Farmer-Florist, It's a Thing

AKA Falling for Flowers: A Story of a Girl and Her Blooms

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Not even a year ago, I was in my family’s accounting office looking into business cards.  The cards were outside my budget, with a business not even lifted off the ground my money went to seeds and soil, not business cards.  Luckily, with some washi tape in hand, it was time to get crafty!  I was tediously using my craigslist 1970s typewriter to make some cards, I wanted it to be cute and retro.  My father-in-law saw my efforts for what they were: ridiculous and time consuming.  Being a CPA, he can get pretty fancy with a spreadsheet and took on busting out some business cards for me.  He quickly snatched the paper I had been typing my information on and off he went on his own mission.  Within in a few minutes, he came back “Farmer-Florist… is that right?” he was puzzled.  Was that even a real title?  Overall, I know he thinks his daughter-in-law is a quack but building a business on a made up title?  If I had a photo of that look on his face, it was quite priceless.  “Yup, it’s a thing.”  Without even going into detail, back to his mission he went.  Yeah… he thinks I’m crazy.

 

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What the heck is a Farmer-Florist anyway?  Aren’t you either a farmer or a florist?  How in the world did a mommy of two little girls (with a newly acquired accounting degree) go from that to growing flowers (with absolutely no growing experience) and furthermore decide it was a grand idea to turn this not-even-explored-passion into a small business?

 

Well, I think the time has come to share my story.

 

 

My early twenties, I was pretty aimless.  Went to school and attained certifications and degrees that I never really used.  I thought about becoming a floral designer but was assured that would lead to me sitting under the fluorescent lights of a grocery store and stiff arrangements in creepy green foam.  Plus, that wasn’t an “appropriate career.”  So many wrongs in that mindset but there it was.  I abandoned that idea.  I used to dream of being a writer and a marine biologist, writing witty tales on the adventures of rescuing adorable little sea otters.  Kind of hard to do in Nevada, also, life took me in another direction.  Far away from my adolescent dreams.  I did enjoy writing, always have, but I had been suffering the biggest writer’s block.  Nothing came to mind and nothing really stuck.  To be honest, I was a pretty broken person.  There were some good times but they were often clouded by the bad.  It took years and strength I didn’t know I had to cleanse that from, not just my life, but Graham’s too.  It also took some healing.  This is where I say God is good, there is no way I could have done it on my own and no way Graham could have held me up.  I worked at a chain coffee shop, which was fun (if you ever want to learn customer service, work in a coffee shop!).  It was a good paying job, I made some awesome friends and it got me through those tough times.  There came a point where after getting married and having baby number two on the way, I was over the coffee shop thing. 

I just wanted to be home with my babies.

 

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Fast forward to when my youngest, Janey, came into this earth over three years ago now.  With two daughters, my husband and I were resolved that I should stay home with the girls.  I actually started staying home with Emma in my second trimester with Janey.  The days of singing “Let It Go” (when it was brand new and revolutionary) building snowmen and taking midday snoozes together are special memories that I will always relish in.  Once Janey came, things got crazy.  If you have ever met Janey upset, you know that girl has a pair of lungs that would probably lend her well... if she chose to go into singing opera.  In between consoling Janey and chasing after Emma (she loved taking out those outlet protective covers and chewing on cords, worse than a puppy!), I felt my days were filled with wiping butts, washing diapers and anchored to the kitchen.  When you’re on a budget you make every meal from scratch, which creates quite a mess and achy feet.  Plus, limited adult interaction.

I was getting weird.

 

I think Graham saw I was getting weird.

 

He said I needed a hobby.

 

Enter photography.  Loved it!  But it wasn’t enough.  You can only snap so many photos and carting around babies to do photos didn’t seem fun, with Janey’s cries, not much was.  A quick scroll through my website shows I haven't abandoned it, it just didn't completely fulfill me.

