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.

image image

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

image

image

image

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.

image

image image image

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!)

image image image

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

image

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!

Delight Flower Farm Fall Updates: Farm School+Exciting New Land

IMG_7646We are doing it. We’re taking it to the next level. We are leaping!  Leaps are scary, they imply a big jump, which mean threat of free fall and unexpected landings, but in its common context, leaps are taken in faith for a brighter outcome.

We’re expanding the farm. We estimate by about 4 times in size and productivity. We are moving ground, out to a property on Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery, a goat farm and cheeserie in north Urbana.  We are expanding to offer wedding services. We are planting bulbs for spring, which will extend our start of season in 2016. We’re growing in little ways too, like establishing a logo, making merch and compiling a email list. We think the future looks quite bright for Delight Flower Farm. More land=more flowers=more business=more flower justice. [That’s the phrase we’re unofficially coining around the farm. Flower justice is implying, we grow flowers that are good for the planet and good for you.]

FullSizeRenderGrowing in all these ways is not effortless, or so we are all noticing.  More land means more projects. Planning has to start now.  These days we’ve been sourcing and planting spring bulbs for some early season flowers next year, scoping out fencing for the new plot, preparing for pest management [we may have voles…], and we’ve gone back to school.  That’s right, school!  The three of us have enrolled in a 5 month farmer training course, through The Land Connection.

It is going to help us a ton with the growth and business management side of things. We go to class for a whole Saturday every couple of weeks and hear from regional farmers about their trials and tribulations. In addition, we have plenty of readings and assignments on farm management, business planning, and organization.  It’s very stimulating and enjoyable, and so fun to be back in a learning environment. But the adjustment is real and takes focus, new sacrifices, and organization. That’s ok–this is what it takes to transform and take steps towards where we want to go. It’s nice to be reminded that we can keep growing even when the flowers are dormant.

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:

0914151828b 0914151828d

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.

20752874152_69cb2279a2_k

Week 9

IMG_6931.JPG

IMG_6930.JPG

IMG_6933.JPG
We can’t believe it’s come to week 9/10 already! In fact, I’m late on publishing this post from last week and we are already now well into week 10! This season seemed to fly by once we dried out from the Urbana Monsoon that was June.
Shareholders, please come to the farm this Friday (5-7pm) for our end of season celebration and to pick up your final bouquets of the 2015 CSA season. We are excited to get together over flowers (& refreshments!) and share some exciting news about what we have planned for 2016!

Upcoming classes!

transplanting seedlings

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

IMG_6792.JPG

IMG_6797.JPG
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?

IMG_6811

IMG_6840.JPG