Flower-Lovers’ Dreams Come True at Alaskan Field to Vase Dinner

Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe it!

They’re flowers with a cult following thanks to their limited growing season, enormous ruffled blooms and amazing scent. 

 

They’re peonies! 

A gorgeous setting awaited guests of the Homer Field to Vase Dinner complete with a table overflowing with peonies and a view of Kachemuk Bay.  Photo by Rachel Tweggs Photography.

 

And 175 guests at the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner at Joslyn Peony & Wedding Farm in Homer, Alaska, on Aug. 3 dined at tables overflowing (literally) with these incredible peonies as they gazed at the Kachemuk Bay.

 

Featured designer Christ Lopez created a stunning cascade of peonies and foraged fern.  Photo by Rachel Tweggs Photography.

 

The tablescape, created by Christi Lopez, AIFD EMC of Bergerons Flowers and Events, featured a garland of over 2,000 peonies in shades of pink and white (Duchess, Sarah Bernhardt, Mon Jules and Festiva Maxima varieties) paired with foraged fern from farmer Betty Joslyn’s farm. The petal-heavy design cascaded off the end of the table in a sweeping floral waterfall! 

 

The floral wall was a beautiful backdrop for guest photos. Photo by Rachel Tweggs Photography.

 

Throughout the evening, guests gathered at a circular floral wall “selfie station” featuring red Felix Supreme peonies to capture their experience and the beauty of homegrown peonies. 

 

Farmer Betty Joslyn and Sen. Lisa Murkowski.  Photo by Rachel Tweggs Photography.

 

 

Those attending the pre-dinner reception, sponsored by Ball Horticultural Company, enjoyed a full oyster bar hosted by Jakolof Bay Oysters, and heard from longtime Alaska flower supporter Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Rachel Tweggs Photography.

 

 

 

 

The artisan meal prepared by Chef Susie Von Willer Linford of Alaska Coastal Catering featured wild-caught Alaskan crab claws, organic greens with feta and local berries, Alaskan Copper River salmon, couscous with gorgonzola, carrots roasted in thyme and butter, and a dessert featuring two kinds of truffles and organic berries. 

 

 

 

The band Burnt Down House played for guests throughout the evening, and craft beer was provided by Homer Brewing Company and Broken Tooth Brewing.  

 

We love to see our guests smiling as they leave with armfuls of American Grown goodies.  Photo by Rachel Tweggs Photography.

 

Guests left with amazing memories, a new appreciation for homegrown blooms, armfuls of American Grown Flowers and a swag bag packed with floral goodies. 

To see more beautiful photos from the dinner at Joslyn Peonies, visit our Flickr page.

If an evening like this sounds like something you’d enjoy, join us Sept. 7 at Ocean View Flowers in Lompoc, California, for the next American Grown Field to Vase Dinner! 

 

 

Solving the Summer Slump Is Focus of Fun ‘N Sun Session

Experts Shared How Origin-Based Campaigns Can Drive Consumer Demand

It’s an industry-wide problem. Flower sales drop in the summer just as flower production is at its peak. 

What to do?

A panel of floral industry experts shared tips and resources to address the slump as part of a panel session at Fun ‘N Sun, held July 26 in Santa Barbara, California.

The session, “Solving the Summer Slump – A Plan to Drive Sales Beyond Mother’s Day,” featured Crystal Hedgpeth, floral sales manager for Safeway’s Northern California division, John Burk, digital marketing manager for Certified American Grown wholesaler DVFlora and Kelly Shore, owner and lead designer of Petals by the Shore in Maryland. The session was guided by the California Cut Flower Commission’s (CCFC) Anna Kalins. 

Left to right: Fun ‘N Sun panelist John Burk, CCFC’s Anna Kalins and Interim CEO Dave Pruitt, along with panelists Crystal Hedgpeth and Kelly Shore.

During the session, the panelists explained how they were growing sales and consumer awareness for homegrown flowers by featuring American Grown Flowers and Greens throughout July (declared American Grown Flowers Month by Congress). They also discussed the incredible success they’ve witnessed with marketing campaigns focused on American Grown flowers and from the American Grown Flowers Month Merchandising Contest – think sales increases as large as 17.5%!  

Hedgpeth, Burk and Shore also shared the tactics they and their companies are leveraging to gain customers when “America is in season” and all year long. 

CCFC’s Anna Kalins moderated the panel discussion about how to drive sales beyond Mother’s Day.

