Cuts of Color Joins Certified American Grown

With her roots deep in the soil of Texas, it was perhaps inevitable that Rita Anders would end up a farmer.

After all, she grew up on a dairy farm in Weimar, Texas, where her grandfather started farming in 1937. Her family also grew peaches and pecans.

All photos courtesy of Cuts of Color.

What wasn’t so inevitable was that she would become a flower grower, a wedding flower designer and an advocate for locally grown produce. All that came from within her. The result is Cuts of Color, a thriving Certified American Grown flower farm 90 miles west of Houston that produces a wide range of flowers that are harvested year-round.

Anders took an indirect route to get where she is now. Out of high school, she went to work at a building supply store. It wasn’t what she wanted to do, but she learned an important lesson – she didn’t like working for someone else.

“There were all these stupid rules and I just knew I liked working for myself,” she said.

Her grandfather had started growing greenhouse tomatoes and he offered Anders the chance to take over the operation after he retired.

“He had one 4,800 square-foot greenhouse,” she said. “I said, ‘OK, what do I do the other four days of the week?’”

What she did was steadily expand the operation.

“I rented four more greenhouses, and while I rented those, I started building four more of my own. On some land we bought, we added six more. We did that for 26 years. We grew greenhouse tomatoes for the Houston market and we sold everything we had.”

 

It was not until the early 2000s that flowers were even in the picture. But a convergence of events brought Anders’ latent affinity for flowers to the forefront – she was weary of growing tomatoes and a spike in butane prices made her greenhouse operation far less profitable. On top of that, her children were leaving the nest.

 

“I got burned out on it after 26 years,” she said. “I was done with it. All my kids went off to school and college and I was like ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to do something different.’ I always loved flowers, so I started mixing in my flowers with the vegetables. And then I went completely into flowers in ’04.”

It was the rise in butane prices that gave her the big push to trade tomatoes for flowers.

“I just didn’t want to be working for the butane company, so I decided I would just keep going and use these greenhouses we have for flowers,” she said. “With flowers, we just open everything up, and when winter comes we just close it up. It uses nowhere near the amount of gas or electricity. We just said we’ll use the greenhouses till they fall down, but one did fall down and we put two up in its place.”

But it was not an easy road. With children in college, she took on a full-time job in addition to her farming operation. And she had to teach herself about growing flowers.

“We don’t grow tomatoes here in the summer because it’s too hot,” she said. “So, every summer for two or three years I’d read everything there was about flowers. I just decided to read up on flowers and see what I could do with it. And then I joined the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. I learned so much from them about what to grow, when to grow it. I just learned from people. That’s how I did it.

“I took my chances. I made plenty of mistakes, don’t get me wrong.”

But Anders minimized the cost of those mistakes early on.

“I started with zinnias and sunflowers and celosia,” she said. “It was all seed crops. I did everything on my own. I didn’t order bulbs or plugs or anything. And that was the best thing because I made my mistakes on seed instead of planting a whole bunch of bulbs. That costs a lot of money.”

She first started selling her flowers in some of the same stores where she sold her tomatoes. She then branched out to a farmers market in Houston.

The first time, she “took 30 $10 bouquets to the market and we sold out in no time. I thought, ‘Oh, this is nice.’”

She also sold to florists and made deliveries. After customers suggested she start providing flowers for weddings, she taught herself how to do it. She read, watched YouTube videos and got some tips from one of her florist customers. She also drew on some long-ago lessons.

“My grandma used to make fake flowers,” she said. “She’d take wood fiber and make flowers for a whole wedding. She did tons of weddings like that. So, I guess I inherited some of that. With arranging things, some people have it and some people don’t.”

The wedding flower business eventually grew to the point where she had to start turning away customers.

In 2012, she landed a contract to supply flowers to Central Market in Houston, a place shedescribes as “a Whole Foods but on steroids.” That has proved to be a good fit – the market likes her locally grown bloomsand eco-friendly approach, and she likes the steady business. She delivers flowers there twice a week and the store now accounts for about two-thirds of her business.

“We produce a lot and they buy everything,” she said. “They support me whole-heartedly.”

In addition, she offers farm tours and design workshops. She also sells directly from the farm. Cut of Color’s Facebook page regularly offers $10 bouquets for pickup at the farm.

With her kids grown and her husband retired, she can see the next phase of her life on the horizon. What that holds, however, isn’t clear. Perhaps a family member will eventually take it over.

