Trust in the Fern: FernTrust supplies foliage for arrangements locally and beyond
It’s not a far drive from the sun and surf of the beach, but in this rural northwest corner of Volusia County, the waves are green and not blue.
Pierson is known as the Fern Capital of the World, and for generations, the namesake plant, and other agriculture, have fed the economy and traditions here.
Traveling through the countryside, glimpses of the ferns can be seen under canopies of protective netting, gently blowing in the wind. Fronds will be cut and exported across the globe to be used in floral arrangements and other decorations.
An estimated 80% of the foliage supplying the United States and Canadian markets are harvested in northwest Volusia County.
One contributor to the impressive statistic is FernTrust. It was founded as a co-op in 1986 when several growers, wanting to break into the cut foliage market, did not have the overall volume to supply the market.
“Local growers banded together to what came to be FernTrust,” says Victoria Register Hunter, director of sales and marketing. Today, there are seven growers as part of the trust, contributing to the region’s growing reputation.
Victoria’s father, David Register, now executive vice president, was part of the co-op from the beginning.
“I was born into what we call diversified agriculture. I am currently the fifth generation agriculturalist in my family,” David says. “My grandfather started growing foliage in 1960 before I was born. Growing up, we had some foliage, but also had several orange groves that we farmed.”
Unfortunately, a series of freezes in the 1980s cut the family’s orange tree production. That’s when cut foliage became a focus for the family operation.
Like the other half-dozen members, Register’s growth operations produce the ferns and other products. Acting like a clearing house, the trust is responsible for everything past the growing point for the farmers.
“Once a product is ready to harvest, FernTrust comes in and does all of the cutting, packing, marketing and selling of the foliage,” says Victoria. She notes the co-op offers more than 200 different varieties of foliage every day.
“Those products are grown both locally and outsourced from California, Washington, North Carolina and South America,” Victoria says. “We try to be your one-stop shop for everything foliage.
“Although our main focus is on larger wholesale customers, we do also provide product direct to event planners, small flower shops and even your everyday homeowner just wanting something nice for their home.”
Foliage that David grows includes more than 10 varieties, with the majority being leatherleaf. Other foliages he grows include magnolia, monstera and weeping podocarpus.
“FernTrust and I have had a very profitable and enjoyable relationship since 1986,” David says. “I have been able to travel the world and meet florists and foliage users from all over. I love getting to meet artistic-minded people, especially with my farming background.”
In the 35-plus years of operations, the co-op has seen lots of change, including an increase of small farmers being bought out by larger growers, notes Victoria.
That’s where the strength of the co-op comes into play. One of the largest benefits is that the co-op structure allows all funds to go straight to the growers without being taxed at the corporate level, she adds.
“It is great to be able to let the growers do what they do best and let us in the sales department do what we do best. We can both focus on what we need to do while benefiting both parties.”
FernTrust averages between 100-150 employees, depending on the time of year. David says peak times are Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas.
Fronds are cut every day, too, for everyday occasions, something that David thinks about as he looks over his growth of ferns.
“It is really great to be able to see the foliage that I produce in its final designs after the artists have worked their magic,” he says. “It is nice to think about, as a foliage farmer, how my products can touch people on some of the most important and special days of their lives, days such as weddings, anniversaries and even celebrations of life. I just hope that what I grow can make those days just a little more special.”
Photos courtesy of FernTrust