I hope this finds you well and in good spirits, nesting into the 'dormancy' months. I picked my last bouquet today. It was a modest mix of mums, and a few lingering calendula, veronica, tansy, and '3rd generation delphiniums' that survived the frosts, a freeze and even snowshowers the other morning.
I am continually amazed at the intensity of color and optimism present in blooms. I continue to find hope imprinted in a ray of beauty. Late fall on the farm is a time to not just tuck in the flower beds with a bit of mulch and manure, dig up the dahlias, divide, transplant and seed spring blooming perennials, but also a time to reflect, on the seasons past. I would love to learn how the season fared for you?
Please take a moment to reflect and share the following:
Would you do it again? Why or why not?
And for some context, the following are reflections on the season, where your flower share investment went, and what's in store for next season. You may want to settle in with a warm cup of coffee/tea, as by now you likely know that brevity is not a strongpoint:-).
Why a Flower CSA?
Growing and designing flowers through our CSA program and weddings, 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. Notably, as a farmer I can be myself and continue to learn how to be in the world. What I have learned is that art and heart are often left out of the food and farming conversations where policy, research, and formal education hold sway. Flower farming is way to bridge these worlds and bring more beauty into our day in a way that speaks to suspending judgment and just enjoy the moment. Flowers soften the edges of our meeting spaces, balance the science and day to day needs of production with love and celebration. It's quite a regenerative and humble place to be immersed in—all this flower power moving through the landscape. I hope you experienced this love and vitality in its shape-shifting floral forms throughout the season.
I also wanted to highlight how your Flower CSA investment fared this season as follows:
By the #'s: Flower CSA Share Investment
Total Flower CSA Income - $3,600
20 CSA Members Total - 12 Seasonal Shares ($235/share - 10 deliveries); 7 Monthly Shares ($100- 4 deliveries); and 1 Sampler Share ($50/share - 2 deliveries)
163 Bouquets made for CSA program
$22 average cost/bouquet
Ave # of species/bouquet = 15
Flower CSA Expenses (non-labor)
$334.37 Input costs (seeds, plants, tools)
$198 Sales Tax (5.5%)
I did not account for our flower csa program's proportion of overall farm expenses such as % of insurance, depreciable equipment expense, professional services 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:
1 hr/bouquet for seasonal care (field time)
15 minutes/bouquet of harvest time
13 minutes/bouquet design time
18 minutes/bouquet delivery time
6 minutes/bouquet communication/outreach time
Labor considered from a Seasonal Perspective (mid-February - October) tending to flowers broken down as follows:
Plant Care, Flower Field/production and maintenance = 360 hrs
ex: from seeding to cover cropping
Harvest time = 25.5 hrs
Bouquet making = 44 hrs
Delivery = 30 hrs
Member support/communication = 15 hrs
'Off season' marketing/outreach/communication = 28 hrs
On-farm events/hosting (Brunch n Blooms) = 11 hrs
Total Time = 513.5 hrs
*Ave hourly wage = $7.01/hr
My goal is to optimally account for 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 8-9%yr. I look forward to checking in with you all in finding a healthy balance between supporting an optimal number of shares and fair pricing for your flower csa bouquets.
Flower CSA Biologically Speaking:
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, companion planting, and crop rotation; habitat enhancement such as plant guilds, 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. From a biological standpoint, most of the edibles we enjoy wouldn't come into existence without a flower and pollinator interface. As a farmer this means learning when and how to best intervene such as, optimizing and enlisting flowers as farm helpers in the orchard understory, as vegetable companions and habitat enhancement of our prairies and field borders. Flowers serve as 'aromatic pest confusers' (alliums, feverfew, and rue especially), as attractors of beneficial insects and pollinators, as trap crops and soil stabilizers, as medicine (calendula, yarrow, elderflower, lavender) and as peak expression of beauty and botanical evolution, before the descent to seed and soil resumes. For example, the native perennial flower, baptisia, 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 CSA bouquets – the foliage, the blossoms, and the seed pods. In 'farm ecology - speak', this is called 'stacking functions – or multiple functions for a single form'.
Another way to account for your Flower CSA share investment is to assess the numbers from a biodiversity perspective. Of the 127 different species (not counting the number of different varieties of the same species), that we intentionally cultivated and wildcrafted for your bouquets, 48 were perennial cut flowers, 24 represented woody perennial fruit, shrubs, and vines, 47 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).
Perennials are a permanent fix in your bouquets and on our farm. This practice continues to be reinforced as we continue to witness the impact of climate change on our fields and local watersheds. 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. 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 anything goes with 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 34 stems and 15 different species. As narration, I hope you enjoyed learning more about a few flower friends featured in your bouquets. My hope is that the flowers we grew for you this season helped bring more beauty and balance to your days. Above all I hope you found your investment in our farms' flowers worthwhile, enriching, and were inspired by nature and the relationships that emerge.
What's in store for 2019?
Trust and relationships are the heartbeat of CSA. I am grateful to each of you for putting your trust in our farm. There are countless ways each of you have helped keep me propped up during the peaks and valleys of the 2018 season, especially during our late summer floodbath. I am so grateful for your open communication, ideas, comments, photo sharing, and willingness to serve as site hosts.
Flowers speak to our emotional sensibilities and are nature's music – bringing beauty and balance to the Earth, our soil and souls. I mean, who wouldn't want to be a part of this life giving process and tell a story in the bouquet of how such botanical beauty, while ephemeral, connects with us in different ways, and the artifacts, stories, impressions and intentions that remain imprint our hearts and the humus-sphere so we can begin again. This soul love I find with flowers is indeed sustaining, though after some soul searching, next year, I am taking a pause from our CSA program to (re)-imagine what role flowers might best play with the farm for the next 11 years and what is needed to sustain us through the seasons. We are scaling back and focusing on just our fruit, a handful of wedding that are already booked, so we can invite in space for focused reflection, dreaming and strategizing.
This is not an easy decision as so much momentum, love, and hard work have gone into building our farm's CSA program, but a year to pause and re-direct is needed. I hope to continue our relationship and extend our network of mutual support and please let me know if you would like to stay informed about our farm and flower plans for the future. We are planning on continuing our annual on farm brunch and blooms, which you are of course welcome to come and we can catch up, play with flowers! I am also happy to refer you to a few other farmer florist friends in the area who offer Flower CSA Bouquets so you can continue to experience the seasonal beauty that stems from our little corner of the Earth. May you be showered in bouquets of gratitude—bringing you beauty and balance, in the seasons' ahead.