Debra Prinzing

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Episode 378: Rachael Ackerman introduces Blue Sky Flower Farm in Minnesota, site of the Slow Flowers Summit pre-conference farm tour

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Rachael Ackerman of Blue Sky Flower Farm (c) Photography by Red Bird Hills

June 30th may seem like a long way off, but we all know how soon your the flower farming season arrives next spring, followed quickly by wedding and event season for floral designers.

So bear with me as we fast-forward to June 30, 2019, the day before the Slow Flowers Summit takes place on July 1st & 2nd in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Rachael (left) with her peonies; CSA bouquets (center); the abundant floral harvest (right)

Perhaps you’re planning to arrive in the Twin Cities early and if so, you’re invited to participate in our optional pre-conference farm tours and Slow Flowers Dinner on the Farm, two fantastic opportunities to learn more about the flora of Minnesota, including a lovely and educational visit to Blue Sky Flower Farm, owned by today’s guest, Rachael Ackerman.

I’ll share more details about the actual tour schedule immediately after our interview, but let me start by saying how thrilled I am that horticultural duo Rachael and Jon Ackerman, owners of Blue Sky Flower Farm, will open their farm on Sunday, June 30th for an exclusive tour welcoming attendees of the Slow Flowers Summit.

Rachael and Jon Ackerman with their three “minions” at Blue Sky Flower Farm (c) Photography by Red Bird Hills

I met Rachael and Jon in person in 2017 at the ASCFG regional meeting in Ontario, Canada, and soon thereafter, their farm joined the Slow Flowers Movement. They grow a diverse palette of plants on land about 30 miles outside of the Twin Cities in Minnesota and they’re part of the core group of growers who sell through the Twin Cities Flower Exchange, owned by Christine Hoffman, our co-host for the 2019 Summit on July 1st & 2nd.

Rachael is often dwarfed by the long branches and prolific foliage she harvests, year-round, at Blue Sky Flower Farm.

I’ve invited Rachael to share their story with us today.

Here’s a little bit more about Blue Sky Flower Farm:

Jon and Rachael dreamed of Blue Sky Flower Farm for many years. They both have horticulture degrees and between them have a combined 30-plus years working in the industry. While working full-time and raising three children, now ages 3, 5 and 7, they started the farm by planting woody cuts, including dogwoods and willows, on Jon’s parents’ dairy farm.

More branches and ornamental blooms! A Blue Sky Flower Farm specialty.

The couple now owns a 10-acre farm near Elko-New Market, Minnesota, south of the Twin Cities, where they have diversified into a year-round operation, with Spring woodies (pussy willows, lilacs, forsythia, mock orange, sweet peas and peonies); Summer crops (ninebark foliage, raspberry foliage, dahlias, baptisia, scabiosa, statice and anemone) Fall crops (bittersweet, sunflowers, rudbeckia, broom corn and unique gourds) and winter crops: flame willows, curly willows, and dogwoods of many colors.

Blue Sky Flower Farm also serves its community through a bouquet shares program each summer. I’ll let Rachael share more about how she and Jon have developed their market channels to serve a number of wholesale clients in both floriculture and horticulture.

Rachael’s grandfather, who along with her grandmother, helps on the farm once a week.

In the past, before diving deep into flower farming, Rachael and Jon worked in the commercial wholesale nursery industry, including a number of years at Bailey Nurseries Inc., one of the largest plant companies in the U.S.

Because of those ties, it is fitting that we’ve invited Rachael to join the stage at the Slow Flowers Summit and introduce our keynote speaker, Terri McEnaney, president of Bailey Nurseries.

I’m thrilled that Rachael and Jon will open their flower farm and host Slow Flowers Summit’s attendees to experience a summer afternoon on their uniquely beautiful Minnesota flower farm.

Their farm will be open between 1-3 pm on Sunday, June 30th, for self-guided touring — we’ll post more details prior to the Slow Flowers Summit.

Slow Flowers Dinner on the Farm hosts, Jolea Gress and Jenny of Green Earth Growers

Immediately following our time at Blue Sky Flower Farm, attendees are invited to tour a second venue, Green Earth Growers, a women-owned enterprise specializing in nursery bedding plants, vegetables AND flowers.

