Hi, my name is Michael Wellik. I prefer to be called Mike. I’m trained as an economic entomologist but I have done a variety of things. I grew up on a livestock farm in Northern Iowa, the oldest of 8 kids. Growing things is in my blood.
I worked for two universities, Iowa State and Texas A&M. When the PhD program I was in was discontinued I took a job with a pesticide manufacturer. For 8 years I conducted research and was involved with sales. The traveling life wasn’t for me so I got involved with horticulture. I built greenhouses and started growing and selling ornamentals like poinsettias, Easter flowers and bedding plants. Perennials were just starting to show up in commerce so I grew perennials.
It wasn’t long and I figured out that the margins were low and competition was brutal. I had always wanted to grow strawberries. I remember picking strawberries in my mother’s large patch. One of my trips to Michigan took me to the UP. I met a family that had given each of their children some land to grow pick-your-own strawberries. This was their summer work and what they made was to be set aside for their college educations. It seemed like a lucrative business and sparked my interest in learning more about strawberries.
While growing the perennials and other crops in my greenhouses I decided to give it a shot to grow strawberries vertically in a section of the greenhouse. I used 1,000 square feet to start. This was to be a winter crop. I figured I could get a premium for the berries out of season. It turned out that back then there wasn’t a market for the berries, but I learned a lot. One thing I learned was that there are more than hybrid strawberries in the world. I found alpines and musk strawberries. Their flavor and aroma hooked me for life.
I have been collecting and growing alpine strawberries and other gourmet types of strawberries for nearly 30 years now. I sold some plants over the years through classified ads in garden magazines. My search for cultivars was a success over time. I have collected over 60 cultivars of alpine strawberries.
So, how did I get in the business? I told my wife a bunch of years ago that this is the perfect online product. I could sell seeds, plants and fruit. For a few years I went the fruit route. I grew them for a 5 star restaurant in Philadelphia. I shipped fruit around the country.
I had told my wife that when I retired I was going to sell plants and seeds. I was working for a biotech company and it became a call center. I couldn’t take it so I quit, came home and told my wife that I’m retired and now I’m going to sell plants and seeds. That was 11 years ago. We now have a network of ecommerce sites that sell gourmet strawberry seeds and plants. I save the seed for rare varieties and buy seed that is commercially available. I grew the plants myself for years but now I work with a large plug grower to supply plants to a thriving U.S. market. Seeds are sold worldwide.
It’s a dream come true. I still have a couple of years before I officially retire so I keep working at it. Still collecting cultivars. Still looking for new ways to market the products. Still looking for ways to streamline the processes. It’s still fun so I’ll keep at it. We appreciate the support we have received from many loyal customers. We hope you’ll grow some of these little wonders.