Wondering What a Field to Vase Dinner is Like?

These Photos Capture the Magic!

If you’ve always wanted to attend an American Grown Field to Vase Dinner but haven’t yet, or if you’re a past guest who’d like to relive the magical experience, check out these incredible photos from the first stop on this year’s dinner tour!

Guests were awed by the rainbow of colors surrounding this beautifully designed table and the Pacific Ocean within view.  Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

 

Mike A. Mellano of Mellano and Company, was the host for the evening and led guests on a farm tour sharing both the history and the science behind farming at The Flower Fields. Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

 

Smithers Oasis and FloraLife sponsored the boutonniere bar where guests had a fun opportunity to make their own.  Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

 

Wine and hors d’oeuvres were enjoyed before the dinner began.  Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

 

Our inaugural 2019 dinner was held last week in Carlsbad, California, at The Flower Fields and was hosted by Mellano & Company. Guests dined in fields of ranunculus at tables bursting with homegrown flowers, thanks to floral designer René van Rems, who added an extra splash with fresh flower chandeliers overhead!

Featured designer, René van Rems, created these amazing floral chandeliers that graced the ceiling of the table.  Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

 

Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

 

Take a look that the photos. Then take a deep breath and imagine yourself at one of these dinners!

Every guest went home with an armful of flowers and swag!  Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

We’ve got five more stops on this year’s tour and seats are going fast!

 

Denali Peonies Earns Certified American Grown Status

Farm Thives in Alaska’s Peony-Friendly Environment

Steve and Dawn Brefczynski got an unexpected dividend from their son’s college education: the family’s own peony farm.

Brandon was attending the University of Alaska when he learned about the state’s burgeoning peony growing business through a roommate’s thesis on the topic. He suggested to his parents that they start growing peonies on the five acres where they live outside Fairbanks, Alaska.

“He said, ‘Hey, we should grow those,’” Steve said. “I said, ‘OK, we can put in a hundred or so.’ He said, ‘Oh no Dad, go big or go home.’”

They took their son’s advice in 2012 and went big. Or at least as big as two people can handle. They now have 3,000 peony plants around their home and on an adjacent five acres they recently bought. They started with about 1,000 plants and then added another 2,000 after clearing the property next door.

They call their Certified American Grown farm Denali Peonies. Their first harvest in 2016 yielded 1,250 stems, followed by 2,500 the next and 4,500 last year. This year, they’re expecting to harvest 8,000 stems.

The Brefczynski’s family peony farm began as a suggestion from son Brandon, while he was attending the University of Alaska. Photos courtesy of Denali Peonies.

 

It’s their first venture in commercial agriculture. Their only growing experience was the vegetable gardens they’ve tended in Alaska and in their home state of Wisconsin, from where they moved 25 years ago. They’ve also done it while working other jobs: Steve does carpentry and tile work and has a saw-sharpening business; Dawn is an ICU nurse at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

They’re now firmly a part of the burgeoning Alaskan peony business that their son’s roommate was writing about.

Here’s a thumbnail version: In the early 2000s, a pilot project by University of Alaska horticulturist Patricia Holloway found that the flowers thrived in the state’s long summer days. What made Alaska peonies a viable cash crop was that they are 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. Alaskan peonies have been an amazing success story: The state went from a handful of growers in 2004 to more than a hundred today.

The Brefczynskis learned how to grow peonies through classes offered by the Alaska Peony Growers Association. They attended the group’s conferences and took part in farm tours. They’ve also gotten help from Carolyn Chapin, the owner of Polar Peonies and one the state’s first peony growers, who has offered valuable advice.

Denali Peonies is a growing farm which began in 2012 and now includes 3,000 peony plants around their home and an adjacent five acres with an expected yield of 8,000 stems this year.

 

The other part of the Brefczynskis’ successful equation is hard work.

“You don’t realize how labor intensive it is to get started,” Steve said. “Every plant has to have hole drilled for it into the ground. And everything has to be mounded, so you have to figure out how you’re going to make these mounds that are a hundred feet long. And after the plants are in, you have to put in the irrigation.”

