POLAND, Ohio — Fresh cut flower farms are coming alive in Ohio.
At Farmhouse Blooms in Poland, Ohio, you won’t find roses, carnations or even gerbera daisies. But what will you will find on this farm are zinnias, hydrangeas, sedum and peonies.
In fact, you will find 60 varieties of perennials, annuals, herbs and foliage.
Tara and Jon Fodor took over what had been the family farm on Western Reserve Road in Poland six years ago.
Tree farm beginning
Jon’s dad, Dave Fodor, had started a tree farm, the Fodor Tree Farm, years ago and it remains a staple for many searching for that perfect Christmas tree.
Before they started their farm enterprise, Tara had worked in marketing in Nashville, Tennessee, and Jon had also changed careers, leaving teaching for a job in sales.
But they both knew they wanted a life on the farm. The Fodor Tree Farm has been in Jon’s blood since he was in grade school. However, Tara wanted something more, and they wanted this piece of land to stay farmland.
The farm’s geographic location has changed over Jon’s lifetime.
The farm was a 106-acre farm in its prime. But due to the growing development in the suburban Poland area, portions of the farm had been sold off over the years.
It now encompasses just 30 acres, surrounded by sprawl and a housing development.
One summer a few years ago, Tara planted a row of sunflowers in the back of the property. She got the idea from reading about a farmer that turned the cover crop of sunflowers into a cash crop.
When they were ready, she decided to sell those flowers.
“I thought it was a win-win,” said Tara.
Tara approached flower shops and farm markets and before she knew it, the row was sold.
The next year, she began experimenting and growing more flowers. And before she knew it, she was growing her flower business.
“It’s a very cool niche industry,” said Tara.
Farmhouse Blooms by Fodor Tree Farm is launching into its third year in full production of locally grown cut flowers, and now grows more than 50 varieties of cut flowers and foliage.
Among the flowers the farm produces are zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers and they’re are expanding into dahlias — it is a trial and error process to determine which flowers have a market and which flowers can grow in the farm’s soil.
In the Christmas season, Tara creates handmade greenery and wreaths. In 2015, she made a few hundred holiday wreaths, and they sold out the opening weekend of Christmas tree season.
Developing a market
Jon and Tara converted an equipment garage into a studio, which gives Tara a place to create and work with her flowers, no matter what the season.
The farm also has a walk-in cooler for flowers, which has helped the farm grow the most.
Tara has learned to work with other farmers to find a market for the flowers, like Molnar’s Farm Market, located just down the road. Tara said the partnership works great because her blooms are a natural fit with the Molnar’s produce and other merchandise.
She also sells through local farmers markets, a subscription program, the Grow Youngstown CSA and event design. She even finds a market for her fresh flowers at local florists and wholesalers.
In addition, Tara offers field-to-vase workshops hosted on the farm in her studio, which gives customers the chance to learn and design.
The event design business is an area Tara hopes to build. She offers a design service specializing in fresh floral designs, and designs arrangements for events such as private dinner parties to weddings.
She guarantees a look and style, but she doesn’t guarantee the flower because it can be dependent on the weather.
The couple welcomed a baby, Jonathan Nash, into their family in June 2015 so they have had to adjust.
One way is to concentrate on the design business. Tara calls her style “new age,” an earthy organic look.
“I put my heart and soul into every wedding,” said Tara. “I want every bouquet to have the mark. This is my name, and this is my work.”
However, there are challenges in the cut flower business just as in every agriculture enterprise.
Jon said labor costs are always a consideration. He said they try to limit the labor they hire, but the flowers have to be weeded and sometimes help is needed in order for the couple to work on the marketing end of the business.
He said one way they have learned to make the business work is to partner with different farms.
The farm’s production increased from one row of sunflowers to 17 rows of flowers in the past four years, for example.
He said the Molnar family’s advice and assistance was invaluable in the farm building raised beds with plastic. Jon said plasticulture is helpful in keeping the weeds down and the raised beds make labor easier for everyone.
“Now we can grow in plastic. It results in better quality plants and beautiful blooms,” he said.
The U.S. flower industry is growing as a whole. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service 2014 agriculture survey, there was $1.4 million in flower sales in Ohio and $458 million in cut flower sales in the United States.
The number of farms with sales from cut flowers in the country increased almost 20 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the USDA.
According to the USDA NASS and the Association of Specially Cut Flower Growers, there are more than 40 flower growers in Ohio.
Tara said she has found the Association for Specially Cut Flowers, based in Ohio, to be a resource for her as she developed her business.
The Association of Specially Cut Flower Growers is heavily backed by Cornell University research with flower trials and different varieties being created every year.
The association has reported record numbers of new members in the last two years.
Tara and Jon said they are dedicated to promoting U.S. grown flowers.
Jon said the hope is grow the farm so that the next generation has it to cherish. The family still plants between 400-500 trees a year to keep building the tree business.
“We want people to drive by for the next 50 years and know that this is a farm,” said Jon.
But for now, the couple is working to find how the floral business can grow on the farm. They want to grow more perennials on the farm and be known as a specialized boutique farm.
But they are clear about one thing: “We have no intention of catering to the masses,” said Tara.
She said she wants to produce unique flower arrangements that stand out and are farm raised.
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