“I could go to more stores and get bigger but I don’t want to,” she said. “My husband is 65 and he’s retired. I’m 60, and I’m not at the point where I want to go bigger. I’m happy with what I have.”

Mellano & Company Achieves BloomCheck Certification

Mellano & Company, a prominent presence on the landscape of California flower farming for more than 90 years, has recently achieved their BloomCheck certification for their sustainable practices on their farm in northern San Diego County.

Mellano & Company recently received their BloomCheck Certification, recognizing their farm for their commitment to sustainable flower and green production.

For CEO Mike A. Mellano, being BloomCheck-certified helps make his business stronger both inside and out.

From the outside, it differentiates Mellano & Company’s flowers in the marketplace and certifies them as sustainably grown based on a set of domestic production standards.

From the inside, it strengthens the company by bringing its practices into sharp focus.

“Pursuing the BloomCheck certification required us to create targets and goals that helped us focus on improvement and be recognized for our commitment to environmental stewardship,” Mellano said. “BloomCheck puts us in a position to promote and communicate all the good things we’re doing as flower and greens farmers in California.”

Flower farmers that become BloomCheck certified have undergone a rigorous third-party audit to ensure they’re using best practices for sustainability when it comes to water, air and soil quality; wildlife protection; and social impacts on workers and the community. That means reducing energy use, recycling water, deploying biological pest management and following the law when it comes to state and federal employment rules and regulations.

Protected Harvest, an independent nonprofit organization that certifies the sustainability of agriculture operations, does the on-site auditing to ensure farms are meeting the standards.

Mike Mellano of Mellano & Company giving a tour of the company’s ranunculus production at The Flower Fields of Carlsbad.  Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

“BloomCheck is the gold standard of sustainability claims within the floral industry,” shared Kasey Cronquist, administrator of the BloomCheck program. “We’re proud to recognize and announce Mellano & Company’s certification and the high bar of commitment to best practices and environmental stewardship it represents.”

Mellano is the third generation to run the family farm. It covers 375 acres at two locations in Oceanside and Carlsbad and produces more than 30 different items. Its ranunculus operation in Carlsbad is also a popular agri-tourism site.

At Mellano & Company, preparing for the BloomCheck certification took about 60 days. It was time well spent, Mellano said.

“I think it sets a path for us so that we can continually improve on what we’re doing,” he said. “That came through during the application process and all the tests. It pointed out the things we do that we don’t really think about.

“All of a sudden you had to think about it, you had to write it down and it creates a path of thinking, ‘Well, what can I do to improve on that?’ It creates some very useful prioritization and focus.”

The BloomCheck process was also a chance for Mellano & Company to publicly demonstrate its commitment to sustainability.

“The engagement and communication with our employees and customers makes this an outward, publicly visible statement that we are committed and passionate about sustainability.”

Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

Designer Kelly Shore Unveils ‘A Year of American Grown Bouquets’

Passion Project Shows What Can Be Designed 365 Days a Year With Domestic Blooms 

Kelly Shore, recently featured in an ad in Florists Review, highlighting her commitment to Certified American Grown Flowers as a promise she can build her business on.

At the start of 2018, floral designer Kelly Shore challenged herself to spend the year designing with the highest percentage of American Grown Flowers possible. It was a personal effort on her part to see exactly what was achievable with flowers sourced exclusively from U.S. flower farms.

And her connections to Certified American Grown farms as a designer for the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour and the First Lady’s Luncheon, along with her participation in the group’s annual fly-in to Washington, D.C., help paved the way for what would come next.

Kelly Shore with freshly cut flowers arranged on the farm at Plantmasters in Maryland. Photo by Susie & Becky.

Sure, her goal to use more Certified American Grown Flowers was public, but she was privately working on (and funding) another project that came to light at the start of 2018.

Each month, Shore, owner and lead designer at Petals by the Shore in Maryland, designed and photographed a bride’s bouquet created entirely with American Grown flowers and foliage. She describes the project as an experiential exercise to help her learn what grows 365 days a year in the U.S.

“I’m an experiential learner and actively making change with a hands-on approach is the only way I knew I would learn how to confidently make the change I wanted to. So I began the project ‘A Year of American Grown bouquets.’ My work with Certified American Grown inspired the undertaking – meeting the farmers, hearing their stories, that meant everything. And having those people connections was important, and motivating. ”

Kelly Shore has traveled to Alaska to design with the peonies growing there. She was the featured floral designer at the 2017 American Grown Field to Vase Dinner at Scenic Place Peonies in Homer, Alaska. Photo by Joshua Veldstra.