And then there’s selling the flowers.

“To be honest, the growing and the picking are the easy part,” Dawn said. “Marketing and the business end are the hardest part.”

They plan to step up their internet marketing this season and do more of their own shipping. They just launched a new website in April (denalipeoniesak.com).

But Denali Peonies isn’t all business. There’s a family component, too.

“We enjoy our peony farm as it has brought our family closer together to do activities,” the Brefczynskis say on their website. “Our three children, eight grandchildren and sisters have all helped with the peony farm, whether it’s weeding, picking or preparing the flowers for shipping.  It’s been a joy to have them all help to get our farm up and going.”

Christi Lopez Announced as Floral Designer For Alaska’s American Grown Field to Vase Dinner

Lush, Audacious Tablescapes to Star at Alaska's Field to Vase Dinner

Floral designer Christi Lopez of Bergerons Flowers in Springfield, Virginia, will be the featured designer at the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner at Joslyn Peonies in Homer, Alaska, Aug. 3.

Christi Lopez will be the featured designer at Joslyn Peonies in Homer, Alaska for the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in August.  Photo by Joshua Veldstra

Guests can count on Lopez to bring her contemporary garden style to the tablescapes and other arrangements at the event, along with a love for peonies and a respect for the American flower farmers that grow them.

“I’m excited to return to Alaska where just last year I was able to experience the amazing peonies and meet the farmers as part of a field trip with other designers,” Lopez shares. “I fell in love with the peony farmers and with Alaska.”

Tours through the Alaskan peony fields will be a highlight of the weekend with Christi Lopez and Betty Joslyn.  Photo by Joshua Veldstra

And although she doesn’t know yet what peony colors she’ll be working with, she’s heard that a big harvest is expected this year – and that’s great news for dinner guests who can’t get enough of these glorious blooms!

Christi will be responsible for designing the tablescape for our guests to enjoy. Photo by Joshua Veldstra

“They’re big, fat, audacious blooms and they make it easy to create a garden-style look that’s a pleasing and popular part of today’s floral design trends,” Lopez says.

Save your seat to this experience of a lifetime in Alaska. Photo by Joshua Veldstra

Expect multiple vessels overflowing with just-picked peonies and natural elements from the environment to give an Alaskan feel, Lopez describes.

“It’s the colors and the heavy petal essence of the bloom that enamors people,” Lopez says.  “And the best part is that I’ll be designing with these blooms at a time of year when no one else around the world grows them. Having access to that is amazing!”

The popularity of peonies and Lopez’s design aesthetic means that the remaining 20 seats for this dinner will go fast!

Make sure you have a spot at the table in Alaska!

 

Make Mom’s Floral Dreams Come True!

Field to Vase Dinner Tour is the Ticket

Mother’s Day (May 12) is fast approaching, but there’s no need to fret about what to get Mom this year!

Make her floral dreams come true with tickets to an upcoming American Grown Field to Vase Dinner. Two tour stops provide just the right timing!

The American Grown Field to Vase Dinner is a great mother and daughter opportunity.

 

Choose the June 1 dinner at Bloomia USA in King George, Virginia, and mom can dine among thousands of blooming tulips. Bloomia also grows hyacinth, peonies and muscari, but the rows and rows of tulips will steal the show at this stop.

Or, if you’re on the West Coast, choose the June 12 tour stop in Sacramento, California. Here, Mom will dine on the lawn of the state Capitol at tables adorned with the hundreds of flower varieties grown throughout the Golden State. She’ll experience and entire state’s worth of blooms at one event!

Consider making a memory with mom that she’ll never forget.

 

Both dinners include a multi-course artisan meal, wine and craft beer, a create-your-own wearable floral flair station and a swag bag full of flower-related goodies.

Choose your location to make Mom’s floral dreams come true! Seats are selling fast at both locations, so reserve now!

King George, Virginia

Sacramento, California

Bring mom to the flower farm!

