The following is an article from the Harbor Light News.
A Local Flower Movement
Locally grown flower farms building momentum up north, similar to local food movement.
BY Emily Meier | JUNE 16, 2018
There is a local flower movement that is gaining momentum here in northern Michigan. Marc Green (pictured here) working on the flower farm he shares with partner, Jamie Platte, owner of Pontius Flower Shop. Flower growers in the area take great pride in producing flowers grown without chemicals. (Courtesy photo)
Winter is the best time to talk to flower growers in Northern Michigan. Once the land has been blanketed by the first big snow, a collective breath is taken. A couple months of respite from hard labor is welcome after the busy spring and summer. Winter is time for taking stock and making plans for spring planting. It was good to catch up with a few of the local flower growers in the area and learn more about what it takes to bloom in a small community.
From a larger Lavender operation to a one man show, it’s interesting to see the various ways flower farming is done here in the north.
Lavender Hill Farm
It’s honeybees that deserve a lot of the credit for the old cattle farm on Horton Bay Road becoming what it is today. Back in 2003, beekeeper, Linda Longworth was looking for a place to keep her bees. When she and her husband, Roy, found the old farm, they knew that buying it would provide a good space for the bees. It would also keep the land from being commercially developed, which was important to them and to the surrounding community.
Lavender is a favorite for bees and Longworth began planting it in order to keep her hives happy and healthy. As the lavender grew, so did the business. Soon, lavender took over and interest mounted. People wanted to come to the farm to see the purple blooms enveloping the rolling hills, and to purchase sachets and other lavender products.
In 2015, Bill and Erin Mansfield along with friend and business partner, Rita Robbins, bought the land from Longworth with some goals in mind. They wanted to further develop the farm as a focal point in the community as well as create economic growth within the surrounding area.
“We wanted this very special piece of land to remain as a farm and become an even more important part of the community,” Robbins said. “It’s our goal to make the farm more accessible, keep it growing as a focal point for the community, and expand the farm to further support the local economic development.”
Katie MacGregor, owner of Tag-Along Flower Farm, pictured here with a few of her harvested blooms. MacGregor loves being surrounded by flowers and generations of family on her farm. (Photo courtesy of Katie MacGregor)
Neither of the Mansfields nor Robbins had any experience in land management or farming before buying the farm. But all three are well versed in finance, business, and marketing. So, they started with what they knew.
“None of us had any experience growing lavender or owning a farm, zero,” Robbins said. “So, we took a look at this farm from a marketing perspective and not just a farming perspective.”
First, they restored the ninety-eight-year-old barn from roof to handmade wood floors. They opened it up as a place for community gatherings, weddings, concerts, yoga practice, workshops, and other events.
They also increased the number of lavender plants. “We now grow 24 varieties of lavender and have over 10,000 plants,” Robbins said.
They expanded their ability to create lavender oil and have teamed up with many more local artisans to expand the lavender products available through the farm.
A beautiful specimen (above) and a hoop house (below). The hoop house is used by flower growers here in Michigan because it allows them to start planting and planning well before Michigan’s late spring arrives. It takes dedication, hard work, and a true appreciation for the land to produce flowers of quality in northern Michigan. (Hoop house photo courtesy of Katie MacGregor. Flower photo courtesy Jamie Platte)
“We have a small army of local crafts people who make lavender lip balm, lavender soaps, lavender lotions, lavender shampoo and conditioner as well as the sachets,” Robbins said. “And because lavender oil is a natural flea and tick repellant, we also now carry pet products.”
They have also expanded their lengthy list of collaborations with chefs, chocolatiers, maple syrup farmers, and ice cream makers just to name a few. All of these local epicurean artisans have taken on the challenge of using the farm’s lavender to create lavender infused versions of their specialty items to be sold exclusively at the farm. It is in these collaborations that the new owners of Lavender Hill Farm find a sense of accomplishment.
“We have a real commitment to being a part of the community,” Robbins said.
And in doing so, they have also created an internship program that introduces interns to everything from hospitality, event coordinating, marketing, and social media to the day-to-day business of running a farm. From marketing to agricultural planning, interns get a diverse and hands on experience with it all.
And when it comes to their own learning curve, Robbins is grateful to original owner, Linda Longworth, and the many local farmers who continue to help them find their way.
“One of the things I’ve really loved most about this experience is how the other farmers in the area have helped us,” Robbins said. “It is so rewarding being a part of this rediscovery of the beauty and importance of small local farms that bring flowers, good food, and good products to the local markets.”
Tag-Along Flower Farm
Tag-Along Flower Farm of Petoskey is a small business with deep roots.
And Katie MacGregor is the sole proprietor.
She makes the most of five acres, her portion of the farm that has been in her family for four generations.