Every month, Shore picked an unconventional color palette – think lavender and blue in December, orange and yellow in February – and sourced all floral materials from American flower farmers.

She worked closely with wholesaler DVFlora and also reached out personally to source flowers from U.S. farms that grow varieties bride’s crave.

With the flowers sourced and 100 percent American grown, Shore would design a bouquet and have it professionally photographed (by Sarah Collier of Taken by Sarah Photography) in the hands of a bridal model in a studio or outdoor floral-related setting.

The project is featured in the January 2019 issue of Florists Review, and Shore started blogging about the effort and posting on social media in early January.

She stresses that the project was not just art for art’s sake, but was instead a learning journey and “a real working project to change my business.” And, in the long run, to show other designers what’s possible with domestic flowers.

“In everything I do, I want to bring visibility to the flower farms and encourage other designers to want to do the same,” Shore explains. “People are so inspired by it and they feel like they can do it. Designers are reaching out and saying the bouquets are gorgeous, and I’ve had a lot of farms comment that they appreciate the project and the recognition.”

And the lesson in it for Shore?

“That’ there’s a reliability in what I can get that’s American Grown. I can ask for specific farms and products because now I know the quality. And I get excited when I know the farms I’m getting the flowers from and see the sleeve and the beautiful logos. I’m proud to know that I’m supporting American farmers and their families.”

Flowers labeled Certified American Grown allow designers to quickly identify the origin of their blooms and provides them a third-party guarantee that the source of their flowers have been verified.

Shore’s confident her project can serve as a road map for other floral designers who may be considering increasing their use of domestically grown flowers, or even who are just hoping to get to know nearby flower farmers and their products.

“I understand how, as designers, it’s can be easy find ourselves celebrating some of these exotic flowers from places like Holland or Japan, but through this experience, I was really amazed to see what’s growing year-round right here in the U.S. We’re not even scratching the surface of what we can create with as designers, and to me, that had to change.”

Kelly Shore on the farm at Scenic Place Peonies in Homer, Alaska. Photo by Joshua Veldstra.

 

Here We Go! Check Out the Line Up of Farms For the 2019 Certified American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour

6 Breathtaking Destinations Announced!

The fifth season of the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour has just been announced, and we want you check out the destinations, grab all of your flower-loving friends and join us on a flower farm for an award-winning experience you’ll never forget.

We couldn’t be more excited about the lineup of farms involved with this year’s floral-infused dinner tour. Known for stopping at America’s most beautiful flower farms, this year’s tour features amazing locations, including a peony farm in Alaska and a return visit to one of our most popular stops!

So grab your calendar and check out these destinations!

You ‘ll be surrounded by flowers with a view of the Pacific Ocean during our dinner at The Flower Fields of Carlsbad. Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

We’re thrilled to be starting the 2019 tour at The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, California, on April 18. The American Grown Field To Vase Dinner Tour returns to this postcard of an experience each year. Guests at this dinner get exclusive access and enjoy dining among acres and acres of colorful ranunculus while looking out over the Pacific Ocean. This is a very popular tour stop that sells out faster and faster each year.

Click here to save your seats The Flower Fields!

We want to see your name on the guest list during this year’s tour. Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

Next, we’ll head to Bloomia USA in King George, Virginia, on June 1, where guests will dine in a greenhouse bursting with tulips and hear about the flower-growing process for these flowers that so many name as their favorite bloom.

Click here to save your seat to Bloomia!

Grab your friends and find yourself at one of our tables during this year’s tour. Photo by Eye Connoisseur Photography.

On June 12, the tour heads back to California for a unique stop smack dab in the middle of a city This pop-up dinner destination will not only “pop up” a meal experience on the lawn of California’s State Capitol, we’ll be popping up a flower farm experience in the shadow of the Capitol building! We’ll be working with our farms to bring our American Grown Flowers story to the steps of California’s Capitol building, sharing our collective stories, the flowers we grow and the value our American flower farms bring to their communities and the economy. This dinner will bring flower farmers together with lawmakers to highlight just how important the consumer movement toward American Grown Flowers really is.

Click here to save your seats at the Capitol.

Picture you and that special someone on that Alaskan floral adventure you’ve been dreaming about. Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography.

On Aug. 3, we head to Alaska! We couldn’t be more excited to return to Homer, this time for a stop at Joselyn Peonies, where guests will dine in a field of blooming peonies on a farm with views of Kachemak Bay. This destination also includes additional excursions such as fishing trips and a multi-farm tour. Be sure to check out all the reasons you should join us in Alaska and turn it into a true adventure!

