Delight Flower Farm GROWS

Words from Farmer Holly:

Every time I step off an airplane in the golden state of California I recognize a seemingly distinct smell of the air, a smell that feels familiar and comforting and still holds a sense of home.  I think it’s a concoction of the sea, the mountains,  the dryness, and the plant life that grows year around.  It’s always there to greet me when I make my yearly visit back to the place where I spent my childhood.  With it floods in the memories of giant eucalyptus and fig trees, avocado groves, and cacti so big they start to lift the roofs off of the shed and touch the telephone line (this happened to my grandmother, see photo below!)  Plants thrive in California, the climate is constant and nourishing for the nature’s continual growth.  On my most recent trip to visit friends in San Francisco this past week, I noticed entire hillsides covered with sprawling nasturtiums and citrus was falling off of the trees, I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit of envy for such a giving climate.

It’s been 12 years since I moved to central Illinois, a move made to be closer to family, and during that time I discovered my passion for the local agriculture movement and working on farms.  I’m asked often if I want to move back to California, to the land of abundant sunshine and cascading flora.  Despite my slight climate envy, I don’t feel truly at home on the west coast anymore, I’ve uprooted and found new, enriching ground in the heart of the Midwest.

That said, one thing cannot be denied about the Midwest, and it poses a great challenge to farming.  What I’m referring to is that we have all four seasons, and winters are long and cold.  Yes, I love the colorful leaves of autumn and the fluffy white snow during the cold months, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but as a farmer in this climate it requires a special set of know-how, equipment, and infrastructure to make year-round farming possible.

2017 is a big year of growth for Delight Flower Farm, we are trying to take a leap and transition into farming full time.  We’ve expanded by branching into wholesale with local grocery stores and florists, offering weekly workshops, packaging our edible flowers, growing the CSA and business deliveries, and in so many more ways.  But ultimately, if we want to do this, we know we have to make a big investment in ourselves and in the farm.  One way we did this was just  6 short weeks ago in the form of our new 30′ x 84′ Nifty Hoops hoop house.  Nifty Hoops made a time lapse video of the build, check it out!

We couldn’t be more thrilled to have this structure on our farm now, it’s going to add months to our growing season, allowing our region to have prolonged access to locally grown flowers, further strengthening the movement for consumers to think and buy locally.  This is a big step for us, it’s going to create greater stability and capabilities for our farm.  However, we couldn’t have done this on our own, and other farms shouldn’t have to either.

Here is an important resource we used to help make this dream a reality:

EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) Grant Funding through the US Department of Agriculture

EQIP funding provides financial and technical assistance to farms looking to practice conservation techniques on their land.  We applied specifically for help with funding our greenhouse and went through a rigorous application process to be ranked high enough to receive funding.  We had to prove that our farm is a healthy habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects and that this greenhouse will help us to continue our sustainable methods of farming.

The good news? It can be done!  There is money out there from the government to help farms grow and improve! You can apply for many different things for your farm, not just a hoop house,  and different aspects of your farm might increase or decrease your ranking.  The bad news?  The application process is truly not easy and needs to be started months in advance in order to complete all the components.  Plan ahead and persevere! Double check that you are completing all the steps correctly and follow up with your local office regularly to make sure you are on the right track.

Find more info here: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/eqip/

 

 

We’ve Been Bzzzy!

Things are buzzing down on the farm! No, really.

Introducing our newest friends – a hive of bees! These pollinators have moved into a brand new hive just off the edge of the Delight Farm. The land where we grow flowers is already home to an impressive array of beneficial insects, and these bees are joining the party! Bulking up our pollinator population helps us live our mission to grow flowers that are good for the Earth and its many inhabitants.

We’re Burnin’ Up!

