Building Oregon Flowers, Inc., has been an “American dream story” that required many years of hard work and determination, says company Vice President Tyler Meskers, who notes that Oregon Flowers continues to be his parents’ hobby as well as their business. “They’re still here every day.”
Before moving to the United States, Martin Meskers was poised to join the family bulb-growing operation in northern Holland. Instead, motivated by a desire to strike out on his own and an interest in American culture, he took an internship at a bulb farm in the Willamette Valley.
After working at the farm for a couple of years, he began to suspect that there might be a market for cut flowers as well as bulbs, says son Tyler. Martin tested the assumption by planting bulbs his father sent from the Netherlands and selling the flowers in Portland. It worked, and he requested more bulbs and began to create consistent cut-flower sales.
Determined to create a commercially viable cut-flower business, the Meskers settled in Aurora in 1985 and invested in a greenhouse, which allowed year-round production. From that point, says Tyler, everything went into growing the business, which now features 10 acres of greenhouse space as well as open-air fields.
In its early years, Oregon Flowers, Inc. grew freesias and tulips. It also began to grow lilies, which at the time were beginning to catch on. While the popularity of freesias didn’t last, says Tyler, lilies boomed and became an Oregon Flowers, Inc. specialty.
The popularity of lilies and the Meskers’ expertise in growing them have created a business model that smooths production and minimizes surges in labor demand. Oregon Flowers, Inc. grows several varieties of lilies year-round in its greenhouses, working in other varieties according to a seasonal schedule. It produces tulips and hyacinths from January through May, followed by irises and various other varieties, including calla lilies, later in the year.
Meanwhile, the company grows plants that produce complementary bouquet elements outdoors as seasons dictate, says Tyler. These include daffodils, peonies, alliums, snowberries and ilexes.
Oregon Flowers, Inc. does have periods of high production, including Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. And the July 4 week is always the slowest of the year. But the consistent nature of the company’s production allows it to provide full-time work to 30 people year-round, says Tyler. As a result, he says, the company experiences very low turnover, and half of its employees have been with the company for more than 15 years.
Oregon Flowers, Inc. produces between eight and 10 million flowers every year, which it ships across the country. Flowers for the West Coast market tend to move by truck, and those for markets elsewhere travel by plane, often arriving the day after they’re cut. The company sells to wholesalers rather than contracting with large retailers. This approach does entail some risk, says Tyler, but it allows the company to maximize its returns. Recently, Oregon Flowers, Inc. has begun selling to small grocery-store chains in the Pacific Northwest and California.
Though the Meskers have lived in the United States for more than 40 years, Oregon Flowers, inc. remains true to the company motto, “Flowers Grown with a Dutch Touch.” Much of the equipment used by the company is manufactured in the Netherlands, which also provides about 70% of the bulbs it plants (the other 30% come from Chile and New Zealand, where they are grown by Dutch farmers).
Perhaps the most visible evidence of this connection is the company’s investment in greenhouses manufactured in the Netherlands. These feature computer-controlled irrigation and heating systems that maintain an ideal growing climate. It would have been far less expensive for Oregon Flowers, Inc. to use plastic greenhouses. But these tend to allow less light to penetrate and produce lower-quality flowers, says Tyler.
Like other businesses, Oregon Flowers, Inc. has had its challenges, the most significant being the COVID pandemic. Shutdowns, which began in earnest in March 2020 could not have come at a worse time. The company was waiting for wholesalers to pay for Valentine’s Day flowers shipped in February. Meanwhile, the greenhouses were full of flowers grown in anticipation of the Easter and Mother’s Day holidays.
Though Oregon Flowers, Inc. had to throw away much of its crop, the company persevered and has since increased production and greenhouse space.
“It was a humbling time,” says Tyler, “but we learned how strong a business our parents had built.”