I have always grown flowers – in my mother's garden, as part of my own garden landscapes, apartment balconies, and kitchen windowsills. When I started farming with Rob in 2009 (Rob has been a CSA farmer since 1993) flowers were always part of the field mix, work/life balance and experimentation, and soul nourishment. The last 4 years, however, I have been consciously shifting from vegetable production to fruit and flowers and this is my second season with a 'formal' flower csa program. I enjoy how it balances and compliments other areas and market channels for our farm including wedding flowers and fruit and vegetable share program.
We also see our farm as a community asset rather than a series of commodity crops—which is one of the reasons Rob and I so enjoy the CSA model and are honored to have grown for you. Throughout the season, I hope you have experienced a glimpse of our love of land, community, fruit and flowers—opening our farm and hearts in the heat and grit of the season to you and in turn you giving us honest feedback on what's working, what isn't, what you would like to see more of. As petals and leaves fall, and all the outward energy of the season is cycled inward, composted and transformed back to the soil, I also wanted to give you a glimpse of where your Flower CSA Bouquet share investment went. Here is a summary of how the bouquets shook out this past season.
Your money directly supports local, organic farms and a model of agriculture built on sustainability, relationship, and care. Accounting for sustainability means assessing the numbers and taking into account economic value as well as the ecological and social structures at play that manifested in your season's bouquets. Reflecting on the season's investment as a whole and individually, your flower csa investment broke down as follows:
Flower CSA Share Investment:
Total Flower CSA Income - $3,477.56 (accounts for 5.5% sales tax on flowers)
21 CSA Members Total - 11 Seasonal Shares ($230/share - 10 deliveries); 6 Monthly Shares ($195/share - 4 deliveries); and 4 Sampler Shares ($50/share - 2 deliveries)
$23 average cost/bouquet
178 Total Bouquet made for CSA program
$353.37 Input costs (seeds, plants, tools)
I did not account for our flower csa program's proportion of overall farm expenses such as % of insurance, depreciable equipment expense etc. This is something that we assess in our end of season budget analysis. I'd be happy to share with you if interested.
While we maintain lean overhead costs on our farm as part of our production model, the biggest expense is our labor. Here is a breakdown of time allocated to your flower csa shares.
Labor considered from a per bouquet perspective (my average pace is 5 bouquets/hr):
¾ hr/bouquet for seasonal care (field time)
11 minutes/bouquet of harvest time
12 minutes/bouquet design time
12 minutes/bouquet delivery time
6 minutes/bouquet communication/outreach time
Labor considered from a Seasonal Perspective (March - October) tending to flowers broken down as follows:
Field/production and maintenance = 362.5 hrs
Harvest time = 33 hrs
Bouquet making = 44 hrs
Delivery = 10 hrs
Member support/communication = 12 hrs
'Off season' marketing/outreach/communication = 32 hrs
On-farm events/hosting = 10 hrs
Total Time = 503.5 hrs
*Ave hourly wage = $6.91
My goal is to optimally grow our flower csa program so that it does not need to be subsidized by other market channels on the farm. As I was assessing the numbers, reflecting on the season as a whole, there is always room for fine tuning in terms of operational efficiency and production that minimize time and input needs, the cost of which increase on average 8%/yr. I look forward to checking in with you all in finding a healthy balance between supporting an optimal number of shares and pricing for your flower csa bouquets.
Being part of our CSA also means investment in our farm's ecology - Our farm is run on 100% renewable energy, both in the food and flowers we produce and in energy generated through our 5.1 kwH ground mount solar array. Our farming methods emphasize low fossil-fuel inputs; use of cover crops, composting, mulch, and crop rotation; habitat enhancement such as field borders, native prairie plantings and windbreaks; and soil and water conservation practices such as swales and rainwater catchment.
Our foray into flower production highlights ways we grow intensively on small acreage—integrating perennial flowers and fruits into our annual cuts for bouquets. In 'farm ecology - speak', this is called 'stacking functions – or multiple functions for a single form'. Mixing and enlisting flowers as farm helpers in the orchard understory, as vegetable companions and habitat enhancement of our prairies and field borders provides multiple functions. Flowers serve as 'aromatic pest confusers' (alliums, feverfew, and rue especially), as attractors of beneficial insects and pollinators, as trap crops and soil stabilizers, and as peak expression of beauty and botanical evolution, before the descent to seed and soil resumes. For example, the native perennial flower, baptisia, that showed up in your early July bouquets are legumes –working in tandem with rhizobium bacteria on their roots to 'fix' atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form for plant uptake. The blooms also attract pollinators and beneficial insects and every part of the plant, save for the root showed up in your bouquets – the foliage, the blossoms, and the seed pods. Perennials are a permanent fix in your bouquets and on our farm.
Another way to account for your Flower CSA share investment is to assess the numbers from a biodiversity perspective. Of the 122 different species (not counting the number of differnent varieties of the same species), that we intentionally cultivated and wildcrafted for your bouquets, 47 were perennial cut flowers, 23 represented woody perennial fruit, shrubs, and vines, 44 were annuals, and 8 were vegetables. As a percentage of production, 58% of our flower production consisted of perennials; 37% was devoted to annuals/biennials; and 4% highlighted vegetables (for example hot peppers, broccoli seed pods).
From an energy and conservation perspective, growing a diversity of perennials means a minimal footprint on the land, including: less time needed for site preparation; less soil disturbance and microbial disruption that comes with tillage; reduced need for investment in infrastructure such as hoop houses and greenhouses that use energy for heating and materials (plastics); increased soil and water holding capacity; increased diversity of pollen for our honeybees and native insects, birds, and bats that feast on flower 'power'; and (hopefully) increased intrigue and appreciation of what can be grown locally and withstand Wisconsin's fluctuating weather and growing season length. They also embody the 'multiplier effect'. Start with one penstemmon, and by fall it's divide-and-transplant season and soon you have 5 penstemmon plants.
On the design front, we hope you enjoyed the diversity of blooms, textures and changing colors throughout the season of blooms, in my attempts to create billowy, dreamy, fresh-from-the-garden bouquets to adorn your tables. For example, June brought a banquet of perennial blooms with peonies, delphiniums, and lilies demanding attention. In July and August, it was all about peak season blooms where wildflowers, fruits, herbs, and cultivated cuts merged for a floral feast. In September and October, it was a deep dreamy formal harvest feast of dahlias and cuts such as gomphrena, celosia and native grasses. By the numbers, on average, bouquets consisted of 33 stems and 14 different species. As narration, I hope you enjoyed learning more about a few flower friends featured in your bouquets.
I am in the business of growing and designing flowers through our CSA program and weddings, as it is a way I can freely express my love for the Earth and share this with you through the bouquets I design from seed to vase. Love is indeed sustaining, though we all live in a space/time where currency and not just currants are needed to sustain us. Above all I hope you found your investment in our farms' flowers worthwhile, enriching, and were inspired by nature and the relationships that emerge. I also hope to continue our relationship and extend our network of mutual support. I am so grateful for your open communication, ideas, comments, and willingness to serve as site hosts. May you be showered in bouquets of gratitude—bringing you beauty and balance, in the seasons' ahead and I hope you will join us again come June 2018.