2018 is the 30th anniversary of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG). Without ASCFG, I wouldn't be still farming. In the most recent quarterly Lisa Ziegler (of The Gardener's Workshop) asked the question "What's your story? How did you get here?" Well since her story was a big influence on my story, I thought I'd share:
I was actually 10 years old in 1988 when the ASCFG began so we'll jump forward about 20 years to 2008 because that's where my flower farming journey started. My husband and I were living in Scotland at the time. I was searching through the internet one evening researching information on having a personal cutting garden- why? because I loved flowers and had discovered a love for a gardening a few years earlier. I wanted to know what it would take to grow a field of sunflowers. Now granted, we had no land at the time and lived in a 3rd story flat with a shared backyard. I stumbled across a blog written by a lady in Virginia. It told the love story of how she met her husband and started a flower farm. Lisa's story was the first time I had ever even heard of the idea of a small flower farm. In my mind, all flowers came from Holland because that's where tulips came from. (Obviously- I knew nothing about flowers at the time!)
As our year living abroad passed, we began to dream of having some land of our own and moved back to the US and settled in South Carolina. We bought a house with a really large yard- big enough for a good sized garden. I began to grow veggies and I also took my first formal gardening training ever- the South Carolina Master Gardener Certification. I had no idea it would be like going back to college but it was a good overview of growing/gardening/botany etc. I still loved flowers but was growing mainly vegetables to put on our table. I was self-employed as a motion graphic designer at the time but for multiple reasons was looking for a new career. Finally one day it just hit me-- why not turn this love of flowers and gardening into a business?
So I did what most people do-- began researching! Read all the books, found all the blogs, and ordered all the seeds. I took over half my veggie garden with flowers that summer. I still remember my husband quipping about how "we can't eat flowers". I grew larkspur, bachelor buttons, dahlias, zinnias and sunflowers.
The next year my husband managed to secure some rented land a few miles from our house. He raised a few pigs and I began my first real flower field- if you can fall a 1/4 acre a field! And - WOW!-- did I learn some lessons that year! The field was in the lowest part of the property- basically a glorified drain field. It had the most compacted soil I had ever seen (and I live in the land of clay). We tried running a BCS through it to till and couldn't get it to go more than an inch deep. So my learning process began. I learned about drainage and soil building that year and how poorly flowers do in compacted soil.
Year three- My awesome husband generously let me use the field he had been running his pigs through for awhile to scale up my operation. And let me tell you-- pigs make some good dirt! It was a world of difference! I still struggled with some logistics like learning how to drive our tractor, plowing with the contours of the land so your crops don't flood and all those beginner mistakes. But I began to see that this flower farming thing was feasible! It was also the first year I really tried to sell my flowers. Some avenues worked out great and some didn't but I'm glad I tried them.
Cut to July of year three- We had been planning for some time to move and get our own land. We weren't exactly sure where but had been looking toward the Upstate of South Carolina. One day my husband gets a call from a recruiter, gets a job interview for later on that week, gets offered job and accepts 5 hours after his interview. Ok- we're moving - just like that! It was several months ahead of our timeline but things never go as you plan them (#1 rule of farming right there!) His new job was in Greenville so we put our house on the market, began looking for some land and 3 months later were settled on our new farm in Travelers Rest (if only it had been as easy as I just made it sound-- try moving pigs in the rain when your livestock trailer gets stuck in the mud!).
Moving a farm isn't easy and not something I would recommend. However, the chance to start new and fresh and correct all our beginner mistakes was invaluable! So much hard work but now that we are through most of it, I wouldn't trade it. By this time I knew what I wanted to grow- wedding flowers- and who my customer was- florists. Fortunately we moved in the fall so I had a whole winter to get my game plan together. I had already begun establishing relationships with florists in the area and I did tons of research to figure out what flowers they wanted.
I also made it a priority to get to know the other farmers in the area. I was friends with one already and started contacting others- having coffee, farm tours, etc. Anything to get to know them better. This is where the idea of a local flower farming community was born. In February of 2016- I asked every flower farmer I knew and told them to ask any farmers they knew to come to a potluck lunch at my farm. Over good food and good conversation, SC Upstate Flowers was formed. A group of farmers existing for the encouragement of one another and sharing knowledge and also for figuring out how to serve our community with the freshest blooms possible.
2016 was a great year- a tough one in which I learned a lot about balance- growing for production and trying to establish your farm and move everything from 2 hours way isn't easy. 2017 was an even better year- equally hard but in different ways. This past year I learned about making my farm work for me- but that's a story for another day.
So that's my story. How did you get started farming? Where did your love of flowers come from?