Rushing into the store recently for a quick grocery trip, I remembered that I wanted to pick up a bouquet of flowers for a friend. After stopping for organic strawberries, a crusty baguette supplied by a local baker, and some grass-fed beef, I made my way to the floral area. I don’t buy flowers often, but as I perused the bouquets and potted arrangements something seemed amiss. The space didn’t really smell very—flowery. And was that glitter on those roses? Are blue carnations actually a thing? While I’m definitely not known for my green thumb, I was confused. I half-heartedly chose a small bunch of weak-smelling roses and laid them next to my carefully-selected groceries, recognizing the contradiction. I consider the origin and authenticity of my family’s food with increasing importance, yet I was prepared to offer a friend a bunch of flowers with zero knowledge of their quality or origin.
So, where do our flowers come from?
According to the book Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart, over 80% of the flowers sold in the United States are grown out of the country. In order to withstand the rigor of international transport while remaining visually appealing, flowers are bred for pigment, size, and sturdiness—often sacrificing details, such as scent. While we may think of cut flowers as inherently natural, in reality they often become science experiments, bred in laboratories to be larger, bloom out of season, or survive unreasonable amounts of time without water. Commercially-sold flowers may be artificially dyed to resemble costlier varieties, sprayed with paint or glitter, and even scented with perfume. And aesthetics are not the only variables that are manipulated. According to the National Wildlife Federation, foreign growers use pesticides heavily to get a better guarantee of access into the American market, which is subject to strict customs regulations prohibiting pests or fungus on imported flowers.
Amy Miller, owner of Branch and Bloom Floral Design on Cleveland’s east side, says that cut flowers don’t have to be grown this way. Desiring a supplier who could provide her with fresh, sustainably-grown flowers for her business, Miller sought out Teri Berry of Berry’s Blooms in Medina. In Berry, Miller found exactly what she was looking for. Miller’s praise of Berry and her flowers is so effusive that I couldn’t wait to see for myself.
I spotted Berry’s Blooms from the country road, and parked in front of the farm’s retail space. Dodging a friendly cat, I slid open the barn door and was greeted instantly by a rush of cool, fragrant air. Gazing over orange and purple snapdragons, delicate pink bleeding hearts, and old-fashioned sweet peas, I noticed handwritten suggested-price cards of modest amounts and a secure money box. Realizing that the shop operates on the honor system, I wondered how it is possible to put a price on anything so beautiful. I was about to learn just how priceless this effort is as Berry introduced me to the beauty, art, and rigor of her unusual growing practice.
Soft-spoken with a humble demeanor, Berry hails from a family of farmers, but those of the field crop and animal variety. While Teri holds a degree in agricultural economics from The Ohio State University, she is entirely self-taught in the growing of cut flowers. “I learned the hard way, by doing and making mistakes,” says Bloom.
Berry initially began growing sunflowers only for birdseed, but she branched out when she saw how happy the sunflowers made her roadside customers. After researching cut flower farming online, Berry joined the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, which offers online forums and the opportunity to visit farms and learn from other growers. She says that the more flowers she grew, the more people seemed to enjoy them. “What really propelled me into growing flowers was that it was a business where I could make people happy and work with my family,” says Berry.
According to Berry the primary difference between growing cut flowers and bedding flowers is the length of time the plants are tended to by a farmer. Bedding plants are sold as adolescents to be planted elsewhere, while a cut-flower farmer nurtures a plant from a seed until maturity, at which point the flower is cut. Berry enhances her process by growing sustainably and as organically as possible, using no chemicals. Instead, she utilizes alternatives, such as beneficial insects to eat harmful bugs typically treated with pesticides. She also makes her own soil mixture for her seedlings that can be reused after being subjected to a soil pasteurization process developed by her father.
The science and practice of growing cut flowers after planting is an immensely time-consuming and labor-intensive undertaking. Berry’s typical day begins at 4:30am in the summer and 5:30am in the winter. Attention to pH levels, soil, and water science are all areas requiring constant attention. Add to that the challenges of scheduling up to 30 different varieties of flowers according to weather and the plants’ individual needs, and the tasks become innumerable. To address the external issues, Berry first began growing in a hoop house. When she decided to extend the growing season year-round, she constructed a massive, energy efficient greenhouse. A retractable heat curtain regulates the temperature while a ventilation system creates the air circulation that is essential to plant growth.
With such dedication to the growing of a quality product, it’s no surprise that Berry’s flowers have developed a dedicated following. After several years selling sunflowers, snapdragons, celosia, and lilies from a roadside cart, Berry became a popular vendor at the Medina Farmers Market. Today, despite having only one full-time employee and a handful of seasonal help, Berry’s Blooms supplies over 15 area grocers. And that’s just the beginning.
Several local florists have become so enamored with Berry’s product that many drive to Medina to pick up her flowers to supply their own customers. Amy Miller of Branch and Bloom can’t offer enough praise for Berry’s work ethic and product. “I appreciate the artistry in her,” Miller says. “And she’ll never say how great she is.” Berry and her employee, Micky McCune, have also taught themselves the art of floral design and now offer design services or bulk flowers for weddings, showers, and other special events.
Berry acknowledges that there are challenges inherent in her way of doing business. The hours are long and she is grateful for the support of her parents, her husband Bob, and her daughter Suzy. While Berry places top priority on sustainable growing practices, she realizes that there is a greater appreciation for such practices regarding food, but less so for flowers.
To find a similar venture to Berry’s Blooms, one would have to travel to Canada or perhaps California—it’s not a common way of doing things. And that uniqueness is what florists like Miller find so appealing. “There is luxury in the simplicity,” says Miller when describing Berry’s flowers.
Despite its challenges, Berry is unwavering in her dedication to her craft. “I want to make people happy. Our flowers help celebrate life’s joys, sorrows, and everyday events, like saying thank you,” she states. “When anyone doubts me, it just makes me want to do it more.”
Back in the farm’s shop I search for the perfect arrangement as a gift for my friend to replace my previous meager offering. Now that I have seen the journey of these flowers, I want to buy all of them. I choose a small bouquet in a square glass vase, place my offering in the cash box and cradle them in my lap all the way home—it seems the least I can do.
Berry’s Blooms can be found on Facebook and reached at 330.239.2993. The farm is located at 2060 Granger Rd. in Medina. Retail hours are 8am–8pm, 7 days a week.