Flowers from A-Z

Windswept Acres provides cut flowers throughout state
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Photo by Kelly Hogan MaryLee Johnson tends to a bed of flowers and ensures there are no weeds at Windswept Acres near Cecil.

Windswept Acres Farms is approaching its 18-year anniversary of providing fresh cut flowers to retail customers all throughout Wisconsin and beyond.

Co-owner of Windswept Acres MaryLee Johnson always knew she wanted to study something related to plants, and pursued a college degree in botany. She came across a horticulture class by happenstance, said Johnson, and also took classes in that area of study full-time to finish her degree.

Johnson worked in greenhouses, flower and seed shops throughout her time living in both North Dakota and Maine. She moved to Wisconsin with her husband, Reed Johnson, in 1998.

MaryLee Johnson said, “When we moved, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so my friends who also worked with cut flowers told me, ‘You’ve always been good at telling people what to do, so why don’t you start your own cut flower business?’”

Reed Johnson, who worked previously as a forester, began working with his wife full time, and thus Windswept Acres Specialty Cut Flowers was born.

“Reed started working with me, and it kind of just snowballed from there,” MaryLee Johnson said.

Before becoming Windswept Acres, the 158 acres of land located off state Highway 117 used to be home to different dairy farms for over 100 years, leaving fertile soil to grow flowers, said MaryLee Johnson.

Now, Reed and MaryLee Johnson grow cut flowers on 25 acres of the land and shape their business around two primary tenets: customer service and farm sustainability.

The trends regarding which types and colors of flowers are in demand change often, and likewise Windswept Acres changes what type of cut flowers it grows in order to meet customers’ preferences, MaryLee Johnson said.

“A few years ago, bright and bold colors were really popular. Now, blush pink is where it is at. Another plant that seems to be really trending is succulents. We try to predict what people will want in order to meet our customers’ needs,” Johnson said.

Windcrest Acres employs many sustainable farming practices, including cover-cropping, composting, worm castings, and ensuring bee and butterfly populations have an environment to thrive. Previously, weeds from Shawano Lake were brought to Windswept Acres to be composted to prevent the weeds from taking up space in the landfill.

Windswept Acres is one of the biggest cut flower farms that sells directly to retailers in Wisconsin, said MaryLee Johnson. The majority of their customers reside in Wisconsin. Both MaryLee and Reed advocate for the importance of buying cut flowers locally.

“Take succulents, for example,” said Reed Johnson. “When you buy succulents that are coming from out-of-state, you never really know what you’re going to get. They are very soft, bendy and breakable and are very sensitive to light. We send our succulents in-state, and they look exactly the same when they are delivered as they did when we put them in.”

Along with numerous outdoor flower plots, Windswept Acres consists of four greenhouses, allowing flowers to grow all year long. Work outside begins in March, and some plants, such as kale and eucalyptus, have seasons lasting all the way to November, said MaryLee Johnson.

“We don’t every really stop; there is always something to be done,” she said.

Along with MaryLee and Reed, the farm currently staffs two employees. The number of employees working at Windswept Acres varies year to year, but minimal staff can limit the amount of flowers that are grown at Windswept, MaryLee Johnson said.

“People of come to romanticize growing flowers, but it is really hard work, with long hours, mud and bugs,” Reed Johnson said. “What makes us enjoy it so much is those moments shared with customers when we open up the back of our truck and you can tell they are just awestruck, as if they’re seeing fireworks.”

Windswept Acres’ unofficial motto is “flowers from A-Z, amaranths to zinnias,” MaryLee Johnson said. The farm is located at N5502 State Highway 117 in Cecil. Windswept Acres can be reached at 715-851-3381 or canard@frontiernet.net.