By Gary Brock
Spring Valley farmer Leslie Garcia was busy moving the dozens of fresh-cut flowers from her farm’s cooling unit into the back of her SUV.
It was early in the morning on June 2, and she had an important delivery to make.
More than 60 bunches of fresh-cut flowers of all colors and varieties were placed in large plastic containers one by one, soon to be on their way to a local grocery chain in neighboring Montgomery County.
“I’ve been selling to the grocery since last year,” Garcia said, as she busily prepared for the drive.
Her 18-acre farm, Peach Mountain Organics, is one of a growing number of Ohio “flower farms” — farms specializing in producing and selling fresh flowers.
Allen County flower farm operator Susan Studer King knows all about this explosion of Ohio flower farms across the state.
For the last two years she has organized an annual winter Flower Farmer Meet-Up to promote the new niche farming product flowers. The second-year attendance more than doubled.
Demand for local flowers
King operates her family’s flower farm, Buckeye Blooms, in Elida in northwest Ohio. She estimates there are more than 40 flower farms scattered throughout the state.
King says this growth parallels the locally grown food movement.
“The demand for locally grown products is high and continues to grow among consumers. On the heels of the local food movement, there is high demand for locally grown flowers,” she said.
“There has been a corresponding renaissance of new flower farms and ‘farmer-florists’ (the term she used to describe operations that grow flowers and offer floral design services) in Ohio and across the country.”
King compared flower farmers to other types of farmers.
“Flower farmers do a lot of field production. We plant into the ground, just like other growers, except our produce isn’t corn or soybeans or vegetables — our produce is flowers,” she said.
King said flower farmers use the same production methods as other farmers, except there is far less “mechanization” because the amount of land needed is far less.
King said dozens, even hundreds of varieties of flowers are grown.
“We grow the things that grow particularly well in Ohio,” she said. “The zinnias, dahlias, lilies, snapdragons and sweet peas are among the varieties.”
Flowers that don’t ship well are big sellers, because it is best to get them from local growers, she added.
The National Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers based in Oberlin, King said, has reported record numbers of new members in the last two years.
“It is an exciting time to be a flower farmer,” she said.
One woman’s mission
King attributes the explosion of flower farms in Ohio and across the nation to one woman: Seattle-area flower farmer and designer Erin Benzakein.
Benzakein is the founder of Floret Flowers and the face of the company. Considered one of the nation’s leading farmer florists, Benzakein is an accomplished photographer, author, teacher, entrepreneur and winner of the 2014 Martha Stewart American Made award for Floral and Event Design. Her exuberance for seasonal flowers has helped spark a local flower renaissance and inspire a new crop of beginner farmer-florists. Benzakein’s first book on flower growing and floral design will be published by Chronicle Books in early 2017.
“Erin Benzakein has been incredibly influential as a designer and flower farmer and has inspired a number of women to get into flower farming,” King explained.
King pointed out that many flower farmers are women.
“There is a lot of romance and beauty associated with it — a hell of a lot of hard work, too. You have many variables to deal with. She has inspired a lot of people to start their own business,” King said.
There is also in the style and design world a number of A-list designers who have embraced the idea of buying locally grown flowers. Per square foot, many of the flower growers can get a greater premium than with other produce.
Gathering flower farmers
King also was inspired to gather Ohio flower farmers together.
In February 2015, they had their first statewide Ohio Flower Farmer Meet-Up in Granville at Denison University, and had about 20 people. In early 2016, they had a second meet-up at Sonny Meadows Flower Farm in Columbus where more than 50 people attended.
“We will have another one this next year,” King said.
After the first meet-up, she took all the contact information and developed an online interactive map that shows the locations in Ohio of all the known flower farms including their their names, addresses and contact information.
“I’m a visual person so I like to see where in the state the flower farms are located,” she said.
She continually updates the map as more flower farms “pop up,” she said. To access the map, visit http://bit.do/ohioflowers.
King believes flower farming will continue to grow.
“I think what will happen is more and more florists wanting locally grown, fresh-cut flowers. Just as there are restaurants marketing that they buy locally grown produce, I see this trend continuing to flowers,” she pointed out.
She said her group of flower farmers is also looking at applying for one of the specialty crop block grants through the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Many of the farms, such as Sonny Meadows, are “going gangbusters,” she said. “They can’t keep up with the demand. They are selling as far away as Cleveland.”
King said flower farming will still be a niche, but it is a growing one.
“You can connect a face to the name — not just a box (of flowers). Someone in your community grew that flower: local businesses, local families, local farms. That is why we will continue to grow,” she said.