Blooming of Beloit and Buy Local!
With all the interest in ‘local food’and supporting local farmers, why doesn’t the Wisconsin horticulture industry do more to promote buying locally grown products from specialty cut flowers to greenhouse plants to nursery stock?
Shlomo Danieli obtained his horticulture and teaching degrees from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He taught high school science in Israel but after only one year he handed his keys to the principal and said ‘never again’. He then went to work for a large floral company in Israel and Europe and also earned a degree in marketing. Danieli wanted to start his own business, which would have been impossible in Israel at the time, so he moved to America, the land of opportunity. He specialized in importing unusual specialty cut flowers, from unusual places, like South Africa and Ecuador, for a time before purchasing 100 acres in Beloit, Wisconsin to begin his own growing operation. Little did he know that the soil on the farm was infected with Verticillium. This caused him a lot of problems early on and forced him to experiment with a variety of crops to find those resistant to this disease. He is now able to provide flowers ten months of the year beginning with bulb crops in spring and finishing with ornamental berries and branches in fall. The image below shows Danieli in one of his fields with a worker harvesting Allium seed head, a wonderful floral component providing bright green globe seed heads on shiny dark purple stems. The business specializes in providing high quality specialty cut flowers and superior customer service to wholesalers throughout the U.S.
Blooming of Beloit benefits by its location in having good soil and plentiful water supplied by three wells on the property. Flowers are picked, processed and shipped overnight from Chicago International airport about70 minutes away. This gives Danieli a chance to compete with imported flowers that are subject to higher transportation costs and longer box times. Also most of the flowers produced by Blooming of Beloit are not grown as cut flowers in other countries, or grown at the same time of year.
The last thirty years has seen a mass exodus of cut flower growers from America. Virtually all production of the top three cut flowers – roses, carnations and mums has moved off shore to the cheaper growing conditions and labor found in South America. This system however is highly dependent on the continued supply of cheap fossil fuels to transport flowers these long distances. A narrow window of opportunity exists for U.S. growers to produce high value specialty cut flowers. These specialty cuts are not available from importers and not as subject to fluctuating transportation costs. Specialty cuts also include flowers that are sensitive to shipping such as certain types of hydrangeas which must be shipped in water. Some of the specialty cuts grown by Danieli include spring bulbs such as allium and Eremerus, peony, blooming trees and shrubs such as crabapple, lilac , dappled willow, spirea and hydrangea. Viburnum dentatum ‘blue muffin’ berries and seedheads, bittersweet, holly and rose hips round out his fall offerings. Red and yellow twig dogwood, curly and fan tail willow are available in winter. The image below shows bunches of Allium and dappled willow in the cooler getting ready for shipment.
It’s interesting to note that field grown cut flowers were a major part of the U.S. floriculture industry in the early 1900s. It was only later that the greenhouse cut flower industry took off in the U.S., so we are coming full circle back to field production. Field grown cut flowers seem to cross over several different horticulture disciplines. They are grown in rows and managedsomewhat like nursery stock. The rows need to be kept weed free and benefit from supplemental irrigation and fertilizer. Insects and diseases must be more strictly controlled as customer tolerance for pest damage on cut flowers is zero.Many of the woody cuts are familiar landscape ornamental cultivars selected for abundant flowering. The stock plants do require more inputs but the profit margin per acre is also higher than for woody plants. For example, a 500 foot row of Spirea or other cut shrubs should produce a minimum of $600 in sales each year. Stock plants not reaching that potential are removed and replaced with a more profitable species. Stock plants are harvestable from 5-15 years before they need to be replaced.
The marketing of cut flowers in the U.S. however is strictly ‘old school’ and dependent on growers developing relationships with individual wholesale. Danieli’s forty years of floral experience give him the knowledge to supply wholesale customers with what they need and want while also anticipating new trends to increase sales. Just like fashion and other consumer goods, floral customers are always looking for something new and different. Danieli is constantly staying ahead of the curve by experimenting with new crops and colors. This allows him to keep up with the ever changing demand for the unique which is the market niche specialty cut flowers occupy. He imports stock plants from Europe and has also developed a few of his own flower strains of his own. He has selected Viburnum not only for exceptional bloom count but also for early, mid and late season blooming to extend the crop cycle.
