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

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