Hedgpeth described Nor Cal Safeway’s wildly successful blue bucket campaign that promotes American Grown Flowers in dozens of stores. Burk shared DVFlora’s multi-pronged efforts, including free marketing materials for its customers, special pricing on American Grown Flowers, DV Crush boxes sent to high-profile florists and special website pages featuring American Grown product. Shore shared her story of committing to sourcing American Grown Flowers for her floral business all year long. She also talked about the many ways she’s spreading the word that origin matters, like farm tours, a 12-month project featuring American Grown bridal bouquets and volunteering to lead design efforts for Certified American Grown events.  

Attendees left with the knowledge of how to plug into future American Grown Flowers Month campaigns and contests, and a better understanding of why the origin matters message is resonating with consumers.

The big news – tips from the session will help everyone say “so long” to the summer slump! 

 

Celebrity Designer Debi Lilly Will Delight Lompoc Dinner Guests

You Can Design Alongside a Floral Luminary

Celebrity florist and party planner Debi Lilly will bring her amazing design skills to the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner at Ocean View Flowers in Lompoc, California, on September 7. 

Celebrity florist and party planner Debi Lilly will be our featured designer for the Lompoc Field to Vase Dinner. Photo courtesy of A Perfect Event.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because you’ve seen Lilly on TV, in magazines, in stores nationwide, and you’ve likely even seen photos of her floral and event creations for designer brands.

Photo courtesy of A Perfect Event.

Known as Oprah’s “favorite pro,” Lilly was part of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for more than 10 years and has made it her mission to inspire, educate and share her 20 years of party planning expertise, stylist tips and DIY designs with fans worldwide.

With her impressive client list that includes brands like Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Lamborghini, Lilly is a highly sought-after designer. Oh, and she’s also the creator of a unique American Grown bouquet available at Safeway stores, along with her Debi Lilly branded floral containers! 

 

Lilly has twice been a featured designer for stops on the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour. Each time, she delighted guests with her creations and the easy-to-follow design tips she provides during her F2V-related workshops.

Lilly brought her design expertise to the Carlsbad Field to Vase Dinner in 2018. Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

 

That’s right, you can design alongside Lilly at a floral workshop, also on Sept. 7, at 8:30 a.m. Just add the $40 workshop when you save your seat for the dinner. 

Join Debi Lilly at her Sept. 7 workshop where she will share her tips for fall and holiday floral design and party planning. Photo by Linda Blue Photography.

 

During the workshop, Lilly will cover fall design trends, creative vessels for unique arrangements and perfect floral designs for the holidays.  

Debi Lilly loves to inspire and connect with her workshop guests and they in turn, love the personal interaction with her. Photo by Carrie McCluskey Photography.

 

Don’t miss you chance to see Lilly’s breathtaking tablescapes at the dinner and design alongside her at the workshop. After all, she’s floral royalty! 

 

 

Culinary Artist Will Wow at Alaskan Dinner Tour Stop

When you visit Alaska Coastal Catering’s website, the photos are both mouthwatering and breathtaking, making it easy to see why the chefs there refer to themselves as “culinary artists.”

Now for the big news: Guests at the Aug. 3 American Grown Field to Vase Dinner at Joslyn Peonies in Homer, Alaska, will get to experience multiple courses of Alaska Coastal Catering’s artistic creations. 

And the menu will feature the best Alaska has to offer. Think salmon, stripe shrimp, homegrown carrots, local oysters and sauces from Alaska blueberries. And the bounty of seafood to be served is being sponsored by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), ensuring incredible quality and freshness. 

Chef Susie Von Willer Linford has an impressive Alaska-inspired menu prepared for guests of the Homer Field to Vase Dinner.  Photo Courtesy of Alaska Coastal Catering, LLC.

Alaska Coastal Catering’s Corporate Chef and Managing Member Susie Von Willer Linford’s wealth of experience includes catering for the executive chefs of Disney Corporation, Warner Brothers, Prudential Commercial and Safeco in Southern California. Since coming to Alaska in 1993, she’s continued her culinary adventure by creating memorable events featuring the best seafood, meat, fruits and vegetables Alaska has to offer! 

Photo Courtesy of Alaska Coastal Catering, LLC.

It’s that approach that has earned her Best of Alaska recognition from Alaska Business Monthly Magazine from 2016-2018. And Linford was also a 2018 nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef” in the Northwest. 

And per Field to Vase Dinner tradition, Linford’s multi-course artisan meal will be paired with local wines and craft beers, and a floral-themed cocktail.

