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

The Flower Farmer’s Ethic

“Think globally, act locally.”

The phrase of our time, a time where we have become aware of the fragility of life on this planet and the impact we humans have on it.  The locals of Urbana know that the Saturday farmer’s market has become so crowded that walking through the first two rows can be like floating through a sea of people, it’s so crowded it can sometimes be described as stressful!  But assuredly it’s better than the alternative, people of this area love to shop for local produce and goods, and believe it’s worth the premium price and effort.  It seems people are starting to change the decisions they are making regarding the type of food they are purchasing, and in turn, putting into their bodies.  The correlation between these choices and the health of the planet and one’s self has become commonly pronounced undeniable.  People are starting to see that chemicals on food means it gets absorbed by the food, in the ground, in the water, effects the bug biosphere, our health, etc. People are starting to say, I don’t want that.

But it seems the flower industry is still not quite up with the times.  Organic, and even local, flowers are few and far between, even nowadays when the organic and local movement is so trendy and publicly justified.  The flower industry is HUGE, and the use of pesticides and chemicals is just as dangerous as that in the produce industry, it still effects our planet, the local environment, and our own health.  You don’t want to stick your nose in a bouquet sprayed with chemicals, do you?

On a recent trip to New Orleans I did some research at a Whole Foods to see what the going rate for “sustainably grown” flowers was–and wanted to see what “sustainably grown” meant. What I found was surprising!  All the flowers they carried were shipped from South America, even in the dead of summer.  Why weren’t they buying locally?!  I also noticed they were all labeled “responsibly grown”, but not “chemical free”, which I wondered about.  And their prices? Very comparable to our flowers on a weekly basis, if not pricier.  I’m sure at the local farmer’s market I could have found some locally grown flowers, but much like Urbana and towns everywhere, your local grocery stores and one-stop-shops aren’t selling the local flowers, they are selling flowers shipped from all over the world, which like produce, isn’t the most ideal when it comes to fossil fuels, and are grown with chemicals.

Here is a quiz another local flower farmer gave at a class we just participated in, it gives the breakdown of the current flower situation:

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We grow flowers at Delight Flower Farm to provide a local and chemical free option for the people in and around our area.  We hope to enhance the planet with our farm, and provide joy to all living beings through flowers.

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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 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.