Ever wonder how farmers don’t go crazy over weed pressure? Introducing our #1 love – landscape fabric. This durable, water-permeable fabric helps to keep nutrient-hungry weeds under control so our flowers don’t experience increased stress and competition. But we can’t just roll it out and get planting – first, we gotta BURN! We burn holes in the landscape fabric to create a customized bed layout. We use a homemade stencil and flame-weeder to create the patterns in the fabric. The beauty of this resource is that, once the holes are in, we can use this fabric year after year! We love finding materials that can be reused or repurposed on the farm, so you can see why we cherish our landscape fabric so!

S O L D  O U T !

We did it! Our 2017 CSA shares are completely sold out! We’re stoked to bring fresh + beautiful flowers to our community shareholders in the name of land stewardship, healthy economies, flower justice, and downright DELIGHT! If you missed out on the CSA, but still want to get our flowers weekly, check out our pre-packaged arrangements available at Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana, and Harvest Market in Champaign.

Take it with you…

Need to hit that floral refresh button? Pick up some Delight at Harvest Market in Champaign starting this Wednesday afternoon! We’ll have freshly harvested and arranged bunches for sale in the floral display – just look left when you walk in the door! Take pride knowing these beauties were grown less than 7 miles from the store.

 

Yoga with Goats! May 28!

Come on down to the farm for some good movement and good laughs. This yoga class – taught by local yoga instructor and Delight Flower Farm owner, Maggie Taylor – will take a goofy twist on plain ol’ yoga. It will include some yoga postures, breath-work, and a little cuddling with goats! Bring your sense of humor and keep your expectations open! Everyone is welcome.

Class is May 28th from 4-5 pm. In the event of rain, class will be held in the remodeled barn located on the farm. Cost is $15 in advance, $20 day-of. Reserve your spot here! Bring a mat if you have one, there will be some available for use, too!

Announcement: Medicinal Herbs by Delight!

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Happy spring, friends!

We’ve made it no secret: this past year was one of immense growth for Delight Flower Farm. We quadrupled our growing space, got serious about business operations, expanded our markets, hosted our own classes and workshops, and gathered more people than ever into our circle of sustained community support.

But, much like the slowly creeping rootstalk of a persistent perennial plant, we surely continue to grow.

We’re incredibly excited to share that Delight will begin growing, processing, and selling medicinal herbs and herbal products this year! We have already seeded some long-beloved medicinal plants in the greenhouse: chamomile, eucalyptus, calendula, holy basil, lavender, arnica, sage, hyssop, St. John’s wort, and many more! These herbs and flowers will be used to prepare teas, bath supplies, body care products, and other herbal remedies for our customers.

We hope that these plants and these products will further our mission to foster awareness of and connection to the natural world, all while inspiring our customers to take good care of themselves – body and soul. It’s becoming more clear to the masses: growing food and flowers locally is essential to the sustained health of the planet’s and our bodies’ respective ecosystems. Using locally-grown medicinal plants adds another dimension to this picture of whole health.

Meet our herbalist!

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Liz is a budding herbalist with a deep appreciation for the inimitable power and grace of plants, and an insatiable appetite for learning. She has worked with medicinal plants in her own life for years. She works to strengthen her relationship with plants, and her understanding of a holistic approach to herbal medicine through self-study and structured herbalist trainings. In the spring of 2016, she began voraciously experimenting with the practice of medicine making. (Check out a little snap of her pop-up apothecary from last summer!) Since then she has studied medicine making techniques and herb cultivation through the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in Weaverville, NC, as well as the science behind herbal constituents (or what one might call the “active ingredients” in a plant) at the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism in Boulder, CO. Liz is undeniably called to work with plants; to help them grow, to understand their uses, and to share them with her community. Their medicine is simple, but mighty.

Keep on the lookout for updates about our new herbal endeavors, like:

  • our DIY skin care class at Harvest Mark in April, sign up here!
  • herb-of-the-month updates in our e-newsletters
  • launch of new products and wholesale opportunities
  • more workshops and classes on DIY herbal remedies

Thanks for reading, friends. May the lightness of spring sink in deeply!

On growth: science, wildness, and community!