 

Mom will love you for it!

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.

Certified American Grown is Leveraging Pinterest, Are You?

Certified American Grown has been working diligently to grow our presence on Pinterest, and we’ve seen a great return on our efforts, creating a monthly viewership of over 14,000 in just three months.

We’re finding this platform is a great way to share the #originmatters message, and of course the amazing photos of Certified American Grown Flowers and Greens. And we expect this number to continue to grow as we deliver new content to the platform, interact with users and leverage analytics to share more of the photos, products and stories users are interested in.

We’re posting great tips on floral topics like boutonniere bars, flower crowns, floral photo backdrops and tablescapes, to name a few.

The success we’re having on Pinterest prompted us to ask: Are you leveraging Pinterest for your business?

Social media pro K.C. Cornwell points out that Pinterest is often an overlooked social media platform, largely because many businesses aren’t quite sure how to use it. But there’s hope.

“Pinterest is relatively easy to use and it’s full of people ready to discover your business, try your idea, or buy your product,” Cornwell says. “It’s also one of the last platforms where your content can be seen without having to pay to get it in front of people, provided it’s good information with beautiful photos. In fact, Pinterest is the top web traffic source after Google for many North American influencers.”

If you’re taking the time to create blog posts, video or photo galleries, if you have a venue for rent or host events, or you sell products to consumers, consider signing up for a free business account on Pinterest or reinvigorate the account you already have, Cornwell advises. “It’s a useful tool to build traffic to key pages on your website and help new customers find you.”

Here are her additional tips for success on Pinterest:

  • Verify your website. Claiming your website on Pinterest gives you access to the analytics feature that allows you to see what content viewers save the most and which posts send the most traffic to your website. It also causes your profile picture to show up on any pins that come from your site, allowing consumers to find your account and your brand more easily.

 

  • Pin a mix of content. Pinterest is a virtual pinboard, a place for discovering and curating ideas, goods and goals. It’s considered “spammy” to pin predominately your own content and the site will stop showing your pins if they’re all from your own website. Instead, pin a mix of your blog posts or products along with other items your customers might be interested in: weddings, home design, travel to your area, decor, etc.

 

  • Create “optimized pins” for your content. Optimized pins are vertical images that incorporate descriptive text with attractive photos that relate to the webpage they are linked to. The optimized pins can be added to your website or uploaded directly to Pinterest and linked.

Diamond Ridge Peonies Earns Certified American Grown Status

From the Ocean to the Farm in Homer, Alaska

After 40 years of running a charter fishing business in Homer, Alaska, Gerri Martin and her husband, Sean, have embarked on a retirement plan that really isn’t very retiring.

They decided to start a completely different business.

Photos provided by Diamond Ridge Peonies.

They’re in their sixth year of growing peonies on their 15 acres of property that overlooks Kachemak Bay. Diamond Ridge Peonies, a Certified American Grown farm, is just starting to hit its stride as the Martins ease themselves out of their fishing business, North Country Halibut Charters.

It’s the culmination of a plan that began years ago as the couple looked at what lay ahead for them. The seed for Diamond Ridge Peonies was planted during a conversation Gerri Martin had with a friend.

Gerri Martin shows off an armful of the peonies that fill her life now.

 

 

“I was grousing about being kind of tired of the charter fishing business with one of my girlfriends here in town and she said, ‘Oh you should start growing peonies. It’s like waking up in the morning with your cup of coffee and walking down and watching your flowers grow.’

“I thought, wow, that’s sounds pretty fun.”

 

 

 

At that time, peonies had just taken off as a crop in Alaska. In the early 2000s, a government pilot project 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 and sold. It also coincided with the summer wedding season, which the big, showy blooms seem tailor-made for. And the flowers were relatively lightweight and perfect for export via air. Alaska went from zero peony farmers in 2004 to more than 200 by 2014.

Diamond Ridge Peonies sits on 15 acres in view of Kachemak Bay, a perfect spot to grow gorgeous peonies.

