How did I get into Farming Flowers?

I get asked this question a lot, so I thought I’d make a post about it. It depends on how far back you go. I could let you know how I’ve grown flowers since I was a little girl. How my mom let me have my own garden space in all the houses we’ve lived in and let me have complete control over it. I could tell you how we would spend hours at the nursery oohing and ahhing over plants deciding which should come home with us and if we had enough space to plant them among our existing plants. These formative years have played in major role in why I grow flowers, as it’s something that has soothed my soul for as long as I can remember.

However, farming and gardening are completely different. How I landed into FARMING flowers was through bees.

Yep, that’s right. It was through our pollinator friends. I studied biology at a small liberal arts college in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and managed to land two internships during the summers of my undergrad BOTH in regards to studying native bee populations… one was through The Chicago Botanic Gardens and I was based in the prairies of Minnesota, and the other was through Oregon State University. It was both of these experiences that helped me land a summer research assistant position through UC Davis. The very next day after I graduated with my bachelors in Biology, I was driving my new leased Nissan Sentra out to California. I was doing it! This Wisconsin girl has always wanted to travel Westward, and this was my chance.

It’s safe to say that I became enamored with California right away. I was in Davis, which is a particularly charming town with an infamous farmers market, permaculture community, and beloved food Co-op. Artists are celebrated in Davis, biking is the preferred mode of transportation, and no one looked at me funny for wearing tie dye. It was safe to say, I felt home.

The pollinator research team I was a part of took me all over the county to various farms of all different sizes. We observed, counted, and took samples of native bees from farms that were huge, mono-crop, and conventional as well as from smaller, more diverse organic farms. This opened my eyes to farming in a whole new way. First off, I realized the bounty of crops that could be grown here and not just during the summer, but during the winter, too! Being from Wisconsin, my view of farming had been very limited to corn, soy, and dairy. I still remember the very first time I saw a pomegranate tree. It was full of flowers, and I was full of wonder. There are a lot of other crops I saw, and tasted for the first time. Persimmons, kumquats, jujubes, and loquats were some of those. Additionally, eating a FRESH PEACH off the tree for the first time was an ethereal experience. I had fallen in love with the idea of farming and growing all these amazing crops. I knew that when my research term was over a few months later that I would not be ready to go back to Wisconsin. So, the day came when my summer bee work was complete and I was desperate to learn farming.

 Bombus vosnesenskii on vetch

Bombus vosnesenskii on vetch

By some luck or divine order, I got a job working for Toby Hastings at Free Spirit Farm. His was my favorite farm that we studied bees at. He grew the most gorgeous organic vegetables, flowers, fruit trees, and blackberries on 3 acres. Later, he added chickens to the mix. He gave me a chance with zero farming experience, and I learned how to harvest all of these crops with speed. I learned what quality looks like as his San Francisco restaurants accounts only accepted the absolute best. I would pick his brain about growing these crops at any chance I got, and I filled my belly with the freshest and tastiest food I’ve ever experienced. I also worked harder than I ever had in my life, but felt strong, healthy, and fulfilled in doing so.

 Sun golds at Free Spirit Farm

Sun golds at Free Spirit Farm

It was my second season working for Toby when I had this Ah-hah moment. I could farm flowers I thought! I knew a lot of farmers struggled to make a decent living with growing vegetables, and I also knew that flowers were a luxury item and commanded a much higher price than vegetables. Plus, I have always been passionate about flowers! I thought my idea was brilliant, and when I get an idea, I go full force into making it happen. When I wasn’t harvesting for Toby, I was researching and dreaming of farming flowers. I bought The Flower Farmer book by Lynn Byczynski and signed up for The Specialty Cut Growers School, which took me up to Washington in the Spring of 2013 to learn from Diane Szukovathy, Dennis Westphall, Vivian Larson, and Joe Schmidt. This was incredibly eye opening, inspiring, and charged me in a way that I needed. When I returned, I got started. Through connections, I found a private piece of property to grow my flowers on in the same town as Free Spirit Farm, where I was still working. I set out to farm by spreading compost on the field, laying out irrigation, and starting seeds at my friends’ place in a dilapidated plastic hoop-house. I had grand plans of doing a flower subscription/weekly bouquet share while still working for Toby because I couldn’t afford not to have steady income. I would farm 8 hour days harvesting vegetables and then head over to my flower plot to farm another 2-3 hours before going home. My days were long, and if you are at all familiar with California central valley summers, my days were also brutal. I’ve never experienced such intense heat and nonetheless, working in it all day long. Somehow, this still didn’t deter me from farming. My bouquet subscription plan did not work out, but I did manage to have a standing order of 10 bouquets/week with the Davis Food Co-op. I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into farming and it gave me back fulfillment, abundance, and a sense of purpose. Although I realized at the end of the season that I needed to explore different options for farming, I felt hooked on farming flowers not only as a job, but a way of life.

 My first patch of zinnias

My first patch of zinnias

I’ve come a long way since this first go at flower farming. I’ve learned a lot and still am constantly learning. Mother Nature is the most humbling teacher, and I’m filled with stories of not only successes, but also epic failures. Though I have been gaining confidence of myself, as a farmer as the years go on, there was a HUGE learning curve in the beginning, not only to farming itself, but also to growing flowers in a completely different climate. Wisconsin zone 5b is vastly different from California zone 9b. I often reflect back to these earlier years of farming when I feel like things are particularly difficult. I remember how I just dove in, fearless and strong willed. I remember the joy I was gifted in return, and I know that I can keep going.

Have a look through these images to see my first go at flower farming in 2013. I’ve narrowed it down as best I could to 15 images. It’s a mixture of farm photos with some of the first bouquets I’ve made. As always, thanks for reading!