Building the Market for Local Flowers: The Michigan Flower Growers’ Cooperative

It’s a Wednesday morning at the Ypsilanti Farmers MarketPlace and the room is fragrant with fresh, cut flowers overflowing in buckets. There’s dahlias from Luella Acres, zinnias from Fresh Cut Detroit, and eucalyptus from Seeley Farms. Now in its second year, the Michigan Flower Growers’ Cooperative is creating a new model for local flower growers to sell to florists and other wholesale buyers.

IMG-4681Trilby Becker, flower grower member and one of the creators of the cooperative, sells her flowers at the weekly market. “We started this cooperative to make wholesale markets more accessible for local growers. Before, I was spending most of my time making deliveries. Now, I can drop my flowers off at one place and have more time in the field growing flowers, which is what I love to do,” says Trilby.

The Cooperative board includes seven buyers and growers who make decisions about the operations. With a huge response from growers and buyers to participate in the cooperative as members, they outgrew their original Ann Arbor space after one year and decided to move to Ypsilanti where they could be closer to potential Detroit buyers. In the coming year, with a $65,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, they will focus on marketing, education and distribution. They plan to hold trainings for growers ranging from wedding flowers to sustainable growing practices.

Though there is much potential to grow the market for local flowers in Southeast Michigan, securing reliable weekly buyers has been a challenge. It requires changing an ingrained system in the floral industry. Fifty years ago, local flowers were the only flower available, but just as food has become more industrialized, flowers too are easily imported from other countries, though with high costs to the environment.

“We have to change the model,” says Trilby. “We are the ones that Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 10.49.16 AMdetermine the shape of the economy—and keeping our farms close to home, spending our money close to home, that’s how how we create change.”

Local flower varieties, native to a particular place, are often more delicate and unusual than imported flowers. They require unique care, but provide a richness in color and diversity that is starting to be favored more in special occasions where flowers remain central to the celebration or gathering. As more people become aware of where their food comes from the flower industry is starting to change.  

“Humans need bread, but we need flowers too,” says Trilby. “Shouldn’t flowers represent the sentiment we are trying to convey?”

Erica Bloom is a writer and the Assistant Director at Growing Hope. Her favorite fall activities include finding odd-shaped pumpkins, jumping into leaf piles, and planning her Halloween costume. Contact her to nerd out about eggplant recipes, or just to chat about good food in Michigan: [email protected]