With it being International Women’s Day this past Friday I have been thinking a lot about the women who have influenced me and my farm business this week. I find that inspiring people inspire, and that even if you never personally meet any of these women, the simple act of sharing their stories has an incredible power to uplift and empower. So without further ado, here are some of the leaders in the flower world who have influenced my journey:

Erin at Floret Flowers. Photo credit: Floret.

Erin Benzakein is a flower farmer, floral designer, teacher, leader and successful business woman. She and her husband Chris own Floret Flowers, a flower farm in the Skagit Valley in Washington. I came across Erin online quite by accident and was inspired by her entrepreneurial, trailblazing spirit, enthusiasm for flowers (not a crop I had ever considered growing before) and her out-of-the-box thinking. Erin began growing flowers as a mother at home with two young children out of a pure love for flowers. I don’t think she ever could have imagined that planting those first sweet pea seeds would end up playing such a major role in transforming flower farming and floral design across the globe, but it has. Erin started small, but her passion for learning how to grow the best flowers and for sharing her learning with others has led her to test out thousands of varieties of plants from all over the world to find the varieties with the longest stem length and vase life, the most interesting hues and textures and the most aromatic blossoms for the cut flower industry. I came across her and a course she was co-teaching with Jennie Love at Love ‘n’ Fresh Flowers in Philadelphia a month or so later. Following my intuition, I signed up for the workshop and flew down to Philadelphia. I spent the next few days totally immersed in the world of cut flower farming and learning how to design with locally grown flowers, surrounded by a slew of experienced farmers and designers who have gone on to rock the flower farming world. Since then Erin has honed her skills, grown her team, offered workshops on her own farm, developed an online workshop, launched a line of flower seeds, published a bestselling book, won a Martha Stewart award, and is soon to come out with her second book all about designing with seasonal flowers. She also has a blog in which she shares her learning and insights with flower farmers and designers around the world — an incredible resource for both beginner and more experienced flower farmers, florists and home gardeners. I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to work with Erin on her social media marketing early on in her journey, and to have helped her launch her beautiful line of seeds. Working with her taught me a great deal about focus, discipline, strategy, branding, generosity and the power that is generated when a woman chooses to empower other women around her. You can learn more about Erin and the incredible work she is doing in the flower world, browse her shop and read her blog here.

Barb Jewell from Island Meadow Farms at Farm Day in the City, Charlottetown PEI

Barb Jewell is a flower farmer and floral designer on Prince Edward Island, in Atlantic Canada. Her family has run Jewell’s Country Market — a garden centre that sells seasonal garden planters filled and overflowing with blooms for many years. She is also the most experienced flower farmer in Atlantic Canada now, and has built up an incredible amount of knowledge that I often wish she would write about so I didn’t have to pester her all the time with questions! Fortunately she is incredibly generous in sharing her knowledge with the rest of the growers in our region. Barb has a booming wedding business all summer long. Most of the gorgeous Prince Edward Island-based wedding floral arrangements that you see photos of on instagram are her creations. I spent one spring helping out in her greenhouse, and then working with her on with her social media for the season, taking photos of her flowers and wedding arrangements before they were whisked off by brides. It was quite an honour to be able to accompany her through a full season, capture her business and share her story with her customers online. More recently she has started a CSA, which makes sure that islanders have access to fresh, locally grown flowers on a weekly basis all summer long. Barb has taught me a lot about taking responsibility for my own successes and mistakes. She has also taught me that no two seasons are alike, that I should always expect the unexpected and that investing in perennials is one of the best things I can do for the long-term success of my business. Busy as she and I both are, I rarely see her in person, but I am grateful to have her in my community because she always turns up in her humble, quiet way when I could use an extra hand or have a question I simply cannot find an answer to on my own. All her work over the years in the community has laid the groundwork for our current flower industry which would not be what it is had she not invested so much in building it to its current state. She also injects so much beauty into my instagram feed, our community and the lives of all the couples whose wedding flowers she has done over the years. You can learn more about Barb and her flowers here.

Zoe and Sue at Field of Roses. Photo by Mandi Nelson

I have been following Zoe and Sue from Field of Roses in Gisborne on New Zealand’s North Island on instagram for some time. This mother-daughter duo have a flower farm that always looked like a dream to me. I love Zoe’s intuitive sense for colour palettes and textures that turn bouquets into exquisite works of art. Sue is Zoe’s mother, and is a natural born farmer — her grandmother loved to garden; her mother has a garden behind her house that feels like something out of a historical novel brought to life, and Sue’s passion for gardening and growing and nurturing plants is obvious the moment you meet her. In the fall of 2016 I headed to New Zealand to do an internship at Field of Roses. The farm is every bit as magical in person as it is on instagram, and Zoe and Sue have the best mother-daughter fun loving and supportive working dynamic I have ever come across. Their 1,000 rose bushes climb a steep hill next to their home and lie adjacent to a cut flower garden bursting with sweet peas, foxgloves, zinnias, dahlias, scabiosa and many other flowers that complement the roses. Before interning there I had never realized what a diversity of perfumes roses had. Each variety they had had its own distinct aroma, and the combination of all of these mingling on a single hillside made it feel like I was working in heaven every single day. Most of the roses from Field of Roses are shipped to flower markets and florists in Auckland, but Zoe also uses them in her wedding floral designs, and she recently launched a floral crown DIY box with instructions for brides wanting to make their own floral crowns. Zoe and Sue have also hosted a number of international floral design workshops on their farm over the years led by designers like Nicole from Soil and Stem and Tanya from Oh Flora. What I respect most about Zoe and Sue is how they create space for each other to be authentically and wholeheartedly themselves as individuals; how they celebrate and nurture each other’s differences; how much pleasure they take in each other’s company and how each of them uses their individual strengths to create a business that is joyful, empowering and inspiring to others. Now that I am back on my own farm I often think of Sue and how she always recognized how important humour is to maintaining a light atmosphere when you have been working hard on the farm all day and trying to figure things out as you go. One of her favourite sayings, which still makes me chuckle when I think of her, is: “Why do something once when you can do it three times?”