You can enjoy this delightful Alaskan meal while surrounded by gorgeous peonies and flower-loving friends when you reserve your seat at the table today. Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography

Guests will also enjoy an oyster bar, and will leave with armfuls of flowers and a swag bag packed with floral-themed treats.

With food and goodies like this, seats are going fast. Save your seat today and taste all Alaska has to offer! 

 

[Press Release] Kasey Cronquist Stepping Down as Administrator of Certified American Grown

Kasey Cronquist is stepping down as administrator of Certified American Grown. His last day will be July 12.

Kasey Cronquist, Administrator of Certified American Grown, led the program to become the largest consumer-facing brand promoting origin in the industry. Photo by Ashley Noelle Edwards.

The Certified American Grown Council will be working closely with the board of the California Cut Flower Commission to help with the transition of the program’s leadership. It’s expected that an interim leader will be appointed to handle day-to-day operations as it begins a search for a new executive.

“Thanks to Kasey’s dedication, vision and enthusiasm, Certified American Grown is now the largest consumer-facing brand promoting the origin of flowers in the floral industry. America’s flower-farming families will miss Kasey and want him to know how grateful we all are for the many accomplishments our program has achieved as a result of his leadership which he so selflessly gave to us. We wish him and his family the very best,” said Rita Jo Shoultz, owner of Alaska Perfect Peonies and a member of the Certified American Grown Council.

“It has been an honor to have been a part of establishing the Certified American Grown campaign for America’s flower and greens farmers,” Cronquist said. “Now representing over half of all domestic cut flower and greens production, the program is positioned for tremendous growth and opportunity to encourage consumer preference and win back market share for our domestic flower farmers.”

Cronquist has been named president of the North American Blueberry Council (NABC) and U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC). In his new role, starting July 29, he’ll serve all blueberry industry members by providing oversight and insight on the USHBC’s robust national promotion, health research and education programs.

 

About Certified American Grown Flowers

Launched on July 1, 2014, Certified American Grown Flowers represents a unified and diverse coalition of U.S. flower farms, including small and large entities in multiple states across the country. Certified American grown flower farms participate in an independent, third-party supply-chain audit to verify both origin and assembly of the flowers they grow. When it appears on bouquets, bunches and other packaging or store signage, the Certified American Grown Flowers logo gives consumers confidence in the source of their flowers and assures them that the flowers they purchase come from a domestic American flower farm. For more information about Certified American Grown Flowers, visit www.americangrownflowers.com.

 

American Grown Act Would Require Homegrown Flowers, Greens In U.S. Government Facilities

It’s so obvious, and such a great idea, that it’s surprising it’s not already common practice.

Under the American Grown Act, flowers purchased by the federal government would be required to be American Grown.

If the federal government is going to buy and showcase cut flowers and greens at events, memorials, to be displayed at national cemeteries or even for the day-to-day arrangements featured in the White House, shouldn’t they be grown in the U.S.?

Alaska Congressman Don Young, a member of the Congressional Cut Flowers Caucus, recently introduced legislation that would require the U.S. federal government to purchase cut flowers and greens grown in the U.S. for use in its facilities. The legislation is deemed the American Grown Act.

Congressman Don Young reviews production and market share information on American Grown cut flowers and cut greens.

Consumer research commissioned by the California Cut Flower Commission (CCFC) found that 74% of consumers have no idea where flowers come from. Therefore, the average taxpayer likely assumes the flowers they see displayed at national cemeteries, federal buildings and government events would naturally be grown in the U.S. However, the fact is that imports, primarily from South America, now make up approximately 80% of the flowers sold in the U.S.

Without this mandate, imports are likely making up the bulk of the flowers purchased by the federal government.

In proposing the legislation, Young said requiring the federal government to use American Grown Flowers and Greens to decorate its facilities shows support for American flower and greens farmers and raises awareness of the beauty they grow.

“It seems like a no-brainer that the United States should be putting American farmers first by choosing not to import cut flowers,” Young said. “Unfortunately for the federal government, this is not the case. American farmers are hugely disadvantaged by the foreign growers that are subject to fewer environmental regulations and labor standards, and it is time Congress does something to help our country’s farmers compete. Putting our farmers first starts at the top, and I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation. I encourage my friends on both sides of the aisle to do right by the flower and greens farmers in their districts and sign on to this important effort.”

Alaskan Flower Farmer Rita Jo Shoultz with Congressman Don Young.