Enter sewing.  Oh sewing!  Now, I'm not great but if you've ever snagged one of my signature arrangements or sweet pea plants you know I can at least conquer a mean burlap bag.  Graham grew up with his crafty mom making all their Halloween costumes.  I grew up with store bought (you know, like normal people...).  Well, Graham wanted to give our girls the same specialness of homemade costumes.  There began my adventure with sewing, after my mom bought me the sewing machine for my birthday (I don't think she thought I would actually use it).  I enjoy it and have made the girls way more than halloween costumes but it was one of those things that didn't light a passion in me.  I like it but it's not something I wanted to push myself into perfection.

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Enter gardening.  I mean we need to eat healthy right?  Then I went down the rabbit hole of Pinterest.  Companion planting, I needed FLOWERS!  I researched and bought a few packets of flowers that were edible and had medicinal purposes: calendula, nasturtiums and german chamomile.  I have the WORST track record ever in the history of humans of killing plants.  I did not inherit my grandma's green thumb.  Ahh, that sounds so terrible (I mean I grow flowers, right?).  The historical data of my plant failures added to the feeling of accomplishment of actually growing a garden- with everything from seed to boot!  I sat there with my pile of recycled newspapers tediously making paper pots and sowing my seeds.  They began to sprout.  Then they grew tall and roots began to bust out from the paper pots.  They were more than ready to go in the ground.  That Mother's Day weekend, we rented a rototiller, my husband hand shoveled out wheelbarrows full of river rock from my garden and the plant babies were nestled into our still very rocky-clay dirt.  I still remember when the first butterfly landed in the garden, that's how desolate our yard was.

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This is how obsessed I was.

 

I would drink my morning coffee outside, creepily staring at my little garden.  I do say creepy because it’s a little odd but I felt so accomplished.  Our once desolate yard was beginning to grow into a jungle of nasturtium and squash (instead of tumbleweeds!).   I would harvest a little swiss chard here, a carrot there, lots of tomatillos and tomatoes.  Plus, I would sit and pluck chamomile flower heads to have as tea later.  We finally finished planting our warm loving crops 4th of July (yup, kind of late for our area).  While at the hardware store, I impulsively bought a packet of zinnias.  My in-laws always planted some in their garden and they were gorgeous and oh so fluffy.  I was told that I was too late to plant zinnias.  I sowed the seeds anyways because I'm a rebel (not really).

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Who knew that little packet of zinnias was going to spark something in me that I didn’t even know was there.  Late September, I began harvesting less tomatoes and more of the flowers.  The zinnias and calendula with some runner beans and French marigolds laced in.  It took me back to the days of when I desired to be a floral designer.  The days in college where I would arrange a little bouquet of flowers Graham had picked from his mother’s garden.  It was peaceful and I was proud of my little flower arrangement.  Plus, the flowers lasted over two weeks!  If I had flowers, I gifted them to family.  It was such a good feeling to choose a flower from a catalog, sow the seed, pamper the plant, harvest, then play with the flowers.  I secretly began researching cut flowers.  I stumbled upon a little-not-as-well-known-then flower farm, Floret.  Also, the owner wasn’t simply a flower farmer but was a farmer-florist!  What the heck, I can grow flowers and design with them?  That's a thing?! That’s not taboo?!  Also, she was a mom, maybe this whole thing is doable.  Maybe I'm not really that insane.  I spent weeks reading through all her blog posts.  I felt a calmness and resolve that I hadn’t experienced in a long time.  After a couple months of obsessing over farmer-florists blogs and Instagram, I fessed up to Graham my crazy scheme.

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Around the same time Graham had acquired a lathe and was wanting to restore it.  He wanted to turn bowls.  Okay, he's always wanting to do some kind of project, it'd be a nice break from him blowing up my kitchen with his bread making (which he makes incredible artisan loaves by the way).  I was emboldened to share my own ideas, I wanted to be a farmer-florist.  At the time, he didn’t question too much, not even what that term meant.  He was all in, as long as I was all in on him wanting to be a wood-turner.  It’s kind of our pattern.  Somehow, we both conceive crazy ideas around the same time.  We may chuckle and puzzle within the safety of our own heads but outwardly support each other.  He probably thought his idea seemed less crazy than whatever a farmer-florist was.  Utterings to family friends of my idea were made. 

