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US (OH): Business is blooming at local flower farms

You can find them heaped on caskets, clutched in the hands of wedding attendants and clustered in room-brightening bunches in tabletop vases. But where do those brightly colored bouquets come from?

It’s a question that more and more customers at Swesey Florist are asking, according to Lin Geiman, who manages the Maumee shop. And it’s one that she likes to answer by describing one of several flower farms in northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan whose specialty-cut blossoms supplement the imported flowers on which shops like hers rely.

“People really appreciate knowing things came from your own community,” said Mrs. Geiman, who prefers, when possible, to use local flowers in her arrangements.

In peak season, she estimated, regional growers supply about half her flowers.

Local operations such as Barn Swallow Farm in Grand Rapids, Ohio, or Fairest Flowers in Ottawa Lake, Mich., thrive in a niche in a fresh-cut flower industry that’s dependent on foreign blooms. The Society of American Florists indicates that more than 60 percent of flowers sold in the United States, by dollar volume, are imported from major growers like Colombia and Ecuador.

Those sort of numbers mean that local growers often steer clear of easily imported flowers like roses or carnations, which tend to ship well under conditions that might damage other blooms. But their specialty-cut stems — dahlias, zinnias, lilies, and more — meet a local demand from florists and direct customers that’s both practical and, more recently, influenced by a wider “buy local” movement.

Jenny Van Houtte sees the latter in the brides she consults through Garden View Flowers, a 60-acre farm her family has been running in Grand Rapids for about 30 years. She and her father, Jerry, sell their flowers at area farmer’s markets and use them to supply a parallel floral design business that’s taken off under Miss Van Houtte in recent years.

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