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Jasperse Gardens returns to Fulton Street Farmers Market

The Jasperse Family began selling flowers at the Fulton Street Farmers Market in the early part of the 20th century. The Our Goodness is Growing campaign provided an opportunity for the family to be part of the market again and to revive memories of growing flowers--and family.
My dad Paul Jasperse (left), his brothers, and a few friends on their flower transporters

My dad Paul Jasperse (left), his brothers, and a few friends on their flower transporters /John Jasperse archives

Underwriting support from:

Our Goodness is Growing

Join the effort to support local farmers by contributing to the Our Goodness is Growing campaign for the Fulton Street Farmers Market.

Old sign from the Jasperse family farm on Cascade Road

Old sign from the Jasperse family farm on Cascade Road /Carol Lautenbach

Original Jasperse Gardens business card

Original Jasperse Gardens business card /John Jasperse archives

“Pop the flower head off the stem with your thumb. Hold the wire in your right hand and the flower in your left hand. Push the wire through from bottom of the flower, just a little off-center and about two inches above the flower head. Make a small bend in the wire. Pull the wire back down so it locks in tight. Keep going until you have enough for a bouquet.”

My dad, Paul Jasperse, taught me how to do this almost a half-century ago. He and his family grew straw flowers at the homestead on Cascade Road, and he was passing on the tricks of the trade to me and my three siblings around the kitchen table in suburban Detroit, Michigan. After wiring about a dozen flower heads, my fingers got sore and I went off to do other things that kids do.

My dad was not a farmer by trade. He was a CPA and Arthur Andersen partner, but he loved the soil and growing things, an interest that was planted in the 1930s dirt of Cascade Road and carried to the Fulton Street Farmers Market by bicycle each week.  

His brothers, too, pedaled flowers, and his parents manned the Jasperse Gardens stall, #114, at the market for 32 years, starting in 1925. The Jasperse story on Cascade Road started when my grandparents moved from Chicago to the farm. Grandpa Jasperse worked in a book store in the big city, but he gave up the book-selling business and took up gardening as a profession, working for a variety of employers who owned large East Grand Rapids homes and accompanying gardens that needed tending.

1925 soon faded into the Great Depression, and flowers took a backseat to other basic needs. My grandma wasn’t one to wait for opportunity to come her way, though, so she filled the backseat of her car with bouquets and developed a twice-weekly home delivery route that included streets like Paris, Madison and College. A mother of five boys doesn’t mess around.

Summertime was productive, with growing and delivering keeping the whole family busy. My grandpa, a true entrepreneur, developed the idea of the straw flower, to fill the fresh flower void in the winter. In an era in which women didn’t venture too far from home, my Grandma Jasperse not only headed west to capitalize on the business potential of the city, but on winter Saturdays she also headed north, east, and south, with two of my uncles in tow, to sell flowers door to door in Belding, Greenville, Ionia, Lansing, and Hastings, netting up to $300 in one day. Regular inventory and flowers that didn’t sell on Saturdays were shipped to local dime stores as well as to Woolworth and Kresge in Cleveland, Detroit, and other cities. A nickel and dime was plenty to buy a bouquet and, over time, four Jasperse boys were nickeled and dimed to college.
Jasperse' flowers--fresh and straw--also popped up at a variety of farm markets in town. Fulton Street wasn’t the only place for city dwellers to get farm-fresh wares; Leonard Street and Cottage Grove had markets as well, and my grandparents sold flowers at all of them. All the boys would help assemble bouquets and flowers in the basement and dining room on Cascade Road, and they would bike in to the markets with goods to offer.

When my grandpa died in 1956, my grandma continued the family business. A cousin recalled that he always assumed that she worked there for an extended period of time, next to her friend and competitor Mrs. Warple. However, the true story, he wrote, is that she kept up the market business for only a year: “It’s funny how your memory works. I would have bet big money I saw Grandma at the Fulton Street Market for many years.” Grandma Jasperse would smile if she could see what good things the Our Goodness is Growing campaign has wrought.

Eventually, Grandma left the farm too, and she moved into Holland Home Fulton Manor, within walking distance of the market that had helped sustain her family. When my childhood family would travel from Detroit to visit her, Grandma and I would walk to the market with her wheeled wire cart, and I’d pull it back to her home, full of farm goodness. While flowers were sometimes a part of the take, gladiolus never filled her basket. My cousin reports that she had a great disdain for them: “Funeral flowers,” she said.

My mom and dad returned to southeast Grand Rapids in the 1980s. Dad’s frequent trips from his Breton and Burton neighborhood out to the Cascade Road homestead were the norm, to consult about tomato varieties or the seedlings he had started in Uncle Bob’s greenhouse. I’m sure that “What’s in at the market?” was part of the conversation too.

Farm markets were a big part of my childhood--from Detroit’s Eastern Market to Saturday morning visits to Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown market to, of course, the Fulton Street Farmers Market. As my sister Lori noted, “Dad was local and organic before that was cool.” I am so very proud of our family’s contribution to the grassroots effort that will help preserve and strengthen local farmers in West Michigan, promote healthy eating and honor a family legacy.

My dad passed away in 1996. His roots mattered to him, and, whether family members live near or far from the corner of Fuller and Fulton, those flower-growing roots have shaped and sustained the family tree well into a new century. Goodness certainly is growing.  

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