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Natural Awakenings Healthy Living Magazine

Flowers are Becoming Important Local Cash Crop

by Trilby MacDonald

Nothing can stop nature from bursting forth in celebration of rebirth and renewal. The flowers are especially beautiful this year, thanks to the cool, wet spring, and everywhere we look, their beauty reminds us that life goes on. Dark-eyed anemones beckon, ruffled ranunculus dazzle and twirl, and multicolored alliums shoot up like fireworks. But with the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, spring and summer weddings, graduations and other flower-filled gatherings have been postponed or cancelled altogether.

That has not stopped the 17 members of the Michigan Flower Growers’ Cooperative from sharing their bounty. The co-op was founded in 2016 to help small, local farms break into the lucrative wholesale market by aggregating their product in a weekly marketplace. Open on Wednesday mornings from April through October, the market offers a convenient flower-shopping experience to compete with the popularity of online shopping where wholesale buyers can order flowers with next-day delivery from anywhere in the world.

“The flower co-op has been a fantastic sales outlet for my farm,” says Adrianne Gammie, co-op board president and owner of Marilla Field & Flora. “I can offer product to multiple customers in one place, and those customers can not only buy from me, but also from my fellow local flower farmers. Together, our offering is stronger than any of us are on our own, and everyone wins. The Wednesday morning market also serves as a social hub for the flower community and is a great place to connect and chat all things flowers.”

Registered buyers can preorder a wide variety of premium flowers and foliage from the co-op website. They can pick their orders up at the marketplace, where they also have the opportunity to shop the market floor, or have them delivered. The market offers retail hours and wholesale day passes for DIY brides and others who need large quantities of flowers for a single event. Until retail shops are allowed to reopen in Southeast Michigan, however, the market floor is closed and the co-op is filling preorders for curbside pickup and wholesale delivery only.

Later in the season, the co-op will add a second delivery service where wholesale buyers can shop from the back of a bucket truck that comes right to their doors. The co-op hopes this mini mobile market will tempt busy buyers who may not understand the difference in quality and variety offered by local farms compared to imported flowers.

As concerns about the environmental and health impacts of conventional agriculture have gone mainstream, the local food movement has seen thousands of local farms spring up across the country to meet demand for ecologically grown meats and vegetables. The local flower movement is also taking root, and many small-acre farms are discovering that flowers are among their most profitable crops. Wildly creative floral designers have some of Instagram’s hottest feeds, and millennial couples who want their weddings to support small businesses are spending huge sums on elaborate displays of local flowers. The boutique floral designers hired by these couples are the Michigan Flower Growers’ Cooperative’s biggest clients, where members are expanding their customer bases to include more retail florists, supermarkets, and event planners this season.

In 2018, the co-op won a grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for outreach and communications to offer professional development opportunities to the membership. “Winning the grant shows us that the state of Michigan understands the importance of cut flowers as an agricultural product, and the potential of this market to sustain small and mid-sized farms,” says Amanda Maurmann, co-founder of the co-op and owner of Gnome Grown Flowers. “We hope to connect with people from all ends of the floral trade to let them know about this amazing resource. For buyers, we offer a one-stop shop for the highest-quality cut flowers and foliage on the market. For growers, we offer educational seminars and meet-up opportunities all season long.”

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Trilby MacDonald is a writer and editor for the Ann Arbor Observer weekly newsletter, a2view.