“Once again, Congressman Young’s support and leadership to raise awareness and advocate for our Alaskan flower farmers is greatly appreciated,” said Alaskan peony farmer Rita Jo Shoultz of Homer, Alaska, and a member of the Certified American Grown Council. “The American Grown Act is something that makes sense and is a wonderful way to acknowledge and support our hardworking flower-farming families across America.”

Benno Dobbe, a flower farmer in Washington state and California advocates on behalf of America’s flower farming families in Washington, D.C. each year.

“This is great news for U.S. cut flower farmers because the bill will bring special attention to the beautiful flowers and greens we grow,” said Benno Dobbe, a flower farmer with farms in Washington State and California. “It will definitely highlight our products and is an outstanding PR opportunity for flower farmers.”

We couldn’t agree more!

The bill has received support and endorsements on the Hill and around the country. Each of the six co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Cut Flower Caucus, including Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Rep. Salud Carbjal (D-CA), Rep. Ducan Hunter (R-CA), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Rep. Chillie Pingree (D-ME) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) are original co-sponsors of the bill. Additionally, the legislation has received quick organizational endorsements from Certified American Grown, the Alaskan Peonies Growers Association, AmericanHort, California Farm Bureau Federation, California State Floral Association and the CCFC.

More information on the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus can be found at carbajal.house.gov/district/congressional-cut-flower-caucus.htm

More information about the American Grown Act can be at bit.ly/HR3019

A Dining Experience Bursting with Color

A Saturday dinner on the town is always fun but rarely a work of art. Meals that satisfy more than just your hunger simply aren’t a routine experience for most Americans.

But on Saturday, June 1, diners have a chance to make memories rather than mark time over a plate when the 2019 American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour makes a stop at Bloomia USA in King George, Virginia.

Guests of the King George Field to Vase Dinner on June 1 will be amazed by the beautiful table and the incredible menu that awaits them.  Photo provided by Petals by the Shore.

 

The twists begin with hors d’oeuvres that include crazy carrot, Occasions Caterers’ take on traditional Mexican street corn, but with whole sumac roasted baby carrots drizzled with mayonnaise and dusted with a cotija and queso fresco blend. Or delight in golden beets rolled around carrot matchsticks and house-smoked goat cheese mousse and served over crumbled maple pistachio pralines. There’s also crispy wonton cones with lemon chicken and red endive with citrus-cured salmon to anticipate.

Executive Chef Sina Molavi of Occasions Catering will delight guests with the lavish menu he will prepare.

 

 

So it’s no wonder your taste buds are swooning for the main course, served family style among the stunning tulips in this unusual greenhouse setting.

 

 

 

 

 

Bring a healthy appetite because you want to enjoy every bite of char-grilled strip loin rubbed with a spring herb and green mustard mix; grilled branzino medallions served on a bed of fennel and tomato drizzled with lemon-infused olive oil; and carrot barlotto, toasted barley prepared risotto style after simmering with white wine and rich chicken stock and topped with butter, shredded parmesan cheese and fried carrot ribbons.

Save room, too, for the cauliflower salad with opal basal vinaigrette, roasted beet salad and lemon-black salt grissini breadsticks.

The menu for the evening is designed to compliment the rainbow of colors displayed in the tablescape, including this violet cauliflower in the salad.

 

It’s a flavor medley that won’t surrender to the ordinary. And that’s even before they serve the strawberry couronne with milk snow and basil cream along with a French press coffee service for dessert. When the final act involves chocolate mousse, strawberry streusel crunch and almond frangipane finished with red velvet chocolate, milk snow and basil cream, you know you’ve skipped over the rainbow.

Save your seat now for this dreamy evening at Bloomia USA, where the food and flowers will have you in awe.

 

But just in case you lose your way, the dinner’s renowned wedding floral designer, Kelly Shore, plans to create a cornucopia of color using the fresh tulips from the Bloomia farm across the table and serving each dish from the section of the table with its matching flowers.

Kelly Shore of Petals by Design is creating the colorful tablescape that has inspired this unique and delightful menu.

 

The experience begins at 5 p.m. This dinner will be a breath of fresh air in your dining life with a bounty of beauty and color for all your senses.

Tickets for the King George dinner are limited, so reserve your seat today!

American Grown Flowers Star at 107th First Lady’s Luncheon

America’s flower farmers proudly contributed their blooms to the 107th Congressional Club’s First Lady’s Luncheon.  Photos by Kirsten Smith Photography.

Twelve hundred boutonnières. One hundred, forty-four table arrangements. Eighteen VIP room arrangements. Six cascading head table designs. Two enormous floral photo walls. And a 107 year tradition.

