Peony farmers experiencing slowed business due to pandemic

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WASILLA (KTUU) - Even in places as peaceful as a peony farm in the Valley, the pandemic continues to make things difficult. However, at some locations, like Champion Peonies in Wasilla, operations are adapting to still make some sales.

For those that don't know, Alaska has a reputation for being one of the few places in the world to bloom peonies during this time of year. The flower is incredibly popular for large event decoration, especially weddings.

Currently expected sales for peonies at this farm is down to around 8,000 stems as opposed to nearly 12,000 last year according to farm co-owner Deborah Champion.

She said the farm had been transformed into a peony farm over the last four years. 2019 was their first year selling the flowers. Champion Peonies is part of the Alaska Peony Cooperative which has 12 farms.

Champion said many of the other farmers in the co-op are running into the same problems around the coronavirus pandemic. Cancelled weddings means cancelled orders, farmer's markets are only allowed to sell food items right now, and she said florists don't have enough traffic to justify buying many peonies for now.

Additionally, she said that they've had to lower their prices to meet the lowered demand.

According to her son, Robert Champion, also a co-owner they are seeing an uptick in people buying gift box sets in light of the poor event and market sales.

Regardless of the pandemic, the flowers are still growing, and the buds will be ready to clip at Champion Peonies in a little under two weeks Champion said.

They have other plans to continue making sales. Once the buds are ready, they'll be ready to do a 'U-Pick' system with social distancing in mind.

"We will assign you with a picker. We will put you on one side of the row and we will be on the other," Deborah Champion said, "We will be wearing a mask and you tell us which stem you'd like us to cut. We will cut it and put it in a hydrated bucket. Then we'll follow a pattern together, going to the rows or to a selected color that you would like to have in your bucket."

From there, customers will have their packaged flowers put in their car before being sent on their way.

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