What causes one plant to thrive in a particular location and another to wither up and die? First, there’s the obvious answer of growing conditions: the right nutrients in the soil, neither too much nor too little water/sun, the proper temperatures for that particular variety of species needs, adequate space to grow to the size of the plant, and the countless other scientific/measurable factors. Second, there’s the more mysterious, ambiguous, seemingly random conditions. Natural factors such as an animal depositing the seed in a particular location. Maybe it was a bird dropping a seed by way of its feces. Or did it just happen to blow into the right spot by way of the wind? Or, perhaps, the first year of a perennial plant’s growth happens to be a particularly wet year which gives it just what is needed for establishing robust roots. This second answer is part-mystery, the wild essence of nature, or some might credit it to divine intervention. We’ll call it the “faith factor.”

Recently, we were asked to speak to a group of new farmers in training. We focused the subject of our lecture to our farm’s rate of growth. We hoped this would illustrate for inexperienced farmers that you don’t need to start with lots of cash or even a wealth of knowledge (for example: you don’t have to be raised in a farm family) to start a successful small farm. Our farm began with virtually no start-up capital. In fact, reflecting back on my first year farming, six seasons ago, in 2011, I remember spending less than $100 of my own money on seeds, bulbs, and tools. However, one of the most interesting factors in Delight Flower Farm’s growth has been our dependence on community support. From the beginning our farm has operated primarily on the CSA model. In that first year I had eight shareholders investing in the farm (at which time I thought of it more as a “garden project” than a “farm”). It was just enough money to help with initial expenses (rented rototiller, compost, mulch, some jars, a few shovels, a hand-build-bike-trailer, etc.)

Beyond the financial support these CSA members provided, they communicated confidence and trust in me to try the project. This “faith factor” motivated me to work hard throughout the season to deliver on their expectations. Speaking in terms of a young entrepreneur, motivation to succeed and work hard is essential for making a business work.  Each successive year included more community members’ support. Our farm has had people backing us from the beginning. What’s so splendid about the CSA model is these community stakeholders share both the risk and the abundance of the season.

Our growth rate has drastically increased in the last two years as we take on greater risks (we’re planning a high tunnel construction project Spring 2017, which will enable us to extend our growing season) and we continue to expand the amount of land we grow on. Also, our community support has exponentially increased- this year we delivered arrangements to local restaurants, and businesses, in addition to our weekly CSA pick-up, (which had 30 shareholders this year!) We sold at a few farmers markets, pop-up shops, and made countless (although we do count them!) custom orders. We also made the leap from farmer to florist when we provided floral services for four local weddings. We recently started selling wholesale to Common Ground Food Co-op so community members can regularly pick up flowers conveniently at a local store for a last minute dinner party or a get-well flower arrangement for a friend during our growing season. We have created several value-added products (industry lingo) to sell at winter markets (look for our packaged teas, wreaths, herbal medicine, dried flower arrangements, etc. at the First Friday Imbibe Urbana Holiday Market, Dec 2nd as well as some other indoor winter markets).

In fact,  a “brief” summary of our growth this last year is impossible because it’s been anything but small. We have grown in HUGE ways, which is a credit to both the measurable conditions and the seemingly random factors. Yet, the core of our farm and business success is still people in our community having faith in us. When our community invests in our growth, and believes in our ability to navigate the challenges of farming we are inspired, motivated, and indeed, we flourish! We are a people-powered farm and this “factor” is why we thrive. On that note, we’re not ashamed to plug this: it’s time to sign up for the 2017 CSA! Enroll now- when we can put your finances to use with planning and purchasing for the 2017 season and while the rate is at its’ lowest cost to you.

Thanks for your continued support. -Maggie

Natural Dye.

There never seems to be a shortage of fun activities to do in the fall. As it flies by (which it always seems to do in the Midwest) we do our best to take advantage of time outside, observing and honoring nature’s wise rhythms. Dyeing with plants is a fun and fascinating way to preserve the miraculous beauty of summer and fall.

