Please meet Martin and Helen Meskers, co-founders of Aurora, Ore.-based Oregon Flowers Inc., our hosts for this Saturday’s field to Vase Dinner. Along with son Tyler Meskers, they welcome you to a delicious and fragrant sensory experience at their flower farm.
Oregon Flowers has the special distinction of being one of only 10 farms in the U.S. to host a Field to Vase Dinner, a campaign designed to raise awareness about and to celebrate the renaissance of domestic cut flower farming.
It’s especially fitting because this third-generation flower and bulb grower is celebrating Oregon Flowers’ 30th anniversary in 2015.
And earlier this month, Martin Meskers assumed the presidency of the Society of American Florists (SAF), a leading industry trade group that counts growers, florists and wholesalers among its members. Oregon Flowers’ introduction Lilium ‘Snowboard’ was named 2015 Best in Class at the annual SAF convention (shown above), one of several award-winning lilies to come from their breeding program.
Oregon Flowers grows an estimated 7 million stems of flowers and foliage annually, including lilies, tulips, calla lilies, peonies, hydrangeas, and other flowering and ornamental shrubs and perennials. Their flowers delight customers in all 50 states, including locally in the Pacific Northwest at New Seasons Markets, among other outlets..
We caught up with Martin Meskers recently for a conversation about flowers, flower farming, and the state of the U.S. floral industry:
F2V: How did Oregon Flowers get its start 30 years ago?
MM: My business originally imported bulbs and flowers. But we could not get the consistency we wanted. And we saw an opportunity to start on a small scale and do better by growing flowers (and bulbs) ourselves.
F2V: How large is Oregon Flowers?
MM: I call our company medium-size. Our farm occupies 50 acres; we have 8 acres of greenhouses; 25 full-time employees and many seasonal employees.
F2V: Lilies, tulips and calla lilies are your largest crops, yet you also grow many varieties of flowers and berries on your farm. Why is that?
MM: We have a great growing climate for many types of flowers. Customers are always asking: “What do you have that’s different?” so while it takes more time and effort to offer variety, we try and keep things interesting. Some of our unique offerings include snowball virburnum, peonies, alliums, foxtail lilies, rose hips and snowberries.
F2V: What will guests experience on the farm tour at Oregon Flowers?
MM: We have a relatively high-tech operation that focuses on efficiency. People will be able to see how we process our bulbs, how we plant and cut.
F2V: What will be growing inside the greenhouse?
MM: Lilies! We have to harvest lilies at the perfect stage, so one thing you won’t see are the flowers. More than many other floral varieties, lilies are harvested a few days before the buds open. We do this so we can ship the flowers “tight” to prevent damage. But don’t worry. We will make sure that each guest takes blooming flowers home with them.
F2V: When did you get involved in Society of American Florists?
MM: About 18 years ago. I wanted to be involved in a national organization and there weren’t other local opportunities for us then. I started attending the Congressional Action Days in Washington, D.C., and then I served on the Growers’ Council for three years. That led to several committees and eventually running for a board seat. I just completed two years as president-elect and now I will serve as president for 2016 and 2017.
F2V: What are the benefits of being a part of SAF?
MM: As a grower here in Aurora, Oregon, I don’t always know about what happens to our flowers. Being part of SAF connects me with wholesalers, retailers and designers and that has helped us connect our flowers with more people.
F2V: What does the future look like for the American floral industry?
MM: There is an opportunity for domestic farms to grow more product because there is definitely more demand. A lot of floral customers want to know where their flowers come from. We work with some grocery stores who “walk the talk” and with some for whom promoting American grown isn’t a priority. There are some customers who want to buy from us because they want LOCAL flowers. We want to cater to the ones who want our product.
F2V: What does the future look like for American flower farms like yours?
MM: There is so much positive to talk about. We are cautiously optimistic about the future. I believe in American grown. It just makes sense. We keep our customers through service, through consistency and through reliable quality. That’s what sets us apart.
F2V: Why did you pursue Certified American Grown status for Oregon Flowers?
MM: I’m an immigrant. I’m an American success story. Participating in Certified American Grown is a bonus, because our business name — Oregon Flowers — already identifies the origins of our flowers. This industry has been good to us and I want to make it even better for other flower growers. We want to be part of the big picture, of having a positive story and bringing together all American flower farmers.