GTPulse: Leelanau Farmer Offers Flower Subscription Service
There’s a subscription for almost anything these days. The last time I ordered cleaning supplies I had to uncheck the monthly auto delivery box (bold of them to assume I clean so frequently), before completing my order. Subscription orders and boxes are becoming increasingly popular and boundless in options. Local flower farmer Michelle Shackelford offers flower subscription boxes and this year she’s opening up her subscription sign up early. As climate change increasingly becomes a problem for farmers, Michelle is planning on building a hoop house to help protect her flower business from the radical changes in weather.
“In April we had a foot and a half of snow, and then Labor Day weekend we had almost a 90 degree day. Tulips need to be gradually introduced to heat, it was too much for them,” Michelle told me over a cup of coffee in her Cedar, Michigan home. The home is planted in the middle of a greenhouse, a workshop, a farm stand and a bunch of land.
“I was raised in Manistee county, and I loved gardening since I was a kid. My parents had a little nursery business until I was five, so I think that’s what really set it. I took over my backyard by the time I was in middle school, filled the whole backyard with flowers and gardens. At one point I was really hooked on irises.”
A beautiful childhood spent in the flowers inspired Michelle to go to school for landscape and nursery and she earned an applied plant science associates degree through Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University.
After college Michelle and her husband moved to North Carolina. Michelle still came back to Michigan every summer for a plant pest consulting job where she got to drive around Leelanau and analyze plants pests and disease.
“I was a bug hunter, a disease hunter, basically. I visited Leelanau county, Antrim county and Benzie county every week. We drove around every day and just looked at fruit trees. I loved that job.”
After five years in North Carolina, Michelle was ready to come home and the couple moved to a home in Cedar with enough acreage to give Michelle space for the flower farm of her dreams, and she has been the proud owner of Leelanau Specialty Cut Flowers ever since.
“I didn’t know about cut flower farming specifically, I just knew I wanted to have a farm of flowers, a nursery or something. I found an article in a magazine about cut flower farming.”
Cut flower farming differentiates from regular flower farms in that the flowers aren’t dug up and given to the customer to replant like a lily or and iris farm. Cut flower farming is for selling the flower, not the plant.
Michelle grows all kinds of beautiful flowers and having a hoop house will enable her to be able to grow even more flowers and utilize more of the year. December through April are difficult months for a Northern Michigan farmer, because a lot of money is being spent on seeds and supplies, but not much income is coming in. Michelle spends a lot of the colder months planning the flower farm and purchasing all of the seeds and tulip bulbs she will need.
“I get a little bit of downtime after selling wreaths in December, by the end of January I’m already planting seeds so there’s not a lot of downtime. With the hoop house I’ll pretty much be able to grow all year long.”
Michelle has a greenhouse where she starts her plants, but always runs into the problem of overcrowding once they are big enough to go into the ground. The main difference between a greenhouse and a hoop house is that plants are planted into the ground in hoop houses, whereas plants are in containers on benches in greenhouses. Michelle’s hoop house will be where her greenhouse plant graduates go to stick their roots into the earth.
Michelle makes bouquets for supermarkets, the farm stand, her subscriptions and for weddings. She enjoys making bridal bouquets, but she also sells loose flowers in bulk to brides who are interested in getting creative with flower arrangements on their own.
“I like doing bridal bouquets, I don’t do a ton of them. I have DIY brides and I’ll sell them a bulk bucket. Sometimes I’ll make them wear-and-carries and they’ll buy bulk for the tables and just arrange it themselves.”
Her absolute favorite kind of flower projects are making bouquets for her weekly flower subscribers. She enjoys the connection she makes with her customers through flowers, as well as the connection her customers feel to flowers. The bouquets are different every week based on what is in bloom, and if they’re anything like the bouquets I saw in Michelle’s workshop, these bouquets will definitely hold up week to week. A bouquet pickup forgotten from two weeks ago had a sunflower with petals that still looked perky and fresh. The bouquets are always a surprise, but the quality is consistent.
“I make the subscription bouquets bigger. I love the subscription because you get those people that are super supportive and love everything and share the arrangement online, or they’ll break the arrangement apart and do fun things with it. I think that interaction of humans and flowers is my favorite part.”
Keep your heart and home light this winter with fresh cut flowers and support a local farmers growth.