Mimo Davis owns Urban Buds, an urban flower farm in St. Louis, Missouri with her wife Miranda and their darling boy August. I met her for the first time at the first flower workshop I attended in Philadelphia back in 2013. Like Erin at Floret, Mimo and Miranda are pros at growing a massive quantity of flowers on a very small piece of land. I have yet to have the pleasure of getting to know Miranda well, but Mimo is the Regional Director for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, and before starting Urban Buds Flower Farm she operated Wild Thang Farms — the largest cut flower farm in the state of Missouri — for over a decade. She also worked at the Missouri Wildflowers Nursery where she specialized in native plants. What inspires me about her is her no-nonsense attitude and practical approach to growing flowers. Yes she wants to bring beauty into this world, but she has figured out how and when to grow each flower she wants to grow so that she gets the highest price for every single stem. Growing this way minimizes input of time, financial investment and energy, and maximizes output and income so that she can support herself and her family and continue to do work that she loves. I will never forget her asking me the first time I met her why anyone would grow bleeding hearts in the spring or summer when you can get ten times the price per stem if you force them in the greenhouse and sell them in February for Valentine’s Day when nobody else has them. In addition to being practical, Mimo is exceptionally generous with her knowledge, traveling all over North America to share her techniques with fellow flower farmers. I have often wished I could download all that knowledge she has stored in her brain, so am grateful that she turns up over and over and is always so willing to share with those of us who have far less experience than she does. You can learn more about Mimo and Miranda and their urban farm here.

Kori at Dawn Creek Farm in Rio Linda, California

This past fall I had a serendipitous meeting at Temple Coffee in Sacramento, California. My mother noticed that the woman sitting next to us had a beautiful bouquet sitting next to her table. Mom asked her where she had gotten it from, and it turned out that she had grown and arranged it herself and that she was a flower farmer growing in Rio Linda, on the edge of Sacramento. The woman’s name was Kori Hargreaves, and it turned out that in addition to being a flower farmer and designer she was also an experienced weaver and natural dyer, among many other things. The two of us exchanged information and made a tentative plan for me to go out to her farm for a visit. A couple weeks later I got in touch and headed out for a tour of Dawn Creek Farm. It turned out that Kori was originally from Santa Cruz. After attending university at UC Davis, she and her carpenter husband Toby decided to settle in Sacramento a couple of years ago to establish their own farm. I asked if she would be open to having me come out and volunteer once a week while I was on the west coast, and (thankfully!) she agreed. I have helped Kori disbud and then dig up and pot her mums for the winter; pull up last year’s beds and irrigation tape; spread compost on new beds for this season; roll out irrigation tape; burn landscaping fabric; plant this year’s ranunculus, anemones and narcissus; start seeding, and with a number of other small things that needed to be done on the farm.

Kori sells to around fifty wedding florists located in and around the Sacramento area. She grows all sorts of flowers, but her spirit flower is the mum, and she grows over 100 varieties of mums which she has collected from her network of fellow gardeners spread across the state over a number of years. I had been really looking forward to helping her harvest her mum crop, but she was hit with an unexpected early hard freeze that wiped her whole crop out just as it was starting to bloom. In true Kori fashion she took a few days to regroup and then decided to utilize one of her other fortes — natural dyeing — to turn what she had left of her crop into another product that she could sell: hand dyed silk ribbon. The way she turned what was a pretty massive loss into a gain is just one example of Kori’s creativity and industriousness. Working alongside her for the past six months has taught me a lot about how to take a vision and create a step-by-step plan to unfold that vision into reality. I have deep admiration and respect for her ability to organize, systematize and execute a plan; for the creative solutions she comes up with to the problems that come up on the farm every day; for the way she listens to understand rather than simply to respond, and the way she always shares her knowledge with a quiet yet generous humility.

