Tyler Meskers pulls up to his office in a small tractor, fresh from touring tulip fields on his family’s farm in Aurora. He jumps out. The second-generation Oregon flower grower has no time to be idle. Mother’s Day is the busiest time of his year.
By the time moms are hugging scented bouquets on Sunday, May 10, Meskers, his family and crew with Oregon Flowers Inc. would have put in months of long days laboring in greenhouses and standing on production lines.
In all, for this one holiday alone, they will have picked, packed and shipped more than a half million flowers.
The company started by Martin and Helene Meskers, Tyler’s parents, 30 years ago has grown to become Oregon’s largest cut flower nursery. It now sells to wholesalers and privately owned grocery stores across the United States and Canada.
After the economy started to improve, so did flower orders. In 2014 and again this year, sales for Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day increased 10 percent, says Tyler Meskers.
Americans are expected to spend more than ever this year on Mother’s Day — an average of $172.63 each — according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. The total outlay could climb to $21.2 billion, with 11 percent of that — $2.4 billion — spent on flowers.
Mother’s Day is the most popular day to give flowers and unlike Valentine’s Day, when almost all of the roses are flown to the U.S. aboard a fleet of cargo jumbo jets from South America, the bouquets given to moms are brimming with American-grown blooms.
For Mother’s Day this year, the Meskers family will have lilies, calla lilies, tulips, snowball Viburnums, irises and early-blooming peonies.
Oregon-grown Mother’s Day FlowersMartin and Helene Meskers founded Oregon Flowers in Aurora in 1985 and they grow flowers year round in greenhouses and fields. Their largest orders for fresh cut flowers are the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day. With their son, Tyler Meskers, and their crew, they will ship a half million lilies, calla lilies, tulips, snowball Viburnums, irises and peonies by May 6 for Mother’s Day on May 10.
Once, U.S. farms produced nearly 65 percent of the nation’s cut flowers, but over the past two decades, imports have caused that figure to shrink to single digits, according to USDA reports.
Industrialized cut flower farms in the Netherlands, Colombia and Ecuador fly or ship pallets of flowers every day, creating a transportation footprintthat buy-local supporters say overshadows the environmental costs to heat U.S. greenhouses and send the perishable product to stores.
Slow flower advocate and author Debra Prinzing of Seattle speaks across the country about the importance of labeling bouquet sleeves and adding store signage to let consumers know where flowers were grown and who grew them.
Her Slow Flowers directory lists farmers and designers who supply American blooms. She says she has more than 30 Oregon members.
Also helping shoppers be aware of the source of their flowers are campaigns modeled after buy local and farm-to-table movements. These grassroots promotions encourage shoppers to want the flowers on their table to be as fresh, sustainable and local as the food on their plate.
New Seasons Market profiles flower growers, including the Meskers family, in its Meet The Locals series.
The new American Grown Flowers Certification program, which connects retailers with certified sustainable flower farmers, has placed its logo – an origin guarantee – on packaging for hundreds of millions of stems of flowers and greens.
The program, led by a volunteer coalition of flower farmers, is also organizing Field to Vase dinners, to celebrate flower farms the way farm-to-table and winemakers dinners put the spotlight on local producers.
Ten American Grown Flowers’ Field to Vase dinners will take place in Oregon, Washington, California and other states from March 5 through Oct. 16. Jello Mold Farm in Mount Vernon, Washington, will host a dinner Sept. 12 and Oregon Flowers on Oct. 3.
That night, in addition to a farm-fresh feasts and locally produced beer and wine, diners will enjoy centerpieces where every petal, stem, foliage, vine, bud and berry was grown nearby and then “artistically arranged to bring sensory pleasure to the experience,” according to organizers. “The attention is on our flowers, our farmers and their farms, and on the floral designs they inspire.”
By that time, Oregon Flowers will have snowberries, rose hips, llex and more lilies blooming in greenhouses and fields.
With the next generation of families helping to run the family business, branding and marketing are finding larger support.
“This market is continuously growing and we plan to grow with it,” says Tyler Meskers, who graduated from Oregon State University. “We truly support the local movement. After all, our family business’ name is ‘Oregon Flowers, Inc.’ It is very important for consumers to ask for locally grown flowers.”
At his farm in Aurora, weeks before Mother’s Day, there are cooled storage units – the size of an apartment building’s underground parking – filled with bright yellow tulips.
The Meskers family, masters at consistently producing colorful blooms, start the growing cycle by thawing out frozen, dormant bulbs. Bulbs, which come from the northern and southern hemispheres, are used only once to produce the best possible flower and in every season.
Once the bulbs are planted in soil, they are moved in their tray to climate-controlled rooms until they produce roots. Then it’s off to the computer-monitored greenhouses, with roofs that open to let in the right amount of light, allowing the nursery to grow blooms year round.
When Willamette Valley skies darken or don’t deliver enough light, automated grow lamps take over.
About four months later and after carefully watching and watering, crews come in to pull the entire plant – including the bulb – from the soil. Within 30 seconds, it’s in water.
By the end of the day, a bunching machine will have cut the bulb off the stem. The bulbs are shredded and added to soil that is augmented with fresh bark and sterilized in the steam warehouse to use for another planting.
The flower stems are uniformly trimmed and latched together with a rubber band. The cut flowers are processed and packed into custom boxes, placed in cooled containers and then sent the same day to wholesalers and grocery stores across the country.
While Colombian cut flowers arrive in Miami inside window-less cargo jets, plane passengers leaving from Portland International Airport may be sitting above boxes of Oregon-grown flowers. Federal Express, UPS and refrigerated trucks also transport the blooms.
Depending on the season, Oregon Flowers also sells field-grown hops, berries and other flowers such as hydrangeas, hyacinths and sedum.
But the largest increase in demand recently has been for lilies and calla lilies, especially rare, newly released hybrid breeds. Florists, brides and specialty stores seek out new and unusual flowers.
“Luckily with our close connections to Dutch hybridizers and growers, we have access to these limited varieties,” says Tyler Meskers, whose parents came to Oregon from the Netherlands and gave their company the motto “Flowers grown with a Dutch touch.”
The last bunch of flowers for Mother’s Day will be shipped Wednesday, May 6. Then the Meskers can get started on the summer bridal season.
— Janet Eastman