All created using American Grown Flowers and Greens and taking center stage at the 107th First Lady’s Luncheon hosted by the Congressional Club on May 14 in Washington, D.C.

Co-lead by Mary Kate Kinnane of The Local Bouquet and Christi Lopez of Bergerons Flowers, this was the fourth year that Certified American Grown provided the flowers for this bipartisan tradition.

American Grown Flowers and Greens were elegantly displayed on each of the one hundred, forty-four tables welcoming guests of the First Lady.

America’s flower famers proudly sent over 21,000 stems of flowers from farms across the country to the event. A team of 20 designers, backed by a 10-person support team, worked for three days to transform the Washington Hilton Ballroom into an amazing display of the beauty that is represented in our homegrown flowers.

The amazing design and support teams were made up of designers and farmers from all across the nation, giving their time and talent to this worthy and memorable cause.

Christi Lopez (left) and Mary Kate Kinnane (right) co-led the team that masterfully designed the floral arrangements and installations for the First Lady’s Luncheon.

“This has truly become a wonderful opportunity for our organization to be a part of this bipartisan tradition of honoring our country’s First Lady, while showcasing what our American flower and greens farms can do,” shared Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist. “From the flowers sent by our farms, the transportation provided by DVFlora, the vases from Accent Decor, the hardgoods and flower food from Smithers-Oasis, the amazing volunteer design team – everyone came together to make this happen.”

A sincere thanks goes out to this year’s lead designers Mary Kate Kinnane and Christi Lopez for their hard work, leadership and amazing design vision!

Thank you to the following flower farms for contributing flowers and greens to this year’s luncheon:

California

  • Camflor
  • Dramm & Echter
  • Eufloria
  • Gallup and Stribling
  • Green Valley
  • Kitayama Brothers
  • Mellano & Co
  • Menagerie Farm & Flower
  • Myriad
  • Ocean Breeze Farms
  • Ocean View Flowers
  • Pajarosa
  • Pyramid Flowers
  • Resendiz Brothers
  • Westland Orchids

Florida

  • FernTrust

Virginia

  • Bloomia
  • Harmony Harvest

Washington

  • Continental Floral Greens
  • Holland America Flowers

A big thank you to the following design team members:

  • Jessica Allder
  • Stephanie Auville
  • Maggie Bailey
  • Mickey Bailey
  • Jennifer Baker
  • Brittany Brady
  • Laura Cavanaugh
  • Julie Christina
  • Jennifer Figge
  • Pia Geraghty
  • Quan Gorbachevski
  • Hosanna Guttierez
  • Pamela Hale
  • Jessica Hall
  • Crystal Hedgpeth
  • Tonya Jones
  • Betty Joslyn
  • Franceska McCaughen
  • Sue McKenzie Tendall
  • Jennifer Michel
  • Courtney Rosenbalm
  • Tina Rosenbalm
  • Les Saltzman
  • Melissa Saltzman
  • Julia Marie Schmitt
  • Kelly Shore
  • Carrie Wilcox
  • Nancy Zimmerman
  • Wayne Zimmerman

Florists, How Will You Celebrate American Grown Flowers Month?

Certified American Grown Wholesaler DVFlora Can Help!

 

Last year, DVFlora surprised and delighted many of its customers with its DV Crush program during American Grown Flowers Month – a hand-curated box of American Grown Flowers that designers used to create a magical arrangement, share on social media and then be entered to win a credit for flower purchases.

 

This July, DVFlora is taking it to the next level!

In addition to the crush boxes, DVFlora is offering a downloadable marketing kit to help florists promote American Grown Flowers month to their customers and drive business to their stores in July, a traditionally slow time for flower sales.

 

 

The materials in the kit, including social media graphics, email headers and pre-designed flyer, will be available for download from DV’s website in early May, says John Burk, e-commerce project manager for DVFlora. The collateral can also be used to inspire American Grown Flowers displays in their stores.

Last year, designers all over the country posted their unique designs created with the American Grown Flowers received in their DV Crush package.

 

 

But that’s not all. DVFlora will also offer eight weeks of specials on flowers and greens from Certified American Grown farms in July and August as part of its summer celebration program. Watch for aggressive discounts and the opportunity to win a trip to California to visit several Certified American Grown farms, Burk says.

There will also be giveaways of Certified American Grown Swag, a contest to win a trip the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Sept. 7 at Ocean View Flowers and floral design demo videos using all American Grown Flowers!

Kelly Shore of Petals by the Shore, submitted this breathtaking image taken of her DV Crush flowers.