One of the coolest aspects of using natural dyes is the low cost of dye materials. They can be wildcrafted, grown in your garden, or collected from the kitchen’s compost. A lot of native trees, perennial plants, as well as common annual flowers and herbs, make fabulous dyes. So, your options for color are quite varied!

Here are just a few of the many regional sources for natural dye:

marigold
black walnut
elder
apple tree leaves and bark
bloodroot
echinacea
calendula
onion skin
avocado skin and pit
sunflower head
black eyed susan
sumac flower

And that’s really just scratching the surface.

After gathering dye materials, one must bring together fire, water, metal (or a mordant), natural fibers (from plants or animals) and time to initiate a truly beautiful alchemical process. All of these elements and factors can be modified to create different dye outcomes. Different fibers take on hues differently depending on what mordants and plants are used. So, no two hand dyed garments are ever really alike. Dyeing with plants is a way to allow the plants to express themselves, and preserve their beauty in a special way.

Join Delight Flower Farm and local educator Nora Love on Saturday, October 22 from 1-3 PM at the farm for a natural dye workshop! We will be dyeing with marigolds, and experimenting with using alum as a mordant. Bring an item of clothing to dye – it’s best if the garment is made of a natural fiber (wool, cotton, hemp, silk, linen, etc.) and is already light colored. Come ready to harvest marigolds, and dye clothes over an open fire!

The cost of the class is $20 at “the door,” but scholarships are available. Email delightcsa@gmail.com if you’re interesting in a scholarship opportunity. The farm is located at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery at 4410 N. Lincoln Ave., Champaign, IL 61822

Five things I learned this season.

This year brought on a lot of changes for Delight. Here are a few lessons that I learned over the course of this busy summer. 

1. When things fall by the wayside, don’t be hard on yourself.

We are three very busy women who are trying to run a budding business while still working day jobs, so it can be hard to find the time to get things done on the farm. Thank the heavens (literally) for long summer days, or we’d never get our CSA harvests done. (We definitely harvested in the dark a couple of times this summer.) Still, even with more daylight and three pairs of hands, there are tasks that fall through the cracks, goals that get modified, and dreams that are shelved for the season. This year, our plan to put up a fence around our less-than-a-quarter acre of planted land got tabled again and again. Each week, we found that we didn’t have the time to invest in this project. Trust me, we paid the price for tabling that task. We struggled to keep visitors from trampling young daffodils and tulips; to keep our dogs from plowing full speed through the middle of rows; to keep goats from midnight-snacking on our sunflower crop. That goat hurdle was our “last straw” moment. Now, just as the season for cut flowers is wrapping up in our zone, we’re putting up a fence. It’s OK! Not great, but surely OK. We certainly would have benefited from getting this bad boy up earlier, but the rush could have potentially compromised the integrity of the structure, or put a big strain on our already strained work/life juggling acts, or put us in a financially sticky place, or, or, or. I have to believe that this fence is going up at exactly the right time. And in the end, we’re getting it done with help from our amazing mentors and friends.

Short of it: There will always be tasks, goals, or dreams that fall (or get pushed) to the wayside. When that happens, don’t be hard on yourself.

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Rigging up the Kubota for unrolling fencing!

2. Divide and conquer.

As I said, we’re three busy ladies. And although we love working and playing together, it’s not always efficient to operate the farm that way. This year, we found that more land means more tasks, and that getting it all done means less people doing more things all at once. Early on, ‘divide and conquer’ was deemed our route to less wasted time. Now, we try our best to split up responsibilities, and time at the farm. The beauty of having three heads in the game, is that we can all fit in farm time when it works for us. If we can all get in the field at the same time, that’s great. But it’s not necessary for us to fill orders and tend to ongoing projects.

Short of it: We try to split up the work, and we still end up goofing off all together on occasion.

3. Don’t leave your clippers in the field.

Easy enough – just don’t do it. Don’t think, “Oh yeah, I’m leaving them right by that pink zinnia row, got it. Yeah, got it. I’ll find them. Not worried about it.” You will lose them. You will have to buy new ones.

