Flower Power at Summer Fresh Flower Farm
Summer Fresh Flower Farm is an American success story with seeds that were planted in Laos and Thailand, cultivated in California and Minnesota, and burst into full bloom in North Carolina.
Ge Yang, husband Jackie Xiong and their three oldest children immigrated to the United States in 1990. Although the Xiong family had farmed in Asia, both parents worked in factories when they arrived in California. At night, they attended school to learn English and studied for their U.S. citizenship test.
“My mother, to make extra money, would work for different farmers in California – harvesting, weeding and so forth – on the weekends,” recalls Der Xiong, the third of six children in the family.
After moving to Minnesota in 1999, Ge Yang grew weary of working in factories and the cycle of losing jobs to layoffs and searching for new work. “She turned back to the one skill set she really knew – farming,” Xiong explains.
Her mother had an acre of land where she planted vegetables and zinnias. Loving the feel of being her own boss in the garden, Yang decided to try farming full time. “We did not do too well in Minnesota because of the short season, and we didn’t have the knowledge of where to go for more information,” Xiong notes.
However, Yang did have a resource about 1,000 miles south in North Carolina, where her sister was already growing and selling flowers in the Hickory area. In the summer of 2003, the family of eight relocated to Catawba County to begin their own farming venture where the season was more favorable to the types of beautiful cut flowers Yang dreamed of growing.
“One of the primary reasons I wanted to come to North Carolina was no snow,” Yang adds with a laugh, after spending four really cold winters in Minnesota.
Business is Blooming
Starting out with just a few acres, the family now owns close to 37 acres in Catawba and Gaston counties for flowers and also houses filled with broiler chickens. The family also leases additional land for flowers. Although Yang immediately began farming full time after moving to Newton, Xiong says her father initially worked for a furniture company before the farm got big enough to demand his full-time attention, as well.
Today, the farm produces thousands upon thousands of cut flowers annually that are sold primarily in three farmer’s markets in Hickory, Greensboro and Charlotte. Summer Fresh has also developed a reputation for creating unique, exquisite, affordable arrangements and bouquets for weddings and other special events.
“We have well over 60 different dahlias on our farm, and when people think of Summer Fresh Flowers, they think of the dahlias,” Xiong says. Of course, she adds, the farm also produces a stunning array of tulips, zinnias, snapdragons, sunflowers, peonies, dianthus and more. “I like all the flowers, but my favorite is a purple lisianthus,” Yang says.
Over the years, the family has added high tunnels to help them get to market sooner and walk-in coolers to be able to store flowers for arrangements. “High tunnels are passive greenhouses, also called hoop houses,” Xiong says. She adds that the high tunnels don’t use electricity but instead trap heat based on the sun.
“We grow year round, but our market season – if Mother Nature doesn’t get in the way – is the middle of March to the end of October or first of November,” Xiong continues. She adds, “It’s all hand-harvested. We individually select the flowers and pick them for market.”
A Family Affair
The work is labor intensive, but everyone in the family pitches in to help even though most of the children have other careers or their own farms, as well. Yang notes proudly that five of her six children have graduated from college – and the sixth is currently in school at North Carolina State University.
The family doesn’t have to look too far for expert input these days, either. Xiong is a family and consumer science agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. “We run out of daylight a lot,” she says of helping out in the evenings and on weekends. However, Xiong continues, “We may all have different families and jobs, but the flower farm is still very much an integrated part of our lives.”
While the farm is a family affair, there is no mistaking who is in charge. “She’s the boss, believe it!” Xiong laughingly says, pointing to her mother.
For much of her life, Yang worked hard for others who often underestimated her because of her faltering English. Now, she puts that energy into her own business. “It takes dedication and the amount of work you put in to create something beautiful, but seeing the end product makes me really happy,” Yang says. “When I see my flowers, it was worth all the effort.”
Where to Find Summer Fresh Flowers
Summer Fresh Flowers
For the latest updates, visit facebook.com/summerfreshflowers
Downtown Hickory Farmers Market
Union Square, Hickory, NC 28601
Open Wednesdays and Saturdays from April through October, open Saturdays through end of November
King’s Drive Farmers Market
938 S. Kings Dr., Charlotte, NC 28204
Open Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from April through October
Piedmont Triad Farmers Market
2914 Sandy Ridge Rd., Colfax, NC 27235
Open Monday through Friday year round
– Cindy Sanders