Click here to save your seat at Josyln Peony Farm!

We can’t wait to dine in the middle of the stock fields of Ocean View Flowers! Photo courtesy of Ocean View Flowers.

In the fall, join us in Lompoc, California, at Ocean View Flowers on Sept. 7 where you’ll enjoy an artisan meal in fields of stock in a variety of hues. While there, you’ll learn about the unique coastal climate that helps Ocean View grow so many flower varieties on hundreds of acres.

Click here to save your seat to Ocean View Flowers!

You will find beautifully designed centerpieces by amazing floral designers at each one of our tour stops in 2019. Photo by Liraz Photography.

Our last stop will be at Red Twig Farms in New Albany, Ohio, on Oct. 5, where you’ll dine under a canopy of dogwood and willow branches. You don’t want to miss out on a visit to this nine-acre family-owned-and-operated cut flower and branch farm in central Ohio that grows oh so many specialty flowers and branches.

Click here to save your seat to Red Twig Farm!

We’ll be focused on the flowers, but the food and wine will not disappoint. Photos by Kelleghan Production.

There’s so much more we could share and explain, but for now, please visit the landing pages we’ve created for each one of these locations; find the complete list here. You’ll discover even more information and details about each stop, but make sure you book your tickets right away. Last year, we had dinners selling out months in advance!

The Certified American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour has served over 5,000 people in the last four seasons. Photo by Kelleghan Production.

Plus, early birds benefit from special “Tour Launch” pricing. For the first 30 days, we’ll be selling tickets to each of our dinners for $175, however the price for each ticket will increase after this introductory offer!

Seating is limited and every dinner will sell out, so don’t wait to save your seat. Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

Please consider helping us share this year’s locations and special launch pricing with your flower-loving friends. If you’re planning to attend a dinner, invite them to join you. If you’ve gone before, help us share this magical experience with others on social networks like Instagram and Facebook.

We can’t wait to welcome you to the flower farm. Photo by Liraz Photography.

We look forward to seeing you on a flower farm in 2019!

All too exciting and not sure which dinner to attend? Click here to see the entire line up and descriptions of each farm at AmericanGrownFlowers.org/fieldtovase

 

Meet Boreal Peonies!

Boreal Peonies Is Certified American Grown

Farming and science have always gone hand in hand. But when two biology professors took a summer teaching gig in Alaska, the last thing they expected was to become flower farmers.

“We’re geek farmers,” says Jill Russell, who owns Boreal Peonies, a Certified American Grown flower farm, along with her husband, David Russell. “It’s Mr. Magoo goes to the farm.”

Both professors at Miami University in Ohio, they’d spent their honeymoon in Alaska, and had always wanted to go back. So when Jill found out the University of Alaska Fairbanks needed professors to teach summer biology classes, she leapt at the opportunity.

“We loved it,” she says. “We absolutely fell in love with Alaska.”

While there, they discovered that researchers at the university had been studying peonies for years. It turns out peonies in Alaska bloom at a time of year when they aren’t available anywhere else in the world. Over the past decade or so, as the state explored new agricultural possibilities to potentially replace the oil industry, these popular wedding flowers emerged as a promising crop. Amateur farmers began planting them experimentally—and one of them was the occupant of the office next door.

The following year, upon returning to Fairbanks for the summer term, the Russells found out their office neighbor had presold her entire crop by February. She showed them her business plan and urged them to give it a try.

As scientists do, they started researching. Within a year, they were ready to take the plunge. They bought an old hay farm on 40 acres and planted their first crop in 2013. Boreal Peonies, they decided, would serve a dual purpose as both a production and research facility. Of their 5,700 plants, they would devote 1,600 to science.

“You can’t really have a farm without doing research,” Russell says. “We totally geek out on it.”

Every day they measured the height of their plants and tracked their development. They experimented with soil chemistry in search of the perfect fertilizer. They shared their findings with the local farming community to help their adopted state grow its fledgling peony industry.

“Being biologists has really helped,” she says. “Soil chemistry is so key to success of the growth of these peonies, and we’ve learned a lot that we didn’t know. We’re still working on our fertilizer formula.”

Now in their ninth summer teaching in Alaska—and their fifth year growing peonies—the Russells have become permanent residents there, spending the school year teaching in Ohio before returning to Two Rivers for the growing season. With 16,000 production plants and 1,500 research plants, they anticipate harvesting some 40,000 stems this year.

 

“The industry is going to explode this summer,” she says. “There are a lot of farms like us.”

