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

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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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!

Upcoming classes!

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Flower Power (class) at Common Ground Food Co-op, Saturday, August 29th, 2-3 pm. $5 owner/ $10 non-owner In this workshop learn many benefits of growing flowers (good for bees, good for veggies, good for the environment, and good for you!). Participants will learn cut flower basics, plant seeds to tend at home. Join us and enjoy the delight of flowers!

Cut Flower Workshop (with The Land Connection) at Illinois Willows, Sunday, September 13th, 1-4 pm. $35/person Fresh, local, flowers are in high demand, as they pop up at weddings, at farmers’ markets, and in CSAs. Learn the basics of production, processing, and marketing from three local experts: Joan Jach of Old Town Flowers, Maggie Taylor of Delight Flower CSA, and Kent Miles of Illinois Willows.

Week 8

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This week features surprise lilies (as well as the other favorites you’ve come to know this season: Queen Anne’s Lace, Zinnia, Tansy, Sunflowers, etc.)

Week 6 & 7: the bee’s knees

IMG_6475.JPGThe days have been sunny, hot, and humid. The height of excellence in this flower season by far. Our sunflowers are so huge, sculptural and prolific. We’ve been daydreaming about making their wide, seed-filled heads into outdoor shower nozzles. Do you think it would work?! 😉

I think both Liz and Holly have officially declared sunflowers as their absolute/enduring favorite flowers. I keep changing my mind. I’m easily smitten by whatever is currently blooming. Lately, Queen Anne’s Lace has been pushing to the top of my favorites list again. I mean, what’s not to love about these shapes?

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Week 5 :: nourishing sun & weekly offerings

We are so grateful for the warmth we’ve had this past week. The flowers needed that good, nourishing sun to make some food! And the soil was in need of some drying. The difference between weeks of endless rain and weeks of sunshine definitely shows. This week we harvested lots of queen anne’s lace, gladiolas, zinnias, black-eyed susans, sunflowers, pink sunday sage, marigolds, and the last of the goosenecks. The colors in the garden ranged from deep oranges, to dreamy purples, with buttery yellows and bright pinks in between. There was one sunflower whose head was almost as big as any of ours, roughly 7 feet tall, with a thick stem. We decided not to cut this baby, but to leave her standing tall in the entryway of the garden. Thank you, sunny guardian!

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:: speaking of thanks ::

Just before our first harvest of the season, and just after weeks of preparing the garden in oh, so many ways for the season, my mother and I took a trip all the way across the world to Bali.  It’s marvelous to me, to know that people all over the world celebrate life every day in a different kind of way.  While so many parts of my trip and this new country struck me as remarkably unique, one of my favorite things that I witnessed was the daily offering, which no visitor of Bali could go without experiencing.

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Outside nearly every doorstep, on every street, in every town we visited, people would set out a daily offering to the gods, called a Canang Sari, consisting of an assortment of flower, incense, food tidbits, tobacco, whatever one had to give just  little of–all wrapped up in a little box, handmade out of a coconut leaf.  Walking through the streets we often would smell incense burning for blocks and see groups of friends making more little boxes for the days to come.  So many people we spoke with while there expressed an appreciation for the gifts of every day, and the desire to recognize them and to give back–this notion I loved and shared with them, and upon coming home I wanted to make sure  could hold on to this sort of kinship with life, and others in it.  

-Holly

:: back in the garden ::

When we got into the garden for harvest #1, we were all so excited to see the first teddy bear sunflower (named for its fluffy, shaggy aesthetic) ripe for picking. It was a bit early for sunflowers, so this early bloomer seemed so special. We talked about who might get that one in their CSA bundle that week. As Holly went to harvest it, the flower’s stem snapped all too close to the head. It was too short to put in a bundle. We shared some ‘ahhs’ and ‘awws’ about it. But not for long. Holly suggested we make it our offering for the day. “This is what they would do in Bali,” she said, as she placed the flower floating face-up in a bowl left over from that morning’s breakfast. She laid the bowl in the center of the garden, where the ray-shaped flower beds met to complete the sun-inspired garden layout. Now, we make offerings almost every week.

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It’s often that a beautiful flower’s stem snaps in an unfortunate place during the day’s harvest, making it unsuitable for the CSA bundles. In an effort to memorialize it’s beauty, and show gratitude for all of the beauty that surrounds us inside and outside of the garden, we offer it up – sometimes to the universe, or to the “gods”, maybe even to each other and this amazing opportunity that we share. Whether it’s a snapped sunflower, or a shorty-marigold, or a droopy gladiola bloom, we give thanks.

 

Week 3

We’re bouncing back!

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Flowers feature this week include:: Queen Anne’s Lace, Zinnia, Sundlower, Gooseneck, Black-eyed Susan, Marigold, Snap dragon, and purple coneflower.

Week 2 :: AKA June Monsoon

The scene this week on Thursday morning was wet/wet/wet. We did manage to harvest a bit in between thunderstorms.

Featured flowers :: Gooseneck, Redbeckia, Daisy, Snapdragon, Zinnia, Calla Lily, Queen Anne’s Lace, Asparagus Greens & Lemon Balm

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