Peony growers on the Kenai Peninsula are preparing for a future of internationally competitive production and cultivating a new population of growers.
At the annual Central Peninsula Alaska Peony Growers Association Farm Tour June 28; 30 Alaskans made a circuit of central Kenai Peninsula farms involved in the statewide industry of peony growers.
Some came from as far north as Fairbanks, others from the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Homer and Cordova.
The tour included stops at Cook Inlet Gardens, Cool Cache Farms LLC and Echo Lake Peonies, all members of the newly formed Alaska Peony Market Cooperative.
The cooperative’s bylaws were ratified at the beginning of this year, said President Ben Carpenter and owner of Cook Inlet Gardens. The organization is made up of eight Kenai Peninsula peony farms in varying stages of development.
Members of the cooperative support each other financially and professionally, Carpenter said.
“Not only can the less experienced gain insight from long-time growers, but each farm requires similar products that can be resourced together to reduce expenses,” he said.
Marketing peonies is a time consuming and costly activity, Carpenter said. It makes sense to spend resources advertising and marketing flowers for the cooperative rather than each individual farm doing the same activities individually, he said.
Additionally, the cooperative makes the Kenai Peninsula market more viable, Carpenter said. While one farmer may not be able to grow enough flowers to supply to a major buyer, multiple farms working together can provide higher volumes of flowers.
Revenue for the cooperative is returned to each member on a “patronage basis,” Ben Carpenter said. Each member is in business to make a profit so the goal is to keep administrative costs low and return the highest amount of revenue back to the members, in proportion to how many flowers they produced.
“It is a long lasting product,” he said. “One plant can live up to 80 years, potentially outliving its cultivator.”
Cook Inlet Gardens currently has 240 1-year-old plants growing on an eight-acre plot of land, said Cook Inlet Gardens co-owner Ameye Carpenter said.
This season the couple will be planting another 5,000 plants on their property, Ameye Carpenter said. However it will take at least another two years for their current crop to reach maturity.
Once the buds are big enough for harvesting, the 240 plants alone will bring in $5,000 annual revenue, Ameye Carpenter said.
While the Carpenter’s business is in it’s beginning stages, other Alaska Peony Market Cooperative members have been improving production for years.
Richard Repper, owner of Echo Lake Peonies, has plants almost ripe for picking this season, he said.
Repper’s harvest includes stems grown from roots of 12,000 planted up to six years ago.
“In July, calls start coming in at 4 a.m.,” Repper said, referring to the floral orders coming from the Lower 48 for the product on his farm. “If you think about it that is 8 a.m. east coast time.”
Alaska is the only place in the world that can grow the delicate, bulbous flower July through September, he said.
Already Repper is receiving orders from Europe and Asia. Creating the cooperative has helped some with the larger orders, but it is still not enough.
“People need to get involved faster,” Repper said.
Kelly Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com