Short of it: I said it once before, but it bears repeating. Don’t leave your clippers in the field.

4. Actually, don’t always use clippers to harvest.

Our goddess of a mentor, Linda Chapman of Harvest Moon Flower Farm, told us about the wonders of harvesting with box cutters early this spring. I’m definitely a believer. Box cutters are cheaper and often more durable than floral clippers, they get a great cut on the stem if your blade is nice and sharp, and they save our hands and wrists from repetitive stress of squeezing clippers over and over. All of us want to continue to farm, while trying our best to keep our bodies healthy and strong. Any tricks or strategies that can protect the body and ensure longevity of tendons, joints and muscles is worth trying.

Short of it: Try swapping a box cutter for clippers during harvest.

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Our cooler, finally parked at the farm, after enduring a dangerous and crazy quest.

5. Break the rules.

I risk getting us into some trouble with this one, but breaking the rules came in handy this season. Early in the summer, we were in the market for a walk-in cooler for flower storage. Our beloved mentor says you’re not a real flower farmer until you’re using one. She’s right to some degree – a cooler undoubtedly changes the game. After a bit of searching, we found one online – right size, right price. One problem: it was in Wisconsin. So we took a leap, rented a truck strong enough to haul this massive cooler home, loaded up the dogs, and hit the road. Let’s just say – it took thousands of dollars, hundreds of miles, many generous angels, a couple broken laws, two new tires, and one minute of shit-scared-stressed-out tears to get this cooler home. We did it. It was one of the riskiest things I’ve ever done, and I don’t regret it one bit. We wouldn’t have this cooler today had we not bent and broken the rules a bit.

Short of it: Break the rules when the universe gives you the go-ahead.

-Liz

 

 

Things are hoppin’ on the farm!

Flush, abundant, bloomin’, full-speed-ahead, busy -are all descriptors for this time of year on a Midwestern flower farm. We’ve been buzzing with lots of activity on Delight Flower Farm as you might have noticed on our various social media feeds. Here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to.

Our first annual Hops Plant Sale for Father’s Day weekend was mid-June at Sipyard in downtown Urbana with music by the lovely Matt and Claire of Meadowhawk. It was a grand success. We met a bunch of friendly local brewers, herbalists, and gardeners and sold some plants too.

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Sunflower (Zinnia, Honeywort, Sage, Nasturtium, Daisy, Gooseneck, etc!) harvest has begun!!!

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Business deliveries:: This year we’ve added several new businesses to our regular delivery route. Thanks for your support, Watson’s Shack and Rail, Country Financial, Living Yoga Center, Green Yoga Spa, and Reisman Law Office. We’re glad to brighten up your work spaces with fresh flowers.

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CSA on-farm pick up. This year, we’ve changed the shareholders’ pick up format from years’ past. This new location and structure -just a short 2 hour pick up window on the farm-puts the big “C” back into our flower CSA. Being able to greet shareholders in person each week  and have shareholders meet each other really does feel like it cultivates community (& the fuzzy baby goats sweeten the deal!)

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Thanks for keepin’ up with our growth (pun intended)!

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Snapshots from this weekend’s wedding!

There’s a trend amongst flower growers these days to be both farmer and florist (see #fieldtoflorist #seedtovase #farmerflorist etc.) We gave that concept a run this weekend for a friendly Urbana couple. It was a bit nerve racking to do flowers for our first “full service” wedding. The learning curve felt pretty much vertical, but it affirmed to us that we’re doing what we love and we’re capible of doing it! (High fives all around!) Congrats, Sophie and Andrew. It was an honor to have a special role in your big pizza party! Here’s a little glimpse from field to vase (& hair piece!)









