Rural Beloit fields offer blooms across the country
By Gina Duwe
July 28, 2013
TOWN OF BELOIT--Tucked among the rolling hills of the town of Beloit countryside, row after row of plants and flowers await cutting to bloom in bouquets that will be sold in floral shops across the United States.Unbeknownst to many in the area, the 105-acre Blooming of Beloit farm on Creedy Road is the second-largest fresh-cut flower nursery in Wisconsin.But don't expect roses and carnations.With no greenhouse and 70 planted acres, the nursery's nontraditional plants are chosen around its motto: “In harmony with nature.”“We grow what the nature will allow us to grow here,” owner Shlomo Danieli said.When the weather cooperates, the nursery is shipping everything from lilacs for Mother's Day to allium and peonies to ornamental berries for holiday arrangements.About 50,000 bunches of product leave the warehouse annually on three trucks a week to Chicago for distribution to wholesalers across the country. It's surprising, Danieli said, that less than 20 percent of his products are sold in Chicagoland. His closest customers are Madison and Milwaukee wholesalers.Danieli brought his love of growing flowers to the rural Beloit area in 1996, when he bought the farm, which was “a cornfield for the last 2,000 years.”Why rural Beloit?“I basically looked all over,” said the Chicagoland resident.He picked the location because of the sandy soil.Danieli's career started at age 14, when he went to an agricultural boarding school in Israel. After earning horticulture and teaching degrees at Hebrew University in Israel, he worked at the largest Israeli floral company in Israel and Europe.He moved to the United States in 1981 and started his own business importing specialty cut flowers before he returned to growing flowers by starting Blooming of Beloit.When he first arrived in the 1980s, the United States had nearly 5,000 commercial, fresh-cut growers, he said. Now, there are about 600.Starting the business was a series of trials and errors to determine what would grow best in the southern Wisconsin climate.“It was a crazy investment,” he laughed, looking back on it.Many products turn colors when it's cold, making the area great for items such as winterberry, which are beautiful for arrangements.“We found out that the color intensity you can get here is very unique because it is so cold,” he said.When the frost arrives in late fall and the foliage drops, the bark turns “a very vibrant color,” he said. Curly willow also is a popular item that fills out arrangements from his fields.Then there's the business aspect. Danieli needed products that would compete with imports. About 85 percent of floral products sold in the United States are imported, mostly from South America, he said.“We cannot compete with $2 per hour” labor, he said, along with cheap freight from Columbia and Ecuador to Miami. The governments in the largest-producing countries also offer more support to the industry than here, he said.“What I tried to do is products that they cannot grow, or by law, they cannot import,” he said.His products need to be precisely cut for wholesalers, unlike farmers markets. The cutting stage is “day and night” different, he said.Unlike impulse buyers in a flower shop, his wholesale customers know precisely what they need, such as flowers with stems 18 to 22 inches long.“(I) have to be very, very, very specific and dependable specific,” he said.Flowers are harvested into water in the field and graded and bunched in the warehouse. Then they spend at least four hours in a bucket of solution to harden them to extend their shelf life before heading to the cooler to await shipping.“Product of Wisconsin” stickers are affixed to the plastic wrapping around the bunches.Danieli enjoys the challenge of experimenting with new varieties and getting the outcomes he hoped for.“The growing part is the nicest part of it,” he said.