As the flowers that I helped Kori plant in the fall begin to bloom I am truly blown away by the quality of each and every stem we harvest. Getting to take some home every week to arrange and enjoy has shown me what a tremendous difference the quality of the flowers makes in beauty of the final arrangement. Many of my friends have pointed at a bucket containing flowers I have carried home from the farm with the intention of arranging them and commented on the beauty of the “arrangement.” That a bucket of not-yet-arranged flowers looks to my friends like an arrangement is a testament to me of what a quality product Kori is growing. It is a reminder to me of the importance of caring for my soil, watering consistently and tending my flowers all along the way. Follow Kori’s flower journey on instagram here.

There are so many other growers and designers who have inspired and continue to inspire my work including Nicole Land at Soil and Stem; Katie Davis from Ponderosa and Pine, and Emily Avenson at Fleuropean. Here’s to all of these inspired and inspiring women and to all the rest of you whose paths I have yet to cross but who are blazing new trails in the flower industry in your own unique ways!

I am in Sacramento, California, and it is currently 39 degrees celsius outside. Don’t ask me what that is in Fahrenheit. I don’t do conversions. The important thing is that it is hot as hell. Fry an egg on the asphalt hot. Yesterday I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a sweater and boots, and today the paper thin sundress and sandals feel like too much.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 7.51.08 PM

If you read my first blog post you will know that I have just begun what I hope will be a year-long flower journey. What that means in human speak is that I am taking time away from my own flower farming this season to learn from my fellow flower farmers and designers around the world. When I am not on round the world journeys, I call Prince Edward Island home. If you do not know where that is, you are not alone. It is actually Canada’s smallest province, and I am always surprised at how many Canadians have no idea where it is. It is a small island located off the east coast of Canada in what we call Atlantic Canada. Geographically it is just off the coast from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. North of Maine.

Prince Edward Island

I moved to Prince Edward Island in 2004 to do my Master’s degree in Island Studies. Usually when I tell people that I have a Master’s degree in Island Studies they stare at me blankly. There are lots of cool things you can study about islands. I chose to focus my graduate studies research on sustainable agriculture and fisheries on islands. In other words I got to study and interview some of the most incredible island farmers and fishers about their farming and fishing practices. Islands are fascinating places. Many of the things that happen on islands happens on larger land masses as well, but on islands the effects of many decisions are more immediately felt because they are so small, and resources are much more limited. The interconnectedness between systems is also more clearly visible on islands than it is in larger places. They also have extremely fascinating cultures, language particularities, and usually have a rich history because many islands have been conquered by one power after another in their lifetime.

When I was a child my family moved to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus from the United States. We stayed for 16 years, so I call Cyprus home. My father’s ancestors are from the Italian island of Sicily. I have been fascinated by islands since I was a child, and the more I study them and explore them the more interesting I find them.

But back to the flowers! I graduated with my Master’s degree in 2008. I had not intended on remaining on Prince Edward Island, but in the process of interviewing farmers I realized that farmers are inspiring, empowered and incredibly creative problem solvers. My friendships with the farmers I interviewed led me to get a job with Raymond Loo, an organic farmer on Prince Edward Island who was actively farming and re-shaping the industry by finding and developing new markets for organic produce. I worked with Raymond for two years growing fruit and veggies, and helping him to develop his marketing strategy. Between 2008 and 2014 I had many different farming experiences on a diversity of farms — mostly growing food. In 2014 while surfing the internet I came across something I had never heard of before: flower farming. The website I landed on that day turned out to be none other than Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm. Fascinated by the idea of growing flowers as a cash crop, I started following her blog. Shortly after that I heard that Erin was hosting a flower workshop in Philadelphia with her colleague and fellow flower lover Jennie Love of Love ‘n’ Fresh Flowers. Knowing almost nothing about growing flowers, I registered for the workshop, and dove in at the deep end, immersing myself in the world of flowers surrounded by a crew of experienced growers and designers.

SeasonalBouquetWorkshop

I had no idea when I decided to register for that initial workshop what I was getting myself into, but I do believe in following my intuition, and that was what it was telling me to do, so I went for it. I was in WAY over my head that weekend. As we toured Jennie Love’s fields and she shared about all the different varieties and growing methods I tried to say as little as possible because I was utterly lost, and didn’t want anyone else to know just how little I knew about flowers.

Fortunately feeling lost did not prevent me from realizing that I LOVED what I was experiencing and the company of the community of (in this case) female farmers and designers that are leading the re-birth of the American local flower industry.

I returned to Prince Edward Island that fall, ordered way too many seeds that winter, and planted 25 trays of seeds that I germinated in my attic that spring. I rented six garden plots in a new community garden that was being developed that year, transplanted all of my babies out into my plots, and learned a tonne about growing flowers. I also started a small CSA with a handful of customers that I supplied with fresh local mixed bouquets and edible flowers for the season.

Red Roots Flowers 1

In 2015 I decided I wanted to scale up, so I gave my farm a name — Red Roots Flower Farm (inspired by the red soil of Prince Edward Island), registered my business, and rented about 1/2 acre of land from friends that own an organic farm. With help from my friends, I ploughed up eleven 300 foot long, 4-foot wide beds, and covered half of them in landscaping fabric that I burned holes in to suppress the weeds. My second season was more successful than I had bargained for. I succeeded in producing a massive quantity of flowers. Too massive. I ran my CSA for the second