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

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!