I was lucky enough to grow up on this farm, learning from their work ethic, and enjoying the fresh air of the country. After getting a business degree from Wayne State University, I joined the work world, but dreamed of starting my own farm, and saved to buy my own land.
In 2011, my parents received a little gift that would establish the direction I would take. My parents were asked to present a posthumous leadership award to Christmas tree grower, Harvey Koop, one of their mentors in the Christmas tree industry. Receiving the award were Mrs. Koop and daughter Janet (Koop) Brondyke. In addition to growing Christmas trees, Harvey Koop at one time was also the largest grower of dahlias in the world, with over 90 acres in production. His daughter, Janet, continued his legacy at Hamilton Dahlia Farm in western Michigan, growing cut flowers. It was after this presentation that Janet sent my parents gift of some dahlia tubers.
The following year, I started on my own path, buying land and creating Summer Dreams Farm. Almost immediately I was overwhelmed. Still working full time to fund my fledgling business, I learned there were not enough hours in the day to get everything done. With limited time and equipment, and knowing it was impossible to accomplish everything on my own, I called on friends and family for help. Somehow, we managed to make it to August and my flower field turned from a green forest to every hue imaginable. But, the challenge was just beginning.
I started selling at a local Farmer’s Market and going to the area florists showing my flowers. After my first month, sales were going slow. I was working over 100 hours per week and had little to show for it. One morning, my mother took some flowers to Parsonage Events in Clarkston and that is when the tide began to turn.
As the days grew shorter and the nights colder, there was still one more chapter in my story. The florists I had been working with told me about an event, the likes of which had not been done before. The florist and designer Lisa Waud of Pot & Box had purchased an abandoned home in Detroit with the goal of bringing it back to life one last time. On a brisk October weekend, florists from all over the country traveled to Detroit to turn this home into a three-day art installation, covering the home with fresh cut flowers. The day before the frost put an end to my season, we picked over three thousand dahlias to donate to the project. What this talented team of individuals did with them took my breath away.
At this event I was introduced to designers from coast to coast as passionate about my flowers as I was. Here, I was introduced to the American Grown Flower movement, and the farms and individuals behind them.
I share my story with you for many reasons. I am fiercely proud where I came from, of the hard work, risks, and sacrifices my family made over the years. I am equally proud of the business I have built. It started with a dream and it has turned into reality through sacrifice and hard work. I am excited for what the future holds. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined what I achieved in my first year and I am eager for everything ahead of me.
Above all and most importantly, I am humbled by the support, mentoring, and experience that others have given me. Without the help of each and every one of the individuals described above and many more, I would not be who I am today or have accomplished the things I have. Quite frankly, none of this would exist without them. For the people in my life, I will be forever grateful.
Owner, Summer Dreams Farm
“And on the 8th day…God made a farmer.”
As I listen to the words of Paul Harvey and his 1978 speech, I know that the path I have chosen is the right one.
My story begins with immigrant grandparents, in post war Sicily, who left everything in search of the American dream. My grandfathers were, among other things, subsistence farmers in the old country. They settled in Detroit in the 1950’s and, like most other immigrants, raised much of their own food in their backyard vegetable gardens, while working low paying jobs.
My parents fulfilled the American dream, getting graduate degrees and pursuing professional careers. They, too, had a love of the land, and completed their Master Gardener certification prior to purchasing a small farm in the Oxford area. They decided to grow Christmas trees and established a choose and cut farm. For years they struggled, working their full time jobs and commuting evenings and weekends to develop their farm, while raising my brother and I. After years of sacrifice and hard work, they created a very popular Christmas tree farm, bringing enjoyment to the many families who come out to the farm in search of the perfect tree.
Those few dahlias grew into a passion for me, I had never seen anything like them. Over the next few years as those few plants multiplied so did my interest. When the flowers bloomed, I cut and gave them as gifts to friends and family. After seeing the joy and excitement in people’s eyes when receiving these flowers, it hit me that this is what I wanted to do.
In 2014, I worked with Janet on her farm, learning from her much like my parents learned from Harvey a generation earlier. We cut flowers, worked at the Farmer’s Market, and harvested tubers together. Janet shared a wealth of knowledge and years of experience with me. This gave me the confidence I needed to start my own farm.
Owner Liz Stotz was busy working on wedding arrangements when one of her employees went to her and said, “You need to see this”. Not knowing what it was, she begrudgingly left her task. She was overwhelmed with my mother's armful of colorful dahlias, which happened to be one of her favorite flowers. A few days later she came out to visit my farm. I remember she was almost speechless when she saw the field full of color. At that point she had a choice. To keep my existence a coveted secret to set her apart in the area or share my existence with others. I am thankful she chose the latter.
One of the people Liz introduced me to was a photographer named Heather Saunders. Right away, Heather fell in love with my flowers and my story. Out of her passion for what I was trying to do and the kindness of her heart, she told me that she wanted to help. I didn’t realize right away how talented she was. That year, she captured images of my flowers in a way I never thought imaginable. Through her images I was able to start to share my story.