The tour of Green Earth Growers is free, but you’ll need to register separately for the first-ever Slow Flowers Dinner on the Farm, an evening of locally-grown food, flowers, entertainment and camaraderie.

Tickets are $100 inclusive and you can find more details here. We’re partnering with Green Earth Growers’ owners Jolea Gress and Jenny for this event, and I promise to feature them and their stories on this podcast in the near future.

The farm-to-table dinner is a production of Monica Walch, owner of the successful Dinner on the Farm series that takes place each year in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area.

Dinner on the Farm creates unique local food experiences designed to celebrate farmers, growers, chefs, brewers, distillers, makers and artisans dedicated to good, sustainable food. Through a series of roaming culinary events, Monica and her collaborators work to connect people back to the land and to the farmers and artisans who are making their community a better place to live.

If you attend the Slow Flowers Dinner on the Farm, you’ll join with me in an intimate, sensory evening celebrating our true sense of community with other Summit attendees, Slow Flowers members and our Summit speakers in a relaxed environment taking place just prior to the following day’s Summit Conference. I can’t wait to see you there!

December is the month to take advantage of Early Bird Ticket Pricing for joining us at the Slow Flowers Summit.

You can save $100 off if you register before Dec. 31st.

The rate for Slow Flowers member registration is $275, which includes 1-1/2 days of conference sessions, morning refreshments both days, and lunch and a cocktail reception on July 1st, plus a fabulous program, people and flowers.

We have a vital and vibrant community of flower farmers and floral designers who together define the Slow Flowers Movement.

As our cause gains more supporters and more passionate participants who believe in the importance of the American cut flower industry, the momentum is contagious.

I know you feel it, too. I value your support and invite you to show your thanks and with a donation to support my ongoing advocacy, education and outreach activities. You can find the donate button in the column to the right.

The Slow Flowers Podcast has been downloaded more than 385,000 times by listeners like you. Thank you for listening, commenting and sharing – it means so much. Thank you all!

Thank you to our sponsors for supporting The Slow Flowers Podcast.

Florists’ Review magazine. I’m delighted to serve as Contributing Editor for Slow Flowers Journal, found in the pages of Florists’ Review. It’s the leading trade magazine in the floral industry and the only independent periodical for the retail, wholesale and supplier market. Take advantage of the special subscription offer for members of the Slow Flowers Community.

Arctic Alaska Peonies, a cooperative of passionate family farms in the heart of Alaska providing bigger, better peony flowers during the months of July and August. Visit them today at

Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, a farmer-owned cooperative committed to providing the very best the Pacific Northwest has to offer in cut flowers, foliage and plants. The Growers Market’s mission is to foster a vibrant marketplace that sustains local flower farms and provides top-quality products and service to the local floral industry. Find them at

Longfield Gardens provides home gardeners with high quality flower bulbs and perennials. Their online store offers plants for every region and every season, from tulips and daffodils to dahlias, caladiums and amaryllis. Visit them at

Syndicate Sales, an American manufacturer of vases and accessories for the professional florist. Look for the American Flag Icon to find Syndicate’s USA-made products and join the Syndicate Stars loyalty program at

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an employee-owned company that provides our industry the best flower, herb and vegetable seeds — supplied to farms large and small and even backyard cutting gardens like mine. Check them out at

Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. Formed in 1988, ASCFG was created to educate, unite, and support commercial cut flower growers. It mission is to help growers produce high-quality floral material, and to foster and promote the local availability of that product. Learn more at

Mayesh Wholesale Florist. Family-owned since 1978, Mayesh is the premier wedding and event supplier in the U.S. and we’re thrilled to partner with Mayesh to promote local and domestic flowers, which they source from farms large and small around the U.S. Learn more at

Certified American Grown Flowers. The Certified American-Grown program and label provide a guarantee for designers and consumers on the source of their flowers. Take pride in your flowers and buy with confidence, ask for Certified American Grown Flowers.  To learn more visit

And the Team Flower Conference – a professional floral event where flower lovers from all over the world gather for networking, learning, and celebration. It’s a special time for the floral industry to come together and whether you’re a farmer, designer, wholesaler, or just love flowers, you’re invited to attend as Team Flowers dreams big for the industry’s future. Head to to learn more about the 2019 conference in Waco, Texas!