The purple blooms of lavender spread out over the land at Lavender Hill Farm. People come from all over to see this sight and try some of the many handcrafted lavender products that can only be found at the farm. From lavender infused syrup and tea, to a classic sachet, this farm has found a way to infuse almost everything with the lavender grown here. (Photo courtesy of Lavender Hill Farm)
“All my flowers are grown on my five acres that is part of the north end of the family farm,” MacGregor said. Last year, she grew 50 different varieties of flowers. “Every year I try to get new flowers in the lineup.”
While MacGregor provides flowers to local florists, she especially enjoys creating the unique bouquets that go out each week to businesses and individuals who are a part of her CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription service.
“I love designing for events and for my weekly flower shares,” MacGregor said.
But there are months of planning, thought, and preparation behind each of the flowers that end up in her lineup come spring. Every flower that is grown has a purpose and must have a hearty “vase life.”
“I always consider vase life and if it likes to be field grown,” MacGregor said. “I design all my weekly shares in vase arrangements. So, I need to have greens, filler flowers, focal flowers, spires, and any additional flowers for texture.”
Buckley the dog sits among a small sample of a days flower harvest keeping Marc Green and Jamie Platte, of Pontius Flower Shop and flower farm, company. Photo courtesy Jamie Platte
Having a wide variety of flowers and greens to pull from takes a lot of careful planning.
“I have to really sit down and figure out each year what I want growing when, and with what,” MacGregor said. “There is a huge amount of thought and planning behind it all.”
Each season brings with it a different aspect of work. January is the time for planning. February, regardless of weather and thanks to hoop houses, she starts the first succession of seeds. Seeds are then planted every two weeks until mid-July, which ensures that flowers will be in bloom throughout her busy summer season. The end of April until mid-June proves to be one of the busiest times as fields are prepped, fabric and irrigation are laid out, and flowers are planted. This year she enlisted her husband, her two sons, and her sister to help with the workload. From June through September, it is all about harvesting, designing, and delivering. At the end of September through October, fields are turned over and preparations are made for the winter. In November, MacGregor barely has time to catch her breath before she is deep into holiday wreath orders, which she creates every year. “My only vacation month is December,” she said with a laugh.
It takes a lot of hard work. “There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go into these flowers.”
When asked about her favorite part of the business, she mentions again how much she enjoys creating floral designs and being “hip deep in flowers and harvesting them out in the field.”
And then there is the part about being surrounded by generations of family.
“I love being a part of this farm and having my whole family within walking distance. I love this land,” MacGregor said. “So, what I bring to my flowers and my business is love. I love my flowers. I cry over them, talk to them, tell them they’re beautiful. I know that’s kind of odd. But it’s my love for them, and for this land, and the constant support of my family that I bring to my business. I sense that my customers feel that and appreciate it.”
They also appreciate her dedication to remaining organic (non-certified) and chemical free. If she doesn’t like the idea of her children walking through it, she doesn’t use it.
“I feel that farms and flower farms are super important to local communities,” MacGregor said. “I feel that we all deserve to have healthy food and naturally grown flowers in our homes.”
Pontius Flower Shop is a Harbor Springs staple. Located on Main Street, the shop has greeted people as they come down the hill into town for almost 100 years. Almost every local artist has painted some version of the shop in its summer glory, bursting with blooms.
Arthur and Florence Pontius opened the little flower shop in 1923 and grew award-winning lilies and gladiolas behind the building, where the business still stands today.
In the 80s, Nancy Rondel bought the shop from the Pontius’ and brought the little shop along for another generation. In 2013, Jamie Beth Platte bought the shop from her aunt Nancy and, as only the third owner in its long history, she continues to keep it in the family as such.
A little over two years ago, Platte and her partner, Marc Green, started growing flowers on a farm just north of town.
“We wanted, in part, to carry on the traditions of flower shops like Hoovers and the Pontius that grew many of their own flowers,” Platte said. “Additionally, growing certain flowers gives us the availability of flowers that are otherwise not available, or too fragile to ship.”
When asked about the varieties of flowers they have been growing, Platte responds with a wonderfully diverse list. “This year, we grew many varieties of dahlias, zinnias, amaranth, chocolate lace flower, cosmos, sunflowers, Persian cress, Chinese asters, kale, and tulips,” Platte said. “Last year, we planted 300 lavender. And this year, we added sedum, veronica, sweet peas, baptisia, and columbine to our perennial gardens. We have lots of Lupine already growing out there as well.”
Harvesting flowers from their own land also allows them to make their business more “environmentally conscious,” which is a sentiment that is often repeated in business models today and valued by customers.
While the flower business has its challenges, like fragile flowers and destination events or the unpredictability of Mother Nature, Platte and Green have weathered them together. But the work life balance isn’t always an easy thing to find.
“ Work/life balance is tough,” Platte said. “For six months of the year, we don’t talk about much beyond the flower shop and the farm. But on the other hand, you have someone off of which you can bounce ideas, commiserate, and be excited about the future.”
