Peonies Are Economic Driver in Alaska
Farmers’ flowers are cash crop
PALMER - Could it be Alaska’s next big cash crop? A worldwide demand for peonies, the showy flower favored by brides and many others, could be answered by our state.
Kathy and Craig Baker are long-time Valley farmers who are giving it a try at their Gray Owl Farm in Palmer. Just days into their first harvest and already they have shipped flowers to every corner of the country.
“We've sent them to Honolulu and we've sent to the East Coast, says Craig Baker. “We've sent them to California, so it’s all over the states and the demand is really high.”
Alaska peonies are hot because our state is the only place in the world where you can find them blooming in the summer months of July, August and into September. It’s a time when florists will pay a premium price, up to five dollars a head for the size and quality considered “triple A”.
But while the market potential may be big, so is the work involved. And growing the blooms for profit takes plenty of time.
“It’s 3 years before you make any money because it takes 3 years for them to mature enough so that you can even pick one flower,” says Baker. “So it's not the sort of thing you are going to get into if you don't have a little patience and time.”
The Bakers see it as a long term investment; they’ve already put in about $20,000 since they started the project four years ago. Theirs is one of the smaller operations in the state but the only one that is actually producing flowers for harvest this year from the Mat-Su Valley. Peony farms in Fairbanks and on the Kenai Peninsula have been selling blooms internationally for several years.