flower industry. But I had never done it myself.”

Beks and his wife, Elizabeth, soon got onboard and became partners in the business. It’s their second job – Chris is an instructional design specialist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Elizabeth is a science teacher in the local schools.

It took until 2009 for it to be clear that peonies were a go.

“That’s was when the (floral) designers said, ‘Wow, these peonies, they’re great. Have you got more?’” he said. “That was when we realized we had something really unique here.”

The Illingworths dropped the vegetables that they had continued to grow and focused completely on peonies. The farm grew as it added more peonies every season. With 12,000 plants now, Beks said the focus is now on quality rather than quantity.

“We’re focused on growing at the top end and have our plants grow the biggest and best possible,” he said.

Beks said the farm has been a longtime supporter of the American Grown label. North Pole Peonies had the Certified American Grown label as part of a growers’ co-op and it recently received individual certification.

“We’re proud to be growing flowers in the United States,” he said. “The U.S. flower industry is making a comeback, slowly but surely. Even though we only grow flowers a few months out of the year, we want to show that this is how we should do it and not rely on imports.”