 

The Martins got serious about growing peonies a couple years after Gerri’s conversation with her friend. They knew their 15 acres were an ideal spot for growing peonies. Their lack of farming experience did not faze them.

They attended the Alaska Peony Growers Association to learn more and got involved in that group’s new growers program. What the Martins found was a community of Alaskan peony growers who are eager to help newcomers.

“The environment up here is enthusiastically helpful about this new industry,” she said. “If you’re going to be growing peonies, everybody up here wants you to be growing the best dang peonies there are. Everybody is just super encouraging.”

Gerri Martin said getting a peony growing operation is more slow than difficult. Three years after planting, the Martins sold some flowers at a kiosk at their charter fishing business. But it wasn’t until year four that it was really a business.

“Our fourth year was big for us,” she said. “We were really happy to be able to sell all of our flowers. Our field just busted open and it was amazing.”

Last year, the Martins harvested 40,000 stems and they’re looking forward to another bountiful harvest this year.

To sell their flowers, the Martins have relied on a couple of big wholesalers. But they also sell via the internet and market through Instagram and Facebook.

“We all want to sell to the brides because that’s the top dollar,” she said. “But last year we had 40,000 stems and there’s not that many brides out there. So, we have to diversify. We have a pretty good balance.”

Getting Diamond Ridge Peonies off the ground has been a lot of hard work but has gone relatively smoothly. Martin credits that to the fact she and her husband have run their own business for 40 years.

“We know how to network with people because we’ve done it for years,” she said. “Yes, it’s another business, but it’s not entirely different.”

Looking to the future, the Martins expect one of their two sons to take over as their farm manager. Their other son is a fishing boat captain. For the time being, they are content with their operation.

“We think we are where we want to be,” she said. “I think our potential is sitting right there in that field as it matures.”

Are You Following Farmer Fridays?

Don’t Miss These Stories of American Flower Farmers!

Every Friday across our social media channels, we’re celebrating American flower farmers with Farmer Fridays!

 

These stories on Facebook and Instagram highlight Certified American Grown flower and greens farmers, the varieties they grow, the sustainable methods they use and why they love to grow fresh flowers and greens.

 

Click on the image above to see this post and more on our Instagram page.

 

It’s our way of sharing the bounty and diversity of homegrown flowers, and connecting followers to the age-old art and science of flower farming in America.

 

Are you following Farmer Fridays? Doing so will not only surprise and delight, it just might connect you to those special blooms grown right here in the U.S.

 

These are also great stories that you can share too. After all, we’re finding these posts are engaging audiences and spreading far and wide, so we certainly encourage you to share these stories on your social media platforms as well.

 

Click on this image to see the post about Kitayama Brothers and others like it on the American Grown Flowers Facebook page.

 

Highlighting your connection to the farm, our farmers and their flowers is a powerful connection for your customers to see. 

 

Find these stories and more at @AmericanGrownFlowers.

Sutton Ferneries Earns Certified American Grown Status

Farm Creates Its Own Niche in Fern-Rich Florida

The company that is now Sutton Ferneries got its start more than 30 years ago in the back of a Honda hatchback.

It was in that Honda that Michelle Sutton was going door to door to Miami’s florists selling ferns that her former husband’s family was growing on a farm in central Florida that they had recently bought. Sutton would receive the foliage via the U.S. mail and then put it in her home’s bathtub with ice to keep it fresh until she would make her rounds.

That was the humble beginnings of Sutton Ferneries, a Certified American Grown farm, that now employs 130 people at its farms in central Florida and its processing facility in Doral, Florida. It sells its ferns and foliage to retailers, wholesalers and mass-marketers in the United States and around the world.

All that hard work in going door to door amounted to an education in the floral business that formed the basis of Sutton Ferneries.

The team at Sutton Ferneries.  Photos supplied by Sutton Ferneries.

“They got me where I’m at,” said Sutton, the company’s president. “They taught me everything that I needed to know about running my business in the sense of understanding what the needs of a retail flower shop are and what was the demands of the consumers are.”