The farming bug has proven infectious. Two of their kids, both grown, and one of their graduate students also spend summers working on the farm—and they spend the rest of the year looking forward to it.

Kelly Burger, graduate student, is spending her summer doing research in Alaska. Her work on boreal peonies focused on the effects of compost tea on peony growth.

“We wait all year to be in paradise,” Russell says.“Peony farming in Alaska is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. Nothing is more satisfying than having your hands in the dirt. You plant something, baby it and take care of it. Watching it bloom and grow, you feel connected to it.”

We’re Offering A ‘River to Table’ Experience in Alaska

Add Unique Fishing Expeditions To Your Field to Vase Experience -- Space is Limited!

Fishing is for everyone in Alaska.

Among the great outdoor opportunities that tempt visitors to Alaska, fishing lands at the top of many bucket lists. It’s easy enough to see yourself pitted against nature’s ruggedness – and coming out the victor.

This could be you! Imagine yourself reeling in a big King Salmon during your American Grown Field To Vase adventure in Alaska! This our dinner guest Val Mellano. She caught her king with Kenny on the Kenai River.

Certainly, this dream has caught the attention of guests reserving their seats at the Field to Vase Dinner Tour in Homer, Alaska, at Joslyn Peonies on Aug. 3, 2019. And the professional fishermen in that area are happy to take the bait.

Certified American Grown has reserved two special charters for dinner tour guests who are arriving early to revel in this state’s adventures. On Tuesday, July 30, join guide Kenny Bingaman and his team of expert fishing guides on one of their King Size Adventures to hook king salmon on the Kenai River. This 30-year veteran has a reputation for consistently producing fish for his clients during their eight-hour trips, some as large as 70 pounds.

Don’t fret. Kenny will provide the right rods, reels and even clean your catch back at the dock.

Seats are available for $300 per person, not including tip, and King Size Adventures will assign four persons per boat.

Only 16 seats are available, so reserve you spot quickly!

 

Reel in the catch of your life with North Country Charters while in Alaska for our American Grown Field to Vase Dinner.

On Thursday, August 1, North Country Charters invites you to board its 53-foot M/V Irish with her crew for eight fun hours of challenging halibut fishing. All of the fishing equipment, bait and filleting are provided, so all you need to do to cast off is bring warm clothing and your love for competitiveness. Lunch is available for $15, but you ‘re welcome to bring your own. The cost is $225 per person plus tax and $25 for a one-day fishing license available at the North Country Halibut Charters office or online at admin.adfg.state.ak.us/license.

Don’t hesitate – only 16 seats are available!

 

Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist reels in a 45 lb king salmon during the week of the 2017 Field To Vase Dinner at Scenic Place Peonies.

 

And after you reel in the big catch? You’re welcome to donate it to be specially prepared and served at the Field and Vase Dinner itself. On the dinner tour’s last stop in Alaska, Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist did just that after catching a 45-pound salmon.

Because if there’s one thing better than attending one of our crown jewel events, it’s having a hand in creating it!

Chef Dave took Kasey’s king salmon and served it to our guests during the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner at Scenic Place Peonies in 2017.  Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography.

 

 

 

 

But first, make sure you have a seat at the dinner table at Joslyn Peonies.  You won’t want to miss this uniquely Alaskan Field to Vase Dinner on August 3.  And fishing expeditions are a special offer for dinner guests only.

Join us at Josyln Peonies, in Homer, Alaska, located on the Kenai Peninsula and you’ll enjoy this stunning view of Kachemak Bay with your Field to Vase Dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Red Twig Farms

Varieties, events are ever-expanding on this flower farm

At Red Twig Farms in New Albany, Ohio, old-fashioned farming has met the Instagram age.

But it didn’t start out that way at this Certified American Grown flower farm. In 2010, the McCullough family opened the farm as a place to grow willow and dogwood branches for the family’s landscaping business. But that was a one-season crop and there was unused acreage.

Josh andLindsey McCullough have grown Red Twig Farms using the modern tools of social media. Photo by Bob Stefko.

The next year, the family added peonies, which were a hot commodity at that time. When the peonies were mature in 2014, the family sold to florists and wholesalers as well as at local farmers markets. But the peonies didn’t fare well at farmers markets where the warm temperatures caused them to open up and rendered any leftover inventory unsellable.

That’s when the family decided to create a farm store on its property and try to get people to come to the peonies rather than taking peonies to the people. That way, the flowers could be kept in a controlled environment at optimal temperatures.