And, the hard work is always rewarding.
“It’s rewarding to see the flowers that we grow go into a beautiful arrangement, to become a part of a special wedding or event, and be appreciated,” Green said.
He also enjoys being in the midst of the season surrounded by the flowers they’ve worked so hard to grow. “I love going out into the fields, or into the greenhouse, in the middle of the summer, when everything is going. The bees are everywhere. It’s amazing to see how everything works together.”
“The bees love us,” Platte adds. “Flowers provide agricultural diversity to the area. As with the slow food movement, knowing where your flowers came from, what they were treated with (in our case, nothing), and how far they’ve traveled is important. And from a retail standpoint, flowers last longer if they were cut that morning in Harbor Springs rather than cut last week in South Africa.”
It is good to know that the little flower shop on Main Street is in dedicated hands and that its legacy will continue. One has to believe that Arthur and Florence Pontius would be thrilled by the young couple who are following in their footsteps as shop owners and flower growers.
“We are excited and proud to be the owners of a nearly 100-year-old flower shop,” Platte said. “We love it here and aspire to be an important part of the community. We create art with perishable products and hopefully make people happy on some of the best and, occasionally, worst days of their lives. “
Dahlia Hank is supposed to be retired but his business is booming.
Hank Jankoviak, or Dahlia Hank as he’s known among the in crowd of florists and flower growers, has become the go to dahlia guy in the two short years that he’s taken to growing these flowers exclusively.
“I just showed up with dahlias and that’s what they started calling me,” Jankoviak said of the nickname given to him by florists in the area.
Jankoviak lives on the farm, located in Cheboygan, that has been in his family since the 1800s. His daughter, Greta, is the fifth generation to farm the land. She and her husband, Brendan moved back in 2014 to work towards turning part of the family land into a small-scale, biosustainable farm, Harvest Thyme Farms. While Greta does grow and arrange flowers, the dahlias proved to be too much work in the midst of their ambitious farming endeavors.
Seeing that the higher maintenance dahlias were in danger of going to waste, Hank decided to plant the tubers and care for them himself.
Dahlias are native to Mexico and were declared the national flower of Mexico in 1963.
Due to their warm weather roots, they take a bit more work and care to get them to grow in these northern temperatures.
Dahlias are tuberous perennial plants. As Hank explains it, “They grow in clumps like a potato does. If you plant a potato, you may get 10 to 15. The dahlias are similar, but each produce differently. Some may only have a couple, but a lot of them will have 10 or better.”
And this is how the variety is propagated, by planting and then harvesting the tubers.
Because the dahlia is sensitive to colder weather, the whole plant must be dug up and stored for the winter. This is where the painstaking hard work and care come in.
“They’ll bloom right up until it freezes,” Jankoviak said. “After they freeze, you let them lay in the ground for a week or two, let the skins toughen up. And then, you dig them up. Last year, I dug them all by hand. But this year, I had so many that I went in with my kids on a potato digger—that really helped.”
The tubers have to be stored above freezing and, preferably, above forty degrees.
There aren’t too many dahlia growers in Michigan for this reason. Storing the dahlias is a delicate balance of keeping them at the right temperature, while also not allowing too much moisture in, which causes mold and ruins the tuber.
“They take a lot of work,” Jankoviak said. “From digging them up, storing them, to replanting them in the spring there is a level of expense, and hard labor, involved.You have to really like doing it.”
And then there is the harvesting of blooms in the summer.
“The amount of work can very quickly get overwhelming,” Jankoviak said. “Even the amount of time cutting and driving for delivery can add up fast.” This year, Jankoviak built a walk-in cooler which has allowed him to cut in the evenings, store them overnight, and get on the road earlier in the morning to make deliveries for the blooms.
Some growers plant dahlias as close as eight inches apart. Jankoviak, plants his two feet apart but is considering planting them further apart for next year. “I’m going to have to go to six feet apart because it gets to be too much,” he said. “I couldn’t even walk through them this year.”
While there are around 57,000 varieties of dahlias, Hank has about 80 growing on his farm. “Some I just have a few of as they can be really expensive,” Jankoviak said. “So, you want to try a few and see what they’re like and then propagate them.”
Jankoviak has learned that while the blooms provide an income for the summer, selling the tubers is also good business. So, as he propagates certain varieties he is looking to expand his business in the future to go beyond just selling blooms. His business just keeps growing.
It doesn’t look like Dahlia Hank will be “retiring” anytime soon.
“It blew me away just how much people want these flowers,” he said. “And they really are quite a remarkable plant. The more you cut them, the more they bloom. The more you hack on the things the more blooms that come. That’s the amazing thing. They just keep blooming and blooming.”
For more information on any of these particular growers see their facebook, Instagram, and websites.
Above is an article from Harbor Light News.