While I was vending at the Reedsburg Food Fair this past March, a Heather Stanek, a fair-goers asked me, “What does it mean to be a farmer florist?” I've been ruminating on the question since. Meanwhile, the daffodils carpet the earth in sunshine, the apricot blooms burst in our orchard (please no 'ice days of May), and the peonies poke through the soil, giving me a nudge to wake up to the question and give it the attention it deserves.
A flower farmer: one who both grows flowers and designs with flowers with love and care from field to vase. Since I love doing both adding flowers to the farm flow is a natural fit.
The grower in me loves to continually learn with the ecological web of the farm—to enter into a humble collaboration with the 'humusphere' so I can grow and design a bit of beauty and balance into the day. I take my cues from Mother Nature and my Mother – both have instilled and inspired in me a love of growing flowers and my mother helping me with making bouquets.
I also love 'stacking functions' on the farm and flowers play a significant role in this strategy. Flowers serve as food purveyors for our pollinator friends and honeybees (i.e. grains notwitstanding, no flowers=no food), their perfumes and influroesence can attract beneficial insects and some species' blooms repel pests. They also add to our quality of life—who doesn't enjoy a bit of color on the landscape and ephemeral mojo in the form of a bouquet.
My grower workday begins early morning, and I wander the fields, coffee and camera in tote (the morning light on the fields is just magic—whatever the season), taking notes for what to prioritize for the day. Of the 200,000 plus species of flower plants in the world, I get to winnow down and learn what blooms work for our soil and farm systems. This starts with walking the land and reading the landscape. Whether it is prepping beds for a succession of zinnias, gomphrena, or celosia, setting up irrigation for watering, ordering liaisanthus plugs, weeding the flush of purslane in the delphiniums, I run a mental inventory of what to do and what to pick, when. After breakfast and just as the morning dew lifts, it's back to the fields to harvest flowers for bouquets to design later in the day for tomorrow's CSA delivery (flowers need some 'chilling out' time in the shade or cooler before making bouquets).
Nature is never static, and being a grower means I can anticipate and manage the flowers' life cycle before it leaves the field. To me this is a huge advantage for the farmer florist. Timing, especially with flowers, is of the essence. Once you pick a stem the bloom is on its way to decay. The key is to observe, take notes, and experiment with when the best time is for harvesting flowers. Some blooms, such as peonies, can be prolonged when you pick them at the 'marshmallow' phase (ie the bloom isn't open, but is soft like a marshmallow), others such as lilies will open over time, while others such as dahlias are fussier and my work as a grower is to anticipate how long the flowers will last. From here, I shift into design mode. Since I know when flowers were picked and at what stage, I can create a bouquet that continuously opens, shifts, and transforms in your vase. Marketing directly to my end customers, means, I can interact and pass along tips for them to extend the vase life, without the use of flower food or foam. For tips, visit our flower page on our website.
Being a farmer florist offers creative outlets. As with seasonal eating, the menu of blossom beauty constantly changes and is prone to the peaks and valleys of Wisconsin's growing season. I am grateful for the creative challenges that flowers have offered me when it comes to bouquet design for weddings and our flower csa program. Bouquet making is my Zen space, I lose track of time, I am completely present with the flowers, the movements, the placement of stems in space, the colors, the task at hand.
Each time I fill an order from field to vase—whether it is a single table bouquet, a bucket of blooms, or a full service wedding, it is with great satisfaction, completion and joy. I have just worked with the seasons to grow, harvest, and design a piece of peak expression that never again will be cut, designed, and presented in the exact way. As wedding clients, CSA customers, or wandering admirers of floral beauty—you get to take home a one of a kind floral feast that luminates your senses, compliments your celebration and softens/brightens your day.
As a farmer florist, I have a chance to honor what is—to let go of expectations, and allow for a bit of free form to balance with what I know works as a grower and designer. For example, there are ~25 cut flowers I have grown over the years that I know will not only withstand whatever the weather brings, but will also hold up in a bouquet for at least 7- 10 days. At the same time the florist and designer in me, knows how to balance the right mix of focal, texture, and filler in a bouquet. As a farmer florist I welcome the chance to experiment and play with what shows up in the fields and be humbled by what I might have expected compared to what I actually have to work with. In short, being a Farmer Florist is an expression of my love for the Earth and the opportunity to share this love with others.
I look forward to growing for you this season and invite you to come play with flowers at the farm as part of our Field to Vase Worskhop. - Erin