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We made hasty decisions with the first year of Sierra Flower Farm.  It was a train-wreck but I learned a lot.  First lesson, I only want to grow on my own property.  Learned that the hard way.  Crying, I threw half-dead bachelor buttons (yes, I killed bachelor buttons) into the dirt (not soil, that would require it to be halfway decent) in my backyard and hoped for the best.  I really felt defeated and like a failure.  Over bachelor buttons!  I thought I needed more land and fancy equipment but I didn’t.  I didn't think our tiny yard was good enough to be a legitimate flower farmer. You can really start flower farming with very humble beginnings.  The results, in the beginning, won’t be spectacular but the journey revealing.  What works.  What doesn’t.  I learned a lot about what doesn’t work that first year.  Falling on your face really does teach you a lot more than easy success. 

 

I must admit, I thought about abandoning the venture before it even began, then the flowers began to bloom. 

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Despite my lack of experience, lack of well everything- they bloomed.  They stole my heart once again.  My girls hid in the cosmos and made their own arrangements in pots filled to the brim with mud.  Our cat thought she was a jungle kitty, crouching in the ruby silk grass.  There was a lot of fun and laughter in that garden.  I had a lot of failure my first season but a lot of success. Every year the flowers will grow, some I will fail with but I will try again.  Just this year I had a great start to lisianthus- until I didn't.  I took notes, noted my mistakes and sowed a fresh tray, knowing they'll provide a much later crop.  Buy hey, I want to conquer this challenge!  My girls are also learning.  They are learning how to cope in failure and rejoice in any bit of success.  They learn what it’s like to work as a family, they learn what hard work is but they also have learned how we can impact another’s life in a positive or negative way. 

We've learned to truly bloom where you are planted.

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Years ago, the stink of negativity clung to me. 

That’s not a way to live.  That’s not a message I want to send my girls.  We choose to add beauty and magic to others lives, whether it’s chatting gardening at Eddy Street or handing a bride her bouquet that she will nervously cling to as she walks to her new role as a wife.  My girls help me sow the seeds and nestle them into the soil (now it’s soil!).  My husband and I tag-team sifting river rocks from our garden beds (as if we haven't done this process for the past three years- more keep appearing).  My husband has built and rebuilt our humble little greenhouse and he makes sure I plant straight (I guess I tend to go a little… not straight).  The long, hot mornings of market made sweet from our customers smiling faces (and hugs!) then ice cream that turns tongues blue.  Specially designing a bridal bouquet knowing that it’s going to be a pivotal point in someone else’s life while my girls mimic me, using my squirrel mess of stems and deadheaded blooms at my feet.  This is happiness to me.  This is happiness to our family.

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Thanks to the encouragement of someone I am grateful to call a friend, I have rediscovered my love for writing through blogging.  It only took fifteen years! It’s nice to rediscover a long forgotten passion while discovering a brand new one!  All the little hobbies I had a long the way somehow built to this.  Along with writing, my camera has a lot of miles on it, I've sewn dozens of bags (along with many princess dresses).  It's amazing when all the parts of yourself somehow tie in.  Also, I have finally found my niche.  Something that I strive to perfect, fail and try again.  Being a farmer florist drives me, only second to motherhood.

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This is the story thus far of a girl and her blooms.  I am a farmer-florist.  It’s a thing.  I am a wife.  I am a mommy.  I am not superwomen: I tend to fall on my face a lot.  I am passionate about growing and “playing” with flowers that will truly enchant and delight. 

 

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And I can’t wait to be handing you some blooms soon.

 

Jessica