My name is Martha Lojewski and I am the Executive Director for the Alaska Peony Cooperative. I am a founding member and have remained on the Board in many positions since the very beginning. I am currently the Sales Manager and the person behind the phone and email. My family also owns and operates Mount McKinley Peonies, a one-acre peony farm in Willow, AK. Although the cooperative has a mailing address in Willow, we serve members across the entire State of Alaska.
Peony farming is a relatively new addition to our family, beginning in 2014 after the birth of our second daughter. I previously worked in sales as a Catering Director and Banquet Manager in some of the most incredible resort destinations across the country. But the long hours that are typical for event work were so grueling I couldn’t continue and be there for my children. So I left my position to stay home with my children. During this time peony farming found me! It landed in my lap at the perfect time, I found a mentor, did my research and decided it was a perfect match for our family lifestyle.
My husband is a Forester and has worked in tree nurseries and soils labs so the science of field cultivating a crop commerically was within his wheelhouse of skills. Combined with my background in sales and our entrerenurial sprit it really couldn’t have happened in a more perfect way.
We purchased six acres of land an hour and a half away from our home in the city because the soil, climate and space were more suited to growing a crop outside the city limits. I live at our farm half the year and in the city the other half. Our farm is completly off grid in a rural location with dog mushers as neighbors. We are on the bank of the Susitna River with a million dollar view of the Alaska Range, including Denali, which is why we named our farm Mt. McKinley Peonies. (After we named our farm the name Mt. McKinley was officially changed to Denali.)
Although we grow one crop and ship for only 6 weeks of the year I do work year round developing our farm and cooperative. There is always a reason to make improvements, from negotiating shipping contracts to website upgrades and conferences to learn more about all aspects of the flower industry. I love what I do and have a never ending passion to help all peony farms across the state produce and ship the best possible peonies. Alaska is a special place for a lot of reasons, I am dedicated to ensuring everyone knows peonies are one of those reasons.
How did you get started in business?
A group of peony farmers looking for a collaborative method to sell our peonies began research into the cooperative business structure in 2014, officially becoming the Alaska Peony Cooperative in 2015. Since then we’ve had some membership changes, but remain a strong business supporting many different peony farms across the State of Alaska.
Tell us about your business
Our cooperative is a member-owned cooperative that markets and sells peonies exclusively as fresh cut flowers during the months of July and August. We ship all across the US and Canada mainly to floral designers and event planners. But we have created three distinct product segments because we do serve three very different customer groups; floral designers, mass market and end consumers. We have options available for all customers ranging from someone ordering 20 stems as a birthday gift to shipments of 5,000 stems to bouquet makers. This is possible within our cooperative structure because of our strategic membership base and the partnerships created with a range of shipping carriers.
Tell us about peonies, how long they take to grow, when they are available for sale, how many varieties, etc.
Peonies take about three years to mature enough to cut stems commercially, but will continue producing for many years with proper care. On average, the cooperative has about 25 – 30 different varieties available to ship from July 1st to the middle of August. However, we do sell out early every year and encourage floral designers to place their reservations after Mother’s Day.
Do you have a favorite?
It is so hard to pick one favorite variety, but there are some that really stop me in my tracks. ‘Buckeye Belle’ and ‘Avis Varner’ are usually at the top of my list. In cool growing years the ‘Festiva Maxima’ bloom blush instead of white, which I’d also have to say are one of my all time favorites, so much so that I almost don’t want to sell them at all so I can keep them on my table all season long.
How can our readers learn more about and purchase peonies from Alaska Peony Cooperative?
We have some incredible resources available on our website, www.alaskapeonycooperative.com and would invite any peony enthusiast to make that their first stop. Not only can you order specialty boxes like the Everyday Bouquet or browse availability for July events, but there are two pages dedicated to sharing information, tips and tricks on growing peonies. The Press and Resources page has previous podcasts, articles and three free downloadable guides to help select and grow the best peonies. There is also a page called The Peony Journal which is a collection of peony related articles written by member-farms and industry professionals.
Sharing knowledge and education are two of the foundations of our cooperative so we hope you enjoy the free resources! While you are on our website, sign up for our newsletter to learn more about what we’re up to, be notified of special offers and updates about availability.
Connect with and order from www.alaskapeonycooperative.com
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