Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Attracting more bees to produce honey has turned into a thriving U-Pick flower enterprise for the Laupp family.
“We have honeybees,” says Mike Laupp, an engineer at Parker Engineering. “In an effort to produce more honey we planted a huge patch of wildflowers. (Rebekah) started selling one bouquet at a time at our roadside stand and the word just spread.”
In addition to one-quarter acre to the left of their home on 9 1/2 Mile Road that contains lush flower beds, 1 1/ 2 acres at the back of their property produces pumpkins and gourds that they will begin selling on Sept. 18. The planting, weeding, cutting and harvesting is done under the direction of Rebecca Laupp, a third-grade teacher at Pennfield Elementary School. She receives plenty of help from her daughter Ella, son Zack, and husband Mike.
The name of their business – ZEMR Family Farms
contains the first initial of each member of the family.
Rebekah Laupp looking at zinnias that are among several varieties of flowers growing in their U-pick flower garden
“It originally started with one row of wildflowers,” Rebecca Laupp says.
Husband Mike says with a smile, “She complained that I never bought her flowers.”
“So, he made me a field of them,” Rebecca Laupp says, smiling back.
That was more than four years ago. There are now more than one million flowers including 500 zinnias that the family picks and places in vases that hang on a wooden stand near the entrance to their property. People have the option of buying the pre-cut bunches or snipping their own flowers for 50 cents per stem.
A couple of hours each day are devoted to the care of the flowers which includes deadheading and weeding. On Thursdays, flowers are picked and made into bouquets for people who don’t want to pick their own.
Ella Laupp, on bike, with her mom and dad, Rebekah and Mike, at right, and her brother, Zack, front and center. The bike has been added to their gardens for use by visitors as a photo opportunity.
“We have regular customers who expect a bouquet,” Rebecca Laupp says. “I always make sure I have nine available and I make sure on Saturday that we start with nine again. Sundays are usually slow. This is our fourth year and it’s gotten bigger each year. We went from one section for bees. Then we did four or five rows. We now have 28 sections and 14 rows in the U-pick area. Each section has different flowers.”
Cosmos, Zinnias, Blue Chinese Forget-Me-Nots, Yarrow, Echinacea, and Snapdragons are among the flower varieties grown. She recently incorporated Explosion Grass into the mix. Their tops resemble the patterns made by fireworks on a much smaller scale.
“We weren’t sure what the Explosion grasses would be like,” she says. “It was quite the experiment.”
In addition to the grasses, which are used in the pre-cut bouquets, 2,000 tulips were planted this past growing season. Mike Laupp says he and his family anxiously waited for them to bloom. They finally did just in time for Mother’s Day. They family spent the majority of that day selling the tulips.
“We had tulips growing and coming up and they just would not bloom,” he says. “You only have a small window to sell and they finally opened up in time for Mother’s Day.”
It’s about more than flowers
On a recent Saturday, the family hosted a pollinator event designed to encourage people to plant seeds that would grow into flowers that would attract Monrach butterflies which are now considered an endangered species
Ella Laupp, stands amidst the flowers at her family's u-pick flower farm.
Those who attended the event were given a free packet of seeds with a $5 purchase.
The Laupps also have hosted residents of assisted living facilities in the area, letting them come out to enjoy and pick the flowers.
Their biggest annual event is the one featuring the pumpkins and gourds that people may pick and buy. Ella, who is going into seventh-grade at Harper Creek Middle School, uses her artistic skills to paint pumpkins with a wide range of designs. She sells them for $5, $10, or $15 depending on the size of the pumpkin.
The designs on her pumpkins and gourds include logos for Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, the Detroit Lions, and Halloween-themed paintings. Many of the sports-themed pumpkins are displayed at the Copper Athletic Club in Marshall, one of her grandfather’s favorite hangouts.
“Her grandpa’s friends all cheer for different teams and when he brings in the (MSU) pumpkin, they all say that they’ve got to have their team represented as well so she ends up with all of these orders,” Rebekah Laupp says.
A grouping of pumpkins decorated by Ella Laupp. She sells them in the fall at her family's U-pick flower farm. In addition to flowers, the family also grows pumpkins and gourds that are sold in the fall.
Ella also decorates Mason jars for use as vases for sale at the family’s farm. And she designs a T-shirt with a new logo for the farm each year for a private family gathering prior to the annual pumpkin and gourd sale event. The sale begins in September and ends in October.
“I wanted to do something to help out here,” Ella says of her work for the farm.
Zack, 10, who also attends Harper Creek Middle School, has taken charge this year of a planting of watermelons. “That was his summer project,” Rebekah says.
As the farm continues to grow its business and evolve, Rebekah says she would like it to become a fulltime business. She and her husband encourage people to come out and take photos amidst the flowers and the other plantings. They have located two chairs and a bicycle in the flower patches that people can use as props.
“I have always loved flowers,” Rebekah Laupp says. “They just make me so happy and I want to share that with others.”
Rebekah Laupp shows an example of Explosion Grass growing in her family's u-pick gardens.