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Drew Groezinger, Clara Joyce Flowers

A passionate high school student defied expectations when he started a successful cut flower farm.

Drew Groezinger was in high school when he started selling dahlias to florists and growing cut flowers for weddings in his hometown of Stockton, Illinois. Participating in 4-H and FFA introduced Groezinger to floral arranging and helped cultivate a passion for horticulture, and a part-time job at a flower shop sparked the realization that there was a strong demand for local blooms.

“Because I grew up around gardens—my grandmother grew dahlias and my great-grandmother, Lillian, bred and showed dahlias in the 1920s—I knew there was a huge gap between the beautiful flowers I could grow and what we sold at the flower shop.” he recalls. “I started small, with 50 dahlias in pots in the greenhouse, and everybody at the flower shop loved them, and people at the farmers’ market went nuts for them. I realized that I needed to pursue this whole floral gig with a little more intensity.”

Social Media Provides Impetus

Groezinger confesses to ignoring the teachers in his high school classes in favor of checking out flower farms on social media, learning more about how established growers operated their businesses, and evaluating whether he could follow in their footsteps.

“Yes, I’m 21 years old (now) and yes, I started the business when I was in high school but I feel like I know so much, because I put in years and years and years on the backside just watching people,” he recalls.

A combination of reading blogs and Instagram stories and getting positive reactions to his inaugural crops gave Groezinger the confidence to expand his business. In 2015, when Drew was a senior in high school, he planted 450 dahlias, placing an order with Dave Dowling at Ednie Flower Bulb alongside the vegetables he grew for competition (and market) for FFA and 4-H.

“In just shy of an acre and a half in veggies, and a 75 x 100’ plot in flowers, all dahlias, and just during dahlia season, I made almost as much as I made [selling] veggies,” he says. “It was a big eye opener and…it was all happening right as the whole ‘it’s-cool-to-be-a-flower-farmer’ craze started to hit.”

With three other students, Groezinger was awarded the ASCFG’s Dave Dowling Scholarship in 2017.

“The scholarship came at a very influential point in the whole progression of the farm,” he explains. “I’d heard about it before but I wasn’t in the right situation to apply. When I put in my first dahlia tuber order with Dave (Dowling) and told him my story, he said, ‘I want you to apply for this,’ and I was thinking, ‘Dave Dowling, the godfather of cut flowers, is telling me to apply. I have to do it.’”

Making a Name for Himself

At the same time Groezinger learned about the scholarship, he convinced his parents to rent him a five-acre parcel of land on their farm. In 2018 he launched Clara Joyce Flowers, named after his best friend’s great-great grandmother, and his own paternal grandmother. He grew three acres of up to 40 different varieties of cut flowers, including 10,000 dahlias.

“We have four or five other flower farms in a two-hour radius and I knew I had to have something that was different than everybody else, and would set me apart in a really quick manner.” Groezinger says. “I had all the dahlias and everybody knew instantly that…there was a young kid in Stockton, Illinois who grew 10,000 dahlias. The news spread like wildfire and now people know me for that.”

Starting Clara Joyce Flowers required significant investments of time and capital. Groezinger had an 18 x 96’ greenhouse for vegetable production, and added a second 32 x 96’ greenhouse, installed an irrigation system, erected fencing, and purchased equipment.

“I invested $75,000 of my own money, which was very scary,” he says. “I was only 20 years old and the thing that kept running through my head was, ‘Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?’”

Customers made their opinions clear: Two brokers from Chicago signed on to purchase flowers from Groezinger; florists placed big orders; and fresh-cut blooms sold out at local farmers’ markets. Clara Joyce Farms became a go-to local farm for cut flowers for weddings and events.

It’s All About the Team

Drew employs two full-time and three part-time workers who help with planting, harvesting, packing, maintenance, payroll, responding to emails, and posting on social media, explaining, “There is so much value in having a team behind you. If I didn’t have them on my team, I couldn’t be able to do this. You can do a lot of the work, but you can’t do it all.”

A strong team is one of the biggest reasons Groezinger knows he can follow through on plans to expand the farm. He has access to an additional five acres of land on his family’s property, and a local landowner has more ground available if he needs it.

In five years, he hopes to hire a farm manager to handle day-to-day operations, secure accounts with florists nationwide, and expand the floral design portion of the business.

“I really love the relationships of working with florists and brides…because that’s my opportunity as a local agriculturalist to kind of bring the small grower and the American floral industry to the forefront,” he says. “For the vast majority of our consumers, especially our wedding and event clients, flowers are flowers—until they get involved with us, have an opportunity to come visit the farm and see where their flowers are coming from and then they get a true appreciation for local flowers.”

Sounds like the young kid from Stockton, Illinois will do just fine.