And florists who are committed to spreading the #originmatters message and designing with homegrown flowers can now use DVFlora’s dedicated online directory to quickly and conveniently purchase Certified American Grown Flowers and Greens. Just one more way DVFlora, the nation’s first Certified American Grown Flowers distributor, is meeting floral industry and consumer demand for homegrown flowers!

Andrea Gagnon of LynnVale Studios shared her excitement about celebrating American Grown Flowers month with flowers from her DV Crush box.

 

Ideas like these make it easy for florists to fight the summer flower sales slump and give customers the American Grown Flowers they crave!

Fox Hollow Peonies Becomes a Certified American Grown Farm

Beauty Replaces Ashes at This Alaskan Farm

 

Fox Hollow Peonies, a Certified American Grown farm, has its roots in near total disaster.

In 2008, a forest fire threatened to destroy the home of Milt and Wanda Haken in Nenana, Alaska, a town of about 400 people in the interior of the state, 54 miles from Fairbanks.

Although the fire burned thousands of acres, the Hakens, along with neighbors and firefighters, were able to save their house. But they were left with a completely charred landscape.

The Hakens slowly cleared the burned property, and used the wood to heat their home. But what they were left with, Wanda says, was “a large, open field in need of a mission.”

What once was acreage burned by fire, is now fertile soil for 5,000 peony plants grown by Fox Hollow Peonies. Photos provided by Fox Hollow Peonies.

The Hakens discovered that mission in a roundabout way. Wanda, a school counselor, attended a class at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, on connecting students to the food they eat by bringing agriculture into the classroom. During the class, the head of state’s agriculture division was a guest speaker who gave an overview of state’s industry.

“She said, ‘If I had any land right now, I’d be putting in peonies,’” Wanda said. “She said, ‘Peonies are going to be Alaska’s next gold rush.’”

The class later went on a tour of North Pole Peonies, one of only three peony growers in the state’s interior at the time. It was there that Wanda learned about Alaska’s niche in the global peony business: The flowers bloomed in July and August, a time when no one else in the world had peonies for sale.

“I went home that day and told my husband, ‘I know what we’re putting in that field we cleared.’

“Of course, he’s mister macho man – he’s a retired police officer, a Teamster – and he says, ‘We’re putting in flowers – you’ve got to be kidding me.’”

The next weekend the university put on a seminar for people interested in growing peonies that was led by Patricia Holloway, the horticulturist who discovered that peonies could grow in Alaska. Wanda wasn’t able to attend, so she sent Milt.

“He came home and said, ‘Yep, that’s what we’re going to do,’” she said. “So, we ordered our first roots that fall.”

That was in 2010. Since then the Hakens have gradually expanded their operation, and they now have 5,000 peony plants and 21 varieties.

Growing peonies wasn’t a complete stretch for the couple. Both come from generations of farmers in the Midwest and they spent time on relatives’ farms growing up. Wanda has always had a garden and a greenhouse and had dabbled in selling some produce locally, such as tomatoes.

Still, getting Fox Hollow Peonies off the ground took some trial and error. Their first set of plants had a hard time breaking through the heavy soil. Before planting their next group of roots, they reached out to other growers who showed them how to amend the soil to create a better growing environment.

“We had real good success with them coming up the second year,” she said.

For the business side, the Hakens teamed up with other growers in the area to form a co-op – Arctic Alaska Peonies. The Hakens were a founding member of the co-op that now numbers 20 farms. They share marketing efforts, chillers for their flowers and negotiate for the best deals on shipping and supplies.

Wanda is a member of the co-op’s marketing committee and makes it a point to spread the word about Alaska peonies wherever she goes.

“Whenever I travel, I spend a day or two doing nothing but marketing,” she said. “I pack materials and go visit all the florists, all the garden centers and wholesalers wherever I am. There are still a lot of people out there who haven’t heard that Alaska has peonies in July, August and September.”

Wanda and her husband Milt have found an unexpected calling as peony growers.

Wanda has spent her career in education but in Fox Hollow Peonies she may have found her true calling. She recalls taking a career interest survey as senior in high school and it came back showing that she should explore the floral industry. So focused was she on becoming a teacher that she thought that idea was “ridiculous” and “crazy.”

Looking back now, she says the survey probably picked up on her affinity for gardening, her creative streak and the desire to work outside.

“I just enjoy working with plants,” she said. “I’ve started making bouquets for the farmer’s market here and I think that’s my favorite part of the whole thing.”