Danieli speaks wistfully of the sophisticated flower markets of Europe, especially the Dutch Flower Auction which allows European growers to specialize in growing only one type of flower. The Dutch auction efficientlyconnects floral producers to a worldwide market. The floral marketing system in the U.S. is fragmented with no central selling point. Flower growers must develop relationships with individual wholesale houses. This also means they need to provide a diverse product mix which is much more difficult to do than growing one single item.
So why don’t U.S. florists see the need to promote the use of local flowers and plants? Do customers care where their flowers come from? Are roses, carnations and mums considered ‘real’ cut flowers and anything else ‘garden flowers’, best left to the backyard? Greg Wilke, Marketing Director for Karthauser Floral in Germantown, WI has developed a successful brand promoting locally grown Wisconsin cut flowers to florists through the ‘Fresh Wisconsin’ brand.
The Wisconsin Fresh Market Vegetable Growers Association (WFMVGA) has successfully capitalized on the demand for local food with its ‘Fresh Wisconsin’ brand. They have created a brand name and colorful logo seen in store displays across Wisconsin. The brand and logo have also been featured on commercially prepared and even exported food products. The WFMVGA has a good website showing vegetables in season and where to find them locally. Listings and links for farm markets and direct sales throughout the state are offered. The site even gives recipes for using different types of produce as well as educational material for teachers and children. Many of these produce growers also sell greenhouse and nursery stock as well. You can view this website at, http://www.wisconsinfreshproduce.org/
One of the most useful tools for promoting Wisconsin produce has been the Farm Fresh Atlas series. This booklet divides Wisconsin into 5 regions and lists all the growers and farm markets in each region. The atlas has been popular not only with individuals looking for local food in their community but also with commercial and industrial buyers. Travel and tourism also support the atlas with visitors looking to experience Wisconsin’s tradition of family farming. Many of these growers also produce greenhouse and nursery stock. The Farm Fresh Atlas is available at http://www.wisconsinfreshproduce.org/index.html
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture’s Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin,competitive grant program awarded $220, 000 a year in grants to promote local agriculture. These grants were recently on the chopping block of Governor Walker’s budget but at this time 90% of the funding has been restored for the next budget cycle. The program is estimated to generate $5 of economic activity for every $1 invested and has also been “a jobs creation powerhouse, relative to its size.”According to Kara Slaughter,government relations director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
Advertising and marketing are expensive, no doubt about it. But the worst part isn’t even the expense but trying to figure out what really works. The old methods of advertising in newspapers and radio are quickly being replaced by websites, blogs and Face book. It’s very hard to keep up with these changes and even harder to find employees able and willing to tackle it. Assigning an employee to manage the company blog or Face book site doesn’t seem very productive compared to watering, weeding or waiting on customers…. or is it?
Its important for owners to promote their individual greenhouse, garden center or landscape business’. A lot more can be achieved by working with the WGIF to promote the ‘buy local’ theme. Perhaps working with the Farm Fresh Atlas to create a specific ‘Greenhouse or Nursery Fresh’ section would be possible. Even a homemade flier showing groups of greenhouses or garden centers located in the same general area could be useful. Billboards are not too expensive and could drive traffic from the local chain store to the ‘WI grown’ businesses. Certainly the travel and tourism aspect can be explored more.
As we move into the slower days of summer, its time to plan new marketing ideas for fall and even next spring. How does your webpage look? Do all your links work or are some important ones dead? Do you give customers a reason to keep visiting your webpage like a blog with up to date gardening information and question answering, or is it just sitting there stagnant and unchanging.
For the first time in 23 years the Pepsi corporation axed their Super bowl TV ad and instead spent the $20 million on Face book advertising. Scary to think this was just one part of their advertising budge! They continue to advertise in many other different ways from TV to sponsoring sporting events. They wouldn’t spend this kind of money if they didn’t know it worked!