PepperHarrow Farm (c) Liz Brown @estorie

I’m Debra Prinzing, host and producer of the Slow Flowers Podcast.
Next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto iTunes and posting a listener review.

The content and opinions expressed here are either mine alone or those of my guests alone, independent of any podcast sponsor or other person, company or organization.

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Brenlan. Learn more about his work at

Music Credits:

British Flowers Week 2017 — Day One with florist Mary Jane Vaughan

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Five floral designers whose work will be higlighted during British Flowers Week: Mary Jane Vaughan, Jennifer Pinder, Urban Flower Company, Petal & Stalk and Carly Rogers.

I’m thoroughly inspired by my friends at New Covent Garden Flower Market in London, the brains behind British Flowers Week, now in its fifth year!

In fact, I recently wrote this homage to Helen Evans and her colleagues for the American Flowers Week feature in the current June 2017 issue of Florists’ Review magazine.

Here’s a portion of my report:

In 2015, while in London for the Chelsea Flower Show, I met with Helen Evans, one of the geniuses behind New Covent Garden Market’s successful British Flowers Week (BFW) campaign (June 19-25, 2017). 

The U.K.’s most important wholesale floral hub launched BFW in 2013 as a low-budget social media-driven “annual celebration of seasonal locally grown flowers and foliage that united the U.K. cut-flower industry, and sparked public and media interest in where our flowers come from.”

It has become a popular and successful campaign to promote British flowers and floral designers. By the time we had finished sipping from our steaming mugs of tea in the Market’s employee breakroom, I thought, “I should start an American Flowers Week.”

In late May of 2015, I returned to the U.S. inspired by the BFW model and equipped with Helen’s suggestions and resources, and introduced American Flowers Week (AFW) one month later.

Today marks the Day One of British Flowers Week and I’m so in love with the work of Mary Jane Vaughan, the first featured designer, and with her floral choices, including British-grown stock, sweet peas and other beautiful botanicals.

Mary Jane Vaughan shopping for locally-grown British Flowers at New Covent Market.

British floral designer Mary Jane Vaughan

Please enjoy and follow along, as we’ll be sharing all five days to inspire you — AND to get you excited about your own plans for American Flowers Week, coming up with the June 28th-July 4th unveiling of more flowery goodness!

Floral Designer: Mary Jane Vaughan

Known for the simplicity and understated elegance of her designs, Mary Jane Vaughan has gone from running a shop in Fulham, London to becoming an award-winning luxury weddings, events and contracts florist some thirty years later.

Read more about Mary Jane’s approach to designing with locally-grown British flowers.

There are three entries to Mary Jane Vaughan’s designs for British Flowers Week:

A curved floral chandelier by Mary Jane Vaughan features 500 stems of British-grown stock, moss and camellia foliage.

Close up of Mary Jane Vaughan’s curved floral chandelier for British Flowers Week

The Showstopper (above): A curved canopy of white stocks and laurel leaves.

Close-up of Mary Jane Vaughan’s sculptural necklace for British Flowers Week 2017

Hadid’s designs were often inspired by the movement of water. So Mary Jane chose to make a fluid-shaped asymmetrical necklace. An intricate wired design, it features lilac sweet peas, blue cornflowers, white stocks, pale pink antirrhinums, alchemilla mollis, ferns and a single peony.

Technical (above): The inspiration for Mary Jane’s three exquisite British Flowers Week creations was found in the work of her favourite British architect, Dame Zaha Hadid OBE. Hadid’s bold, undulating designs combine geometry with femininity and nature, which is what Mary Jane also strives to do in her work.

Mary Jane says: “I’m a huge fan of Hadid. She designed the London Olympics Aquatic Centre. I managed to get tickets to see it and I was so excited to be under her roof. So, to be able to create something inspired by her work means a lot to me, because I think she was an amazing, incredible talent. All her shapes are so fluid, organic and asymmetrical. They’re very bold and very brave. There’s so much that I love about them.”

Hadid‘s designs were often inspired by the movement of water, and so we chose – for our technical design – to make a fluid-shaped, assymetrical necklace of lilac sweet peas, blue cornflowers, white stocks, pale pink atirrhinums, alchemilla mollie, ferns & a single peony.

Inspired by Hadid’s Visio crystal vase, Mary Jane designed two slender curved vases. Shiny laurel leaves have been attached to the papier-mâché designs, which are complemented with a profusion of delicate, pastel purple sweet peas.

