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Des Moines Register 08-02-06 A blooming business After being dropped by one of their big buyers in Des Moines, flower growers Quinton and Carolyn Tschetter courted independent florists in small Iowa towns. By ANNE FITZGERALD REGISTER AGRIBUSINESS WRITER uinton and Carolyn Tschetter have tapped a big market in out-of-the-way places: Small-town florists. The Tschetters raise five acres of flowers and shrubs on their 20-acre farm east of Oskaloosa. They began growing flowers commercially in 1993, selling dried flowers from their farmstead. In the late 1990s, they began selling fresh-cut flowers to area residents and local businesses, adding farmers markets and florists to their outlets a few years later. Eventually, they expanded into the Des Moines market, selling at the Downtown Farmers Market and to Boesen The Florist. One day late last summer, Quinton Tschetter (pronounced: chet-er) hauled a load of fresh-cut flowers to the Boesen store on Beaver Avenue in Des Moines, but the business was not interested. "Every day, I want a fresh product at a better price," Tom Boesen, a member of the florist family, said Tuesday. It's hard for domestically raised flowers to compete with imported flowers on price, he said, but locally grown flowers win on freshness. If the price of fuel continues to remain high, as expected, it may give Iowa-grown flowers an edge over imports, too. "I think it's going to equalize the price," Boesen said. Tschetter was crestfallen that Boesen didn't want to buy his flowers. He and his wife, former schoolteachers in their early 60s, had planted the sunflowers and lilies, tending them for two to four months before harvesting them. Their van brimmed with buckets loaded with flowers, about 1,000 in all. The farmers were counting on Boesen's purchases to provide up to 50 percent of their sale proceeds that week. "I've got a full load of flowers here. What do I do now?" Tschetter recalls thinking. He either had to sell or pitch his perishable product. "My next stop was home, and I decided not to go home," he said. "I drove east and started looking for florists." Tschetter stopped at small floral shops in Newton and Grinnell, finding new customers. Now the Tschetters sell their flowers to 20 independent florists, primarily in small towns. Business is blooming. Sales this summer are up 20 percent from a year ago. The Tschetters are part of a growing number of small-scale farmers who make a living by selling niche products, say Iowa State University Extension specialists who work to help farmers diversify production and develop alternative markets. Part of the secret to their success is tapping markets close to home that may be overlooked by national suppliers of food and horticultural products. Growers like the Tschetters produce a declining portion of U.S. fresh-cut flower sales, but even a small percentage of the billion-dollar industry can mean a substantial amount of money. This year, the Tschetters expect gross sales from their business to total as much as $70,000.
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