Sutton has flipped the usual model of being a grower that has expanded its sales.

“We weren’t farmers and then selling,” she said. “We were selling and then had to work our way back to figure out how we could get the product we needed because we weren’t getting it from the growers.”

One of the catalysts for the company’s growth was timing. In those early days, Sutton’s contacts with Miami florists eventually led to businesses that were just starting to make bouquets for supermarkets.

“Once we got in with them, we start started having problems with supply. We didn’t have enough supply,” she said.

While seeking new farms to buy from, Sutton discovered she couldn’t get the quality she needed. Buying ferns in bulk resulted in too much waste. Her customers weren’t traditional wholesale buyers. They were using every single stem.

“There were very rigid requirements,” she said. “The quality had to be excellent and all the stems had to be good and it was just very difficult.”

It was a challenge to get growers to understand that Sutton wasn’t just being picky or trying to cherry pick their crops. The company was just responding to the market.

“Retailers would tell you straight up, ‘I’m not buying from you again,’” she said. “And it was the same with the bouquet makers.”

That led to Sutton getting into the growing business. At first, they leased acreage from an existing grower before buying their own property and adding to it over the years. They now have about 100 acres.

Sutton Ferneries consists of 100 acres of ferns and foliage sold to retailers, wholesalers and mass-marketers in the United States and around the world.

“We learned the (growing) business, from getting cutters to crew leaders to packing and the whole operation,” she said.

Existing growers “were very traditional and that wasn’t really working for us. So, we had to basically get our own crews, train them on the exact specs that we wanted and have them go in our fields and cut to meet those requirements for us.”

By the mid-1990s, Sutton Ferneries had established itself. Since then, it has had to adapt as demand and tastes have changed. As the bouquet business shifted to South America in the mid-1990s, Sutton turned to creating new products, such as its Ready to Go Greens, which are premade arrangements of greens that require retailers to just add flowers.

 

Sutton has also embraced the supermarket sector as the business has shifted away from traditional flower shops. During her career, Sutton said she has seen retail florists in Miami dwindle from about 1,500 to less than 60.

Although florist shops make up a smaller part of her business, Sutton still sells to some of the same florists she started selling to from the trunk of her car. She appreciates the lessons they provided her when she was starting out.

Sutton is proud the company has continued to grow in the face of harsh blows delivered by Florida’s sometimes devilish weather. The company has survived the Storm of the Century in 1993 and multiple hurricanes, tornadoes and freezes. The risk is so great that business insurance isn’t available, Sutton said.

“We’ve been through multiple catastrophic losses over the years between freezes and hurricanes,” she said. “You name it, we’ve gone through it.

We’ve been able to stay on course, see beyond the problems and maintain a vision for the future,” she said. “I don’t give up.”

Fun ‘N Sun 2019 Panel Discussion Will Cover How to Address the “Summer Slump”

Experts to Share How American Grown Flowers Month Provides the Solution

A panel discussion at the Fun ‘N Sun 2019 conference, July 24-27 in Santa Barbara, will cover the power American Grown Flowers Month has to address the “summer slump” of flower sales.

 

 

Floral designer Kelly Shore of Petals by the Shore, John Burk of DVFlora and Crystal Hedgpeth of Safeway’s Northern California division, will discuss how American Grown Flowers Month and its related promotions have prompted consumers to purchase more homegrown flowers and greens during July.

 

Kelly Shore, John Burk and Crystal Hedgpeth make up the panel for this Fun ‘N Sun discussion about American Grown Flowers Month.

 

They’ll also share the importance and value of Certified American Grown Flowers and Greens and how they’re leveraging the consumer demand they’re experiencing to spread the #originmatters message and drive sales.

 

The panel represents the first time multiple members of the supply chain have combined forces to share their experiences and success with promoting the Certified American Grown brand and its innovative programs.

It’s not too late to register for the 2019 American Grown Flowers Month Merchandising Contest! Visit americangrownflowers.org/julycontest/ to learn more.