Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gold Finch Farm provides cut flowers to retailers

If you make the commute between Baldwin and Woodville on Highway 12, you've probably noticed the transformation which has occurred at the former Francis and Ruby Dees farm.

For the last four years Harold Wilkins and Bryan Gjevre have transformed the former dairy farm in a huge flower and shrub garden the partners grow to sell to retail floral shops, such as Hermes Floral, for floral arrangements.

"We are wholesale only," Harold stressed.

Wilkins is retired from a career of Professor of Horticulture, which included 25 years at the University of Minnesota and two years filling an endowed chair at Ohio State University. Gjevre was a student of horticulture, attended the U of M and met Harold while both were working on a project at Berkeley in California. Because the flower business is seasonal, Gjevre said he is attending a CNA program and hopes to work at Park View in Woodville during the winter m

Currently the partners have about three of the five acres at Gold Finch Farm under production. The top annuals include zinnias, sunflowers, amaranthus, celosia, dill, broom corn, sage and trachelium.

The broom corn can grow up to 15 feet in height, Wilkins noted. "A local farmer stopped in the first year we were here because he was amazed at how tall it was and no cob."

Perennials growing at Gold Finch Farm include artemesia, sedum, a variety of lilies, hostas, phlox, echinops, yarrow, Siberian Iris, allium, dahlia, Chinese Lantern, three species of milkweed, astilbe, campanula, foxgloves and callas.

"Bryan is in charge of research and development," Wilkins noted. Gjevre admitted some of his plantings do not work, mostly because they don't last in a bouquet. Only two varieties of foxglove survive the winter.

Eriogron is a flower they tried, but no one wanted to buy," Gjevre said.

Sweet pea flowers was another experiment that didn't work. "We ordered a variety from Britain, but couldn't sell a one," Wilkins said. "But we also had a variety from a test seed organization blooming when we got a call from a Hudson florist. A woman had passed on who loved sweet pea
flowers and the family wanted them for a funeral bouquet. So we sold $5.00 worth."

"Harold has the contacts (for wholesale), including the Baldwin Greenhouse," Gjevre commented. They also have an arrangement with Baldwin Greenhouse to use the walk-in cooler to store cut flowers before delivery.

Other local contacts include the three workers the business employs. Logan Veenendall and Justin Morrissey are high school students working seasonal full time at Gold Finch Farm, while Diane Hudson works part time weeding flower beds and Byron Jelen provides mechanical services

"We found the local workers are excellent," Wilkins said.

Harold also has arrangement with Jon-De Farms to have manure delivered to be used at mulch and fertilizer.

Gjevre said woody shrubs have also been planted, "but is takes three to five years for them to be ready." The shrubs are not grown for replanting, but are instead the branches are cut to be used in floral arrangements.

The next time you travel from Baldwin to Woodville, or vice versa, watch for Gold Finch Farm located on the north side of the highway on the curve and you'll see what's growing. You'll most likely see Bryan, Harold or one or more of the employees weeding the flower beds.