Office to Earth

Sometimes, farming looks like this:

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or this:

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This past winter really challenged us to put on our big-girl-pants and get serious about: budgeting, marketing, crop planning, ordering on time, writing a business plan, drafting contracts, forming an entity, creating a partnership agreement, and answering more emails than ever before. All of this behind-the-scenes work has meant a lot of late night meetings – meetings that can only happen after we’ve all finished our day jobs – that occasionally involve a way-too-late cup of coffee. (Tip: if you’re looking for a good laugh courtesy of three over-caffeinated farmer gals, try attending one of our Tuesday night meetings.) But, I tell ya, we’re ready (oh-so-ready) for a change of scenery. It’s nearly time to trade laptops for clipboards, iPhones for shovels, and notebooks for blooms.

We’ve started moving our starts out of the greenhouse and into the light of these gorgeous spring days. It feels good to be able to bring flats home from the greenhouse and nurture them right on our back porches. The warm sun, rain and gentle breezes will gradually help the flowers grow stronger and heartier, so that they’ll be able to weather the summer elements. Another exciting development from this week: bed prep! Wes Jarrell of Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery got out in the field early this week to mow down the rye poking up in our beds. Next, we will till and make necessary soil amendments, and then the beds will be ready for our mighty little transplants.

We know there’s a lot of hard work ahead, but we’re so excited to get our hands dirty. We are ready for the reaffirming and invigorating work that goes on during the summer. It’s easy to lose sight of the dear magic of plants when we have our noses pressed to glowing screens. Still, balance is a key to steady success and contentment – we need the quiet planning of winter to balance the colorful chaos of spring and summer.

This week, after a bout of tulip harvesting, we all had a chance to lay in the grass on our humble little piece of land (no shoes, no cell phones). A deep breath all together in the evening sun gave us a little glimpse of summer’s sweetnesses to come.

Spring Planting [and all things in between]

We graduated from the Farm Beginnings course mid-February. This course offered through The Land Connection is a 5 month-long farm training program that takes place at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery all day every other Saturday. The course taught us so many farming and business skills to grow in new ways.  We completed a thorough business plan (18 pages worth!) and presented it to our classmates for feedback. We ordered new business cards, and hit the ground running.  The last month and a half has been busy with much happening “behind the scenes.” We are adapting to new formats/systems, and many “firsts”.  So far, it’s been wonderful.

We are renting a shared greenhouse space out at Green Island Farm Collective in northeast Urbana.  Green Island Farm Collective is another budding farm. They’re present at Urbana’s Market on the Square and have a permaculture/vegetable CSA.  Already we have started as many seeds as we planted all season last year.  We are on a rotation of each going to the greenhouse every other day to check on the seedlings, start a few more flats of seeds (according to our seed planting schedule), and give everything a watering.  We’re planting a lot of new flowers, and all of our old favorites too–the process has felt so good to get into.

We also did another exciting thing in March: we met and visited our farm mentor!  As part of our Farm Beginnings we are paired with a farm that is near in proximity and with a similar vision. We can visit and learn from through this year.  We were introduced to Linda Chapman and her flower farm in Spencer, Indiana–Harvest Moon Flower Farm.  We worked alongside Linda, and camped on her land for two days during our Spring Break. She taught us about greenhouses, winter growing, wedding flower how-to, more efficient planting methods, awesome tools (like a vibra-seeder?!), arranging, drying, seeding, what supplies and products are must-haves, and much more. We really packed in a lot of learning and on-farm work in a short time. And if you know us, you know we had a lot of laughs together too! It was a great experience. We couldn’t imagine a better match. We plan to go back in a few months when things are really in full swing.

Things at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery, the home of our flower farm this year, are coming alive.  This Saturday will be our first Saturday setting up a table at their Spring Breakfast Open House. They open the barn doors for visitors to play with the baby goats, eat delicious pastries, and drink coffee or goat’s milk hot chocolate.  We’ll be selling flowers, signing up folks for CSA shares, and letting people know about all that we’re doing this year!  We have daffodils bursting open, woody blooming apple branches, and forsythia. Tulips are just behind them (for next week we hope!)  These Spring Open Houses are happening every Saturday from 9am-noon until April 30th, come see us and our farm!