In western Michigan, a farmer spreads the word about local flowers

At Creekside Growers & Flower Farm in a small town in western Michigan, owner Sue Dykstra is trying to kickstart a local flower movement.

She hopes that one day, local florists will seek flowers first from local growers rather than relying on distributors who fly flowers in from all over. Where she lives, it’s an uphill battle.

Photography: Kelly Lewis

“I think there’s a big disconnect,” she said. “When you talk to florists, they like the idea of buying local, they’re just not ready to commit. They are so used to working with flowers that can only be shipped. We’re trying to educate people that there is beautiful stuff right here that they haven’t been using, that can’t be shipped on an airplane. But in Michigan, it’s hard because they’ve never needed to.”

Dykstra has been in the plant business for more than three decades and has been growing cut flowers since 2016. She is in her 21st year of owning Creekside Growers and has a loyal customer base in the area of Middleville, Michigan, a town of about 3,400 people that’s part of the metropolitan area of Grand Rapids, which is 20 miles away. Those customers helped her weather the downturn of 2008 and the slowdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photography: Kelly Lewis

Dykstra started Creekside Growers after working for other growers for 10 years. She started as a wholesaler of perennials and annuals. She soon started adding structures and realized she needed more revenue to justify the additions. That’s when she opened her retail garden center.

Photography: Kelly Lewis

She now has two acres of greenhouses and another acre of outside space. She tends her operation with one full-time year-round employee and a seasonal workforce of up to 20 people. Creekside Growers has built its business on perennials and annuals but in 2016, Dykstra expanded into cut flowers; hydrangeas, lisianthus, zinnias, snapdragons and dahlias are among the many varieties she grows. Creekside Gardens also hosts potting parties, community events and offers bouquet subscriptions.

Photography: Kelly Lewis

In the process, she has embraced the slow flower movement and all it stands for – seasonal flowers that are grown locally, ethically and in ways sensitive to the environment. She has worked to learn all she can about the local flower movement and has taken online classes from local flower advocates Ellen Frost and Jennie Love. It’s that ethos that she’s trying to spread in her area.

“We’re a little behind other places with buying local,” she said. “It’s different here. We’re just not there yet.”

But Dykstra is doing her part. On her website above her bio are the words “cultivating a passion for growing a stronger community through local flowers.”

Creekside does its own bouquets, but Dykstra wants to build relationships with local florists. She has reached out to them by taking them samples, hosting a flower design event and inviting them to come see for themselves.

Photography: Kelly Lewis

“We want them to know that we can meet their goals and give them what they need. We might not be able to give them an exact flower because we’re not shipping it in. But we can definitely give them a beautiful flower. We keep sending them things and showing them all the different things that will work. And they’re starting to pick up on it and understand it. They say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could use that in a bouquet.’”

She said she wants florists to know “that we’re your friend, we’re your partner, we want to work with you.”

“We’re working to get them to understand why it’s a great idea to buy from your local flower grower, to buy American Grown and to really understand the whole idea of where flowers come from.”

Photography: Kelly Lewis

That’s one reason Dykstra recently became a Certified American Grown grower. She’s looking to become part of a network of like-thinking growers. She also wants to connect with growers who can provide flowers in the cold winter months of December through February so her customers have American Grown sources they can rely on.

She sees signs that her work promoting local flowers is paying off and is optimistic about the year ahead. She’s in it, she says, for the long haul.

“I’m just really excited for this year,” she said. “I feel this is a big, positive step for me. I’m expecting a lot of growth and positive things to come this year.”

Photography: Kelly Lewis

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