CLose-up of Mary Jane Vaughan’s design with sweet peas.

Signature (above): Inspired by Hadid’s Viso Vase. Slender & curved, our vases were made with laurel leaves and filled with the beautiful British favourite – the sweetpea. An intricate wired design, it features lilac sweet peas, blue cornflowers, white stocks, pale pink antirrhinums, alchemilla mollis, ferns and a single peony.

Read more about British Flowers Week

Get involved in American Flowers Week, coming up June 28-July 4. Lots of details and resources available here!

SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: Peonies from America’s Last Frontier (Episode 102)

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
I'm standing in a Homer, Alaska, peony field at Scenic Place Peonies. It's owned by Beth Van Sandt and Kurt Weichhand - check out the views!!!

I’m standing in a Homer, Alaska, peony field at Scenic Place Peonies. It’s owned by Beth Van Sandt and Kurt Weichhand – check out the views!!!

Last summer I visited Alaska and toured about 12 cut peony farms from Fairbanks to Homer – in one week! It was a wonderful trip, made all the more special because of the many cool, welcoming flower farmers I met along the way. They hosted me for meals, spent quality time walking and talking with me along the rows of robust and beautiful plants, lent me a bed for the night, and generally adopted me into their Alaska Peony Tribe! If you want to learn more about the Peony Growers of Alaska and how to order cut flowers from some of them directly, visit the Alaska Peony Growers’ web site.

It was a thoroughly freeing time for me as a journalist because I was my own client. No editor gave me the assignment. No publication had their dibs on how the story would be reported. I used my Alaska Airlines’ frequent flier miles to book my flight into Anchorage and then rented a car with another set of airline miles.

I made reservations to tour Denali National Park on the first day – mainly because Dr. Pat Holloway, my trip advisor, insisted that I couldn’t just drive past the majestic national park while seeking peony farms! After that first day, I spent the following seven preoccupied with peonies, their cultivation, harvest, post-harvest care and ultimate journey to the hands of satisfied customers. It was pretty sweet – and I can’t wait to get back. I wrote a fun post about the week in Alaska here.

Alaska august 2013 coverOther than selling a *tiny* story about Alaska peonies to Sunset magazine, I am happy to announce that my first big editorial placement appears in the current issue of Alaska Airlines magazine. How fitting! You can read the feature here [PDF].

This week’s podcast features interviews with the owners of two farms I visited during my tour. First, you’ll hear my conversation with Rita Jo Shoultz of Alaska Perfect Peony in Fritz Creek on the Kenai Peninsula, one of the first growers to jump in feet first to plant peony roots. You will hear the sounds of nature around us, as we sat in her garden near the pond to talk. For some crazy reason, Nicco, her cat, was fascinated with the audio recorder’s microphone. You’ll hear a few bumps in the audio, thanks to the curious cat!

Here are some photos from Alaska Perfect Peonies:


Rita Jo with red peony

Rita Jo with a double-headed peony that we discovered in her growing fields. 




Monday, August 5th, 2013


Close to perfection

I came home from Alaska with these luscious peonies – and it seemed as if no other flower could compete for room in the vase.

10 stems ‘Sorbet’ peonies, grown by Echo Lake Peonies in Soldotna, Alaska
5 stems ‘Kansas’ peonies, grown by Midnight Sun Peonies in Soldotna, Alaska
9-inch tall x 7-inch diameter vintage Haegar urn, cream pottery
Series of vintage one-pint glass milk bottles (7-inch tall), each holding two or three stems
milkbottles_peoniesFrom the Farmer
Peony harvesting and design: Cut peonies during the coolest part of the day. According to Dr. Holloway, “Cut once you see the true color of the flower with one or two petals separating at the top – or any time after that. Then, the flower will continue to open in your arrangement.” If you cut prior to this stage the buds either will not open or they will be stunted. Fully-opened blooms can also be harvested, but their vase life is shorter. Based on years of peony research and field trials, Dr. Holloway offers this commercial growers’ tip: “Once cut, your flowers should be chilled in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to one week before putting them into a vase. That chilling very definitely extends vase life.” Wrap the peonies in paper towels and lay them flat in the crisper drawer, away from the refrigerator’s other contents until use.