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

Thriving Together

Symbiosis :: the interaction that happens when two or more different organisms live in close proximity to one another and the relationship is mutually beneficial.

In the natural world symbiosis happens all the time. For example, the fungus (peaking out in the photo above) needs the old wood for food. The mushroom rots the wood and makes nutrients for the soil that in turn feeds plants. Plants feed the animals (humans included). Then, the animals will die, eventually feeding the soil and the cycle continues. Symbiosis happens intricately throughout nature on both large and very small scales. Shared support is how the universe thrives.

Our little flower farm is in it’s fifth year and growing stronger than ever before. In a sense, we are experiencing a resurgence of our own kind of symbiosis. I’ve gone from being a single farmer, doing my own thing, to co-farming with a couple of very reliable, funny, and hard-working friends.

work party car seat

This year we had our first ever volunteer work party to start the season. With good snacks and friends laboring together the chores of fence building, compost making, and weeding seemed much easier. I’m pretty sure this will become an annual tradition!

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See all these sunflower babies?!

Thanks to our friend (and shareholder), Erin, who works at Columbia Street Roastery we have received a bunch of donated burlap coffee sacks which work well to keep the weeds down on our garden paths in between the flower beds. Last week, I ran into another local-food-agriculture-community-enthusiast, Dustin Kelly, of Autumn-Berry Inspired. He was getting rid of a sturdy table and bench by the curb, which he immediately delivered to our farm. We know these will come in handy on harvest days and, hopefully, for a quiet sit amongst the flowers on cool summer evenings.

It’s these relationships (big and small) that make our CSA truly community supported!

Delight on WEFT 90.1

Click here to enjoy the April 21st “Alter Ego Show” on WEFT 90.1–Maggie, Holly and Liz guest appeared on the local morning show to talk about the Delight Flower CSA–you can catch our part specifically in the last 30 minutes, but we highly recommend you give the whole show a listen-great music and talk show on Champaign’s Community Supported Radio Station-WEFT.

And for your enjoyment, here is my Delight story:

When all the world is quiet, when I can get away and all of the chaos of chaos lifts, I find myself happiest in a patch of grass admiring the flowers and the bees and the fresh air.  When I’m left to the land I feel quite simply at home, enveloped in care, and most connected to myself, others, and the clarity of what love feels like.  In nature, we can plant seeds, give them the purest love and attention, and in return, we are given the most glorious gifts I’ve ever seen.

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It was last Winter when I bumped into Maggie in the street, it was the evening time and the snow was coming down and she was walking home from work, I was walking in the opposite direction. She said she’d come to where I was going because she wanted to talk to me about something, and once we sat down she told me about the flower garden for the first time. We had only been becoming friends since that Fall before, but we had a lot in common and we knew that about each other, so it only seemed fitting that this was happening and I never hesitated in knowing that I could be there for her.

What I mean by this was that Maggie had started a community supported and shared flower garden three years before that time, this was her business, her hobby project, and now she was facing not being able to continue because her body was about to undergo surgery due to a spinal condition. She had heard I’d been working on gardens and farms in my recent past and we must have spoken at some point about how much I loved such work and the natural lifestyle. In the dim lighting, over a drink and the murmur of the crowd around us she told me more about this surgery to help her back; she was still uncertain, it was risky, the recovery was long, and she wasn’t sure it would work. But it was either that or her back would only get worse and she knew she needed to be brave. There was another thing, the matter of the flower garden, she’d be in recovery during much of the beginning of the season, she needed an assistant to keep it going. She asked me if I thought I could help her, she assured me she would do what she could until it was time for her surgery, and from there I had know idea how I could help us succeed. I had never taken on such a serious gardening project before, I had less experience than I think Maggie or I knew that I had at the time, everything else in my life was transforming at an overwhelming rate, and there would be shareholder’s money at stake if I failed. But without knowing what I was saying, and recognizing this gift as absolutely extraordinary, I told her that I would be able to help her.

We started out the first few weeks together, she taught me the basic techniques and plan, we dug the first few beds together and planted some seeds before it was time, and from there she came to be my mentor. I visited her weekly to learn what I should do in her stead while she healed, and I would walk over to the garden in the early Spring and dig beds with my hands, and pick out all the weeds that I could, sometimes I would have help from my friends, sometimes Maggie would come out and sit by the garden and guide me, other times I would pass hours of the afternoon nearly unknowingly, planting seeds, always weeding, thinking that it felt like meditation.

holly in the garden

Weeks passed and seeds turned into flower sprouts and more and more of the little garden plot became groomed beds, and with each turn of soil it seemed that Maggie became stronger and stronger in her body. I too felt that I was becoming stronger in my body and in my mind and myself, surely more so than ever before. I remember the first time Maggie walked over to the garden from her house, it was just down the street but the sun hadn’t shined like that in a long time and Maggie had not been able to do something like that in weeks. By that time it was getting close to our first harvest. We still weren’t there yet, there were some late seeds that had yet to be planted, some gladiola bulbs, Maggie still couldn’t push her body too hard yet, healing is slow, her strength grew like the seeds, slowly but steadily, and with care and patience. More weeks passed and sprouts turned into flowers and lots of bees started visiting the garden and Maggie started to be able to move with more ease, and nearly two months later we had a quarter of our plot filled with blooms and it was time to deliver the first share of bundles to our 8 starting members of 2014.

We had goosenecks and asters and cosmos, coneflowers and daisies, others I’ve already forgotten the name of, just enough to fill all the water buckets we’d place the cut flower stems into as we picked the harvest in the early morning before the heat of the day struck. The season had officially begun and it seemed that although still taking it easy, Maggie was back in action and we still had the rest of the garden to finish up. We took our time and gently finished weeding the plots, planting the finals seeds, and tending to the garden as the summer days passed, making sure not to push ourselves to hard-life, flowers, seeds, the body-all too fragile.

Ten weeks passed and zinnias, sunflowers, gladiolas, dahlias, more and more zinnias all came up, the asters and the cosmos lasted all summer long, the first seeds we planted together.  Maggie’s recovery went smoothly, and I learned so much about myself, about care, giving, friendship, commitment, community, and my connectedness to what I do during this whole experience. From start to finish we worked on this for about six months.

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Liz

It’s one year later and we are only a few days after the time when Maggie had her surgery. We’re already about a third of the way done with prepping the garden-weeding, bedding, planting-we’re much further along than we were at this time before but we’ve had so much extra energy this year. Maggie has made a full recovery, I am by her side again with last year’s experience under me, and our friend Liz has joined our efforts, she lives at the house where this garden grows and is enthusiastic to be a part of the Delight CSA project. So many people working in the Delight garden has meant we’ve been able to redesign the space to be in the pattern of a sun, creating more room for more flowers and more members, each ray varies between a garden bed and a walking path. We’re also reconstructing the fence, moving the compost pile out of the garden to plant in the rich soil beneath, adding more perennial plants to grow back every year, and making room for a sitting area for the gardeners and the CSA members to enjoy.

Only six days remain until the deadline and only a few spots are left for this year’s CSA season, so sign up while you can! I’m so excited to be able to be a part of giving this gift back to the community.

bees

Love,

Holly Monet