They are one of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Annual Meeting’s traditions.
Strategically-placed red, pink and white poinsettias have been making the Annual Meeting’s stage resemble a Rose Bowl float for almost 30 years.
Before their big splash in Wisconsin Dells, the festive florals are cared for by employees at Edgewood Greenhouses in Mukwonago.
A Farm Bureau member since 1990, Edgewood Greenhouses enjoys playing a role in the Farm Bureau’s big event each December.
“We always look forward to the Farm Bureau order,” said Chris Peterson, president of Edgewood Greenhouses. Farm Bureau’s annual order of 125 poinsettias is dwarfed by major clients like Steins and Costco. Each year the Waukesha County business sells about 32,000 poinsettias and 70,000 other flowers, plants and hanging baskets to buyers from northern Illinois to western Wisconsin.
Depending on the season, the greenhouse employees between 17 and 24 people. Peterson said one of the best parts of his job is seeing the crew at Edgewood Greenhouses work together. “We have a great team. We are like family here and we know everyone’s family; right down to their pets,” said Peterson, who began working for the business’ previous owners at the age of 23.
He and a business partner, Ken Fenske, bought the business in 1999. Peterson manages the employees, sales and other business tasks. Fenske oversees the flowers and plants. Peterson admits to learning a lot about plants and flowers over the years.
“You start to pick up on things when you are surrounded by it and work with it on a daily basis. I know a lot more greenhouse lingo now than when I started,” he said.
Originally a dairy farm, the previous owners transitioned from dairying to the greenhouse business in 1965. Since then, buildings have been added and remodeled at the location near Interstate Highway 43 and the Fox River. Eleven greenhouses are used for poinsettias. Among the newer of the houses is a Westbrook model that uses automation to help keep the plants on a strict schedule.
“It helps us moderate the temperatures and keep an eye on the water level,” Peterson explained. “If it gets too hot or too cold the walls know to drop down or fold back up.” Water is a crucial resource for the business, which used three million gallons last year. Peterson said greenhouse technology and efficient staff ensure every drop is utilized. Like many crop farmers, fertilizer is injected as needed.
The poinsettias arrive at Edgewood Greenhouses as cuttings from various growers across the U.S. From there they are placed in pots. Depending on the preference of the buyer, the pots contain three or four cuttings.
As for the poinsettias that make their way from Mukwonago to Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting, it is Farm Bureau staff who unload the truck from Edgewood Greenhouses when it arrives at about noon on Friday. Staff members remove the paper wrapping around the poinsettias and arrange them near the stage. It’s ‘tradition’ that the newest employees are given the honorable task of watering them throughout the event.
On Monday of the WFBF Annual Meeting the poinsettias are re-packaged and given to members who have excelled in membership to say thank you for their dedicated service.
In addition to Farm Bureau, Edgewood Greenhouses is a member of the Commercial Flower Growers of Wisconsin. Visit Edgewood Greenhouses at www.edgewoodgreenhouse.com.
- Only water poinsettias when their soil starts to dry out because they don’t like too much water.
- It also is advised to keep them away from drafty windows. They prefer a daytime temperature of 78 degrees and 62 degrees at night.
- While many think the colorful leaves are the flower, the flower is actually the tiny yellow centers that only bloom when exposed to 12 to 14 hours of darkness.
- If you can’t seem to get it to bloom, Peterson suggests putting it in the closet for added darkness.
- Native to New Mexico the flower has become the most popular Christmas flower in the U.S.
“Poinsettias used to be considered a high-end flower,” Peterson said. “Now you can find them in grocery stores and many other places around the holidays. That’s because breeding over the years has made them easier to grow.”
Story by Amy Eckelberg. Original version appeared in the October|November 2016 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.