The missing part of the equation was how to get people to the farm. That’s where social media came in. And it was the second generation of the McCullough family running the farm – son Josh and his wife Lindsey – who spearheaded the push. Lindsey handles the farm’s marketing while Josh attends to the growing operation.

The farm kicked off the opening of its farm store in 2016 with an event to mark the opening of peony season. Lindsey, who has a degree in marketing and e-commerce, took to Facebook to promote the event. That first year, 168 people came out.

“We just kept marketing it through social media,” Lindsey said. “Josh did a couple articles locally and Midwest Living (magazine) found us through Instagram and they wanted to be a part of it. In 2017, that season opener we had more than 1,400 adults come through. And it all came through social media.”

The event has continued to grow. More than 2,000 people attended in 2018.

“We’ve started advertising for what we’re calling Peony Fest 2019 for the opening day and we’re nearing 14,000 people interested,” she said. “We’re obviously going to have to make it a couple-day event.”

The season opener was just the first of the farm’s successes that got an assist through social media.

In March, the farm started a subscription service where people could sign up for weekly deliveries of peonies during the season for two to five weeks. The goal, Lindsey said, was to get flowers to customers in nearby Columbus who had expressed via Facebook messages that they wanted peonies but didn’t have time to get to the farm. The service started with a goal of 50 customers; the farm had to stop taking new customers after 94 people signed up.

The farm’s VIP Peony Harvest Experience has also been a hit. The event, limited to 40 people, takes participants into the fields that are usually closed to the public, and Josh explains the ins and outs of growing peonies. Those on the tour are then allowed to harvest two dozen peonies themselves. The first year the event sold out in two hours.

“They do everything we do and they have a blast doing it,” Lindsey said.

Social media also has played in recruiting workers. When the farm needed staff for its farm store, the word when out via Facebook. It was customers who responded and were ultimately hired. For Lindsey, who better to sell the farm’s product than happy customers.

As much as modern marketing methods have played a role in its success, one of the farm’s goals is to remind people of the natural rhythms of agricultural life.

Red Twig Farm posted a great example of their pride in the program on their Instagram page.

“We just want to keep educating everybody and bring back some farming that people might have forgotten or are just so busy doing social media that you forget what it’s like to be out there,” Lindsey said. “We want to show people the other side of cut flowers. Yes, it’s the pretty pictures on Instagram but there’s also a lot of hard work that goes into it and long hours. There’s trial and error in everything you do. Just because it works this year doesn’t mean it’s going to grow next year. We want to showcase that, the real side to it.”

The farm, which has grown from harvesting 8,000 peonies in 2015 to 30,000 in 2018, aims to continue expanding its offerings. The goal is to build up the subscription service with new flowers, which would allow the service to operate in March and April in addition to the peony season in June. Daffodils, tulips and ranunculus are among the possibilities. Flowers will be planted this fall for early spring harvest.

“There’s a whole list of flowers that we’re looking at and saying to ourselves, ‘Can we do this?’” she said.

Of course they will! We can’t wait to see what Red Twig Farm will do next.

 

Meet Certified American Grown Lobbyist Jumana Madanat Misleh

She Shares Why Flower Farmer Participation in Upcoming Fly-In is Critical

When Jumana Madanat Misleh was hired in May to be the voice for Certified American Grown in Washington, D.C., it didn’t take her long to get up to speed on the issues facing America’s flower farmers.

Jumana Misleh (far left) attended this year’s First Lady’s Luncheon along with Certified American Grown representatives shown here with Second Lady Karen Pence (center). Also pictured from left to right: Kasey Cronquist, Benno Dobbe, Second Lady Karen Pence, Pamela Arnosky, Kelly Shore and Klazina Dobbe.

In her previous job at a Washington law firm she had handled the group’s legislative efforts in the capital. She came out of “early retirement” at the request of Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist.

“I don’t think I would have done it for anyone else,” she said. “I believe in their issues and I was happy to jump back in.”

 

Rene Van Wingerden of Ocean Breeze Farms with Jumana Misleh at the CCFC Annual Dinner in November 2018. Photo by Linda Blue Photography.

 

Her accomplishments for American flower farmers have come quickly.  Shortly after coming on board she:

  • Helped lead an effort to reinstate the USDA’s annual floriculture survey after it had been eliminated two years previous due to budget cuts. The survey provides American farmers with information about flower-growing trends and gauges the sector’s economic impact and for the first time will include Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia and Wisconsin.
  • Secured an invitation for a Certified American Grown delegation to attend the White House Economic Summit in September. It was billed as a conversation with President Trump, but he was forced to cancel by the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Still, the event featured high-level administration officials including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and White House adviser Ivanka Trump. It was the first time Certified American Grown had been invited to such as event.
  • Reengaged an effort to bring about enforcement of an existing law that requires imported flowers to be identified by their country of origin on consumer packaging. Misleh has gained the support of a congressman who is pursuing enforcement of the law.
  • Increased support for the annual resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives declaring July as American Grown Flower Month. Sponsors of the resolution increased from seven representatives in 2017 to more than 57 in 2018. Misleh then convinced some sponsors of that resolution to become members of the Cut Flower Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members that support the interests of flower growers.
  • Helped grow the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus, a bipartisan group that supports the interests of America’s flower farmers.
  • Renewed an effort to convince the White House to use only American Grown flowers at the White House. That has been a longtime goal of Certified American Grown. Misleh’s ultimate aim is for all federal agencies to be required to use American Grown flowers at their events.

Misleh has accomplished all this through her contacts cultivated through her years as an attorney in Washington, D.C., and a don’t-take-no-for-an-answer approach.

Jumana Misleh (center) leads a meeting between farmers and a congressional staffer.

 

“Really, it’s a lot of relationship-building and working with people who have an interest in our issues,” she said.

“When Kasey brought me on board, essentially my strategy was to do everything in my power to draw attention to their issues and to check those items off their to-do list.”

With Certified American Grown as her only client, Misleh said she is free from conflicts faced by lobbyists working for multiple agriculture interests who do a balancing act to ensure they are not alienating someone in pursuit of another client’s interests.

“I am putting all my eggs in one basket with Certified American Grown,” she said. “I’m not afraid to do what it takes, because my sole goal is to get things done for Certified American Grown.”

Misleh says she’s part of a new generation of Washington lobbyists.

“I’m willing to cold call. I’m willing to walk into the office of someone I don’t know for the sake of my client. The perspective of a lot of people is that you have to do things in an orderly fashion – ‘you can’t call that office, you have to call the guy in the office below him’ – out of respect for hierarchy.

“In this day and age of LinkedIn and everything being on the internet, you can go directly to the decision-makers and I’m not afraid to do that. That’s what I’ve been doing and that’s what I plan to keep doing.”

Misleh has worked to see where flower farmers’ interests have aligned with the Trump administration’s policies.

“We have a very receptive administration right now,” she said. “They want to help American businesses and American farmers, so I think we really need to capitalize on that. We show them we’re supportive of their policies, and we’d like them to be supportive of us as well. Hopefully, good things come from it.”

Her efforts to get the White House’s ear on flower-growing issues began in June when she made contact with an official there through a longtime mentor. The relationship blossomed at a time when much of American agriculture was opposed to Trump’s policies. But the administration’s efforts to level the playing field with foreign producers meshes with the interests of American flower farmers, Misleh said. That led the White House to request a statement of support for its trade policies that Misleh and Cronquist drafted.

The result has been an ongoing relationship with the White House.

“It’s nice to know that they know who we are,” she said. “I enjoy hearing from the White House and appreciate the attention they are giving us, whether it’s invitations to various events or to join on conference calls or briefings. So, we’re on their radar.”

Certified American Grown Council member Ko Klaver at the White House Economic Summit.

It was also that relationship that led to the invitation to the White House Economic Summit.

Andrea Gagnon, Certified American Grown Council member also joined Kasey Cronquist at the Economic Summit.

 

“It was a great opportunity to network,” she said. “And whether or not you agree with what this administration is doing, it’s always an honor to be invited to the White House.”

Misleh urges flower farmers to come to Washington for the annual fly-in in February (24-26). It will give them a chance to talk to members of Congress and have an impact on issues that affect them.

Jumana has had a history with our farms, attending meetings with flower farmers and members of Congress in Washington, DC as far back as 2012.

“It is critical that we have as many participants as possible from as many states as possible,” she said. “Members (of Congress) want to hear from their constituents. I can go in and meet with people every day and they’ll listen to me and we’ll have a successful meeting. But when they hear from their own constituents, it has much more of an impact.”

Misleh said last year’s big showing from America’s flower farmers was the single most important factor in getting the USDA floriculture survey reinstated.

Thanks to Jumana’s leadership, last year’s team of flower famers were able to elevate the issue for reinstating the annual floriculture report directly to USDA NASS officials and worked with members of Congress to help secure the funding necessary for its reinstatement.

“Things like that only happen when farmers are involved, engaged and willing to come out here for a fly-in,” she said. “And it’s a great opportunity for them to see the type of impact they can have firsthand. … I’m looking at their issues with a fresh set of eyes. I have new contacts and I’m making new friends every day. We’re very energized this year.”

A big turnout in February also will help efforts to rebuild the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus, which lost eight members in the recent midterm elections due to retirements and election losses.

“We actually have a huge task ahead of us,” she said. “We need to grow the caucus back to the level it was and we need to grow it ever further. We have a goal of having 75 members. It’s going to be tough because we’re going to be starting the year with 40 members.”

February’s fly-in will feature a briefing at the White House as well as meetings with the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus and USDA officials.

“I think we’re going to have a fantastic event this year. We already have a commitment from the White House to meet with our group and with a large turnout from our farms, hopefully we’ll have some more tangible successes that we can highlight during their time here.”

 

Join Us In Washington, D.C., For Annual Fly-In

This Year’s Visit Is Critical!

Year after year, we’re reminded of the importance of the face-to-face meetings we have during the annual flower farmer fly-in to Washington, D.C.

 

Our past efforts have netted the reinstatement of the national USDA survey of flower farms, inroads on bringing American Grown Flowers to the White House, expansion of the Cut Flower Caucus and strong relationships with policymakers.

These things happen because we’re there. Flower farmers are seen and heard. They share their stories. They give policymakers a name and face to remember.

It’s serious business. And it works.

Which is why we’re asking flower farmers to join us February 26-28, 2019, for our upcoming fly-in.

This is your opportunity to advocate for the work you do and its impact on the economy. It’s your chance to explain how policies from D.C. affect real farmers and their families. And it’s your opening to help make something big happen for flower farmers – like it did with the reinstatement of the farm survey.

The Commercial Floriculture survey, arriving in your mailbox very soon, had not been conducted for the past two years due to budgetary constraints at USDA’s NASS program. But after leaders from Certified American Grown program flew to Washington, D.C., and met with USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Administrator Hubert Hammer and members of the U.S. Senate, the report was reinstated.

We were heard. And there are other big issues we need to lend our collective voices to.

Let us know you’d like to join the delegation by emailing Andrea Philpot at andrea@americangrownflowers.org.

And be sure to participate in the Commercial Floriculture Survey, being mailed to farms on Dec. 14.

NASS will be collecting data from growers by mail, phone, online and through personal interviews. Enumerators from NASS will be visiting farms and calling farmers to help complete the survey from Dec. 31 through Feb. 8.

Your participation provides our farms and the larger industry with data that shows just how valuable our farms and flowers are to communities and to the economy.

Just one more way to be heard.

Nine New Retailers Excited to Promote American Grown Flowers Month in 2019

Certified American Grown (CAG) recently “set up shop” at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Orlando.

Certified American Grown kicked off 2019’s promotions for July at PMA’s Fresh Summit this October. A focus on celebrating American Grown Flowers Month has already proven to drive sales.

With red buckets, beautiful bouquets and bunches all labeled Certified American Grown, the display provided inspiration for retailers that stopped by.

“Drive sales all month long,” helped communicate the opportunities retailers have to increase their sales during the summer slump.

The effort was designed to motivate, encourage and sign up retailers for the American Grown Flowers Month Merchandising Contest, held for the first time last July with great success.

And sign up they did! Nine mass market retailers have already agreed to participate in the second annual contest coming in July 2019, kicking off a great start to proven campaign.

Nine retailers signed up to celebrate American Grown Flowers Month in 2019 during PMA’s Fresh Summit.

Here’s why: data from the contest showed this campaign helps sell more flowers. In fact, the top five stores from each division that participated in the first year of the contest saw a 17.5 percent increase in their year-over-year sales during the month of July.

An example of one of our First Place Winners in 2018. This is the Safeway store in Daly City, California, part of the NorCal Division.

Selling more flowers in July, a typically slow month for flower sales, is something that all retailers can support. In fact nearly 12 retailers representing over 1,200 retail locations participated in the contest in its first year.

The team at Fry’s did an incredible job driving sales and waving the flag during American Grown Flowers Month this year.

We’re thrilled more and more retailers are seeing the value of promoting Certified American Grown, so much so that they’re getting on board with promotional efforts eight months in advance!

It’s a win-win for retailers and consumers who continue to tell us origin matters!

To learn more visit http://www.americangrownflowers.org/agfm/.

To register your division, visit: http://americangrownflowers.org/julycontest/