From organic flowers to eco-friendly packaging, these Ypsi businesses are innovating to go green

We talked to the owners of a flower farm, a beauty care line, and a beer distributor, all based in the Ypsi area, about how they're building more environmentally friendly businesses.
From rethinking packaging or streamlining trucking routes to emphasizing local, organic products, Ypsilanti-area business owners are finding ways to go green. We talked to the owners of a flower farm, a beauty care line, and a beer distributor, all based in the Ypsi area, about how they're building more environmentally friendly businesses.

We Adore Flowers: Emphasizing local organic blooms

In Ypsilanti's Prospect Park neighborhood, two lots in an otherwise residential neighborhood are occupied by a business called We Adore Flowers, which specializes in local, organic blooms.

Owner Ginny Blades says she's been "killing off [her] lawn" since she moved into her house in 2012. Both the lot her home sits on and the one next door are dedicated to the production of cut flowers. A small hoop house allows Blades to start offering blooms early in spring, continuing well into early winter.

"We focus on flowers that don't ship well," she says. A small grower can't compete with big box stores, she says, so she's focused on "more delicate, more unusual" blooms like lisianthus, dahlias, Chinese asters, and annual phlox, plus bulbs and bushes like snowberry or ninebark. 

"They add these little twinkles to our arrangements," she says. 
Doug CoombeWe Adore Flowers owner Ginny Blades.
Since she can't compete with other florists, Blades says she focuses on special relationships with customers through deliveries, providing blooms for weddings, and offering CSA-like subscriptions to weekly flower offerings.

Subscribers can sign up for the "mason jar club" or an "artful arrangement" featuring what she calls "a seasonal parade of local flowers. We lay it on thick and spoil them."

Besides focusing on native flower varieties that are more in harmony with the local ecosystem, Blades has instituted a number of other environmentally friendly practices based on her studies in sustainable horticulture at Michigan State University.

The farm employs berms that retain water and uses land-replenishing practices, such as planting a cover crop and planting diversely. Those practices are better for soil health than one-crop farms, known as monoculture. That diversity is also attractive to local pollinators.
Doug CoombeKate Morris and Ginny Blades at We Adore Flowers.
Blades' packaging is biodegradable and she reuses the vases that subscribers receive flowers in. She recently added a couple of solar panels to her property, and she uses zero plastic floral foam. Instead, her husband laser-cuts wood and other materials to serve as the base for some arrangements.

Blades says she knows she can't fix the environment alone, but she does what she can.

"I want to feel good about my impact and my choices, because that's all I can control," she says. "I think a lot of people that buy flowers from us are also excited about our mission of sustainability."

O&W Inc.: Fine-tuning trucking routes

O&W Inc., a family-owned beer distributor that has been based in Ypsilanti Township for more than 90 years, has been collecting returnable beer cans for decades and engaging in other efforts to reduce waste and recycle. A trade conference last year encouraged the business' owners to try new truck routing software meant to optimize routes, and it already seems to be paying off in cost savings, fuel, and labor hours.

"We're constantly asking ourselves how we can do better," says O&W President Kit Wanty-Lambert. "For example, we get in a lot of materials when the beer comes in, and we do our best to recycle all that plastic wrap and shipping materials."
Doug CoombeO&W Inc. President Kit Wanty-Lambert.
Wanty-Lambert notes that the demand for beer is highly variable, with the amount of beer sold in June and July being nearly double that sold in January and February. However, routes haven't been optimized to accommodate that reality.

As a beer distributor, O&W buys beer from breweries, and it comes into the O&W warehouse. O&W staff take orders from retailers, pick the orders out of the warehouses, load the trucks, and deliver the beer. The distributor services seven counties and works with over 50 suppliers.

Even as the peak season approaches, O&W has been able to reduce its number of delivery days from five to four, reducing the company's carbon footprint and use of resources. Wanty-Lambert says that also frees up employees to head home earlier or to do other tasks around the warehouse, like cleaning, organizing, and maintaining equipment. Because employees aren't rushing to get their work done, the change has increased accuracy, too.
Doug CoombeRouter Barbara Potter designating product loading for trucks at O&W Inc.
Wanty-Lambert says the number of "picking errors" in the warehouse — when staff accidentally choose the wrong product to put on a truck — has been "drastically reduced, and the trucks have all gotten out on time."

The next challenge will be optimizing routes for fall, Wanty-Lambert says.

"Probably in late September or early October we'll start to identify what we need to do for our slower months and see how routing can be tweaked and changed for those to be efficient as well," she says.

Original Moxie: Adopting more sustainable packaging

Sometimes changes made for sustainability's sake come with growing pains. Rachel Blistein, owner of Ypsilanti Township-based hair care line Original Moxie, found that out when she decided to change her company's packaging in 2021.

She says she felt challenged by a study that showed that in one year, the U.S. beauty industry produced nearly 8 billion units of plastic packaging, and most of it wasn't getting recycled.

Blistein's research on reducing packaging waste was discouraging for a small business. She says she "talked to a whole lot of people," trying to find a more eco-friendly alternative to plastic bottles, and had trouble finding ones that were U.S.-based, let alone woman-owned. Most companies would only work with clients who had a very large minimum order, Blistein says.
Doug CoombeOriginal Moxie owner Rachel Blistein.
However, Blistein found a solution, thanks to securing COVID disaster relief funding through the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and finding another local, woman-owned manufacturing business, Whitmore Lake-based Ouila, to create an eco-friendly alternative to foil- and plastic-based refill systems. A starter kit includes a recycled plastic "capsule" and can be refilled with paper-based cartons that are mostly recyclable.

Blistein says she originally planned to make the switch in a much smaller way, with only part of the line using the new packaging, but decided she wanted to "go all in."

"She told me, 'If we are going to do this, let's do it right,'" says Ouila founder Dawn Marentay.

Blistein says that even though her customers are generally interested in sustainability, some felt troubled by the change.
Doug CoombeOuila founder Dawn Marentay.
"Customers want things to stay the same. It's unfamiliar and an inconvenience," she says. "I was surprised at how many asked if we could just go back to plastic."

A little over two years after Original Moxie made the switch, both Blistein and Marentay have learned some lessons. The biggest compromise was creating aluminum grab-and-go bottles in smaller sizes as an accommodation to customers with smaller budgets who didn't want to purchase the refill-and-reuse capsule and carton system.

Blistein says there's always risk in innovation.

"That's a real challenge for innovators in general, and when we started this, we couldn't find another company that was doing this," she says. "I think most businesses would have stuck a toe in the water and that's the farthest they'd have gone. I tend to be a risk-taker, though. It may not have been the smartest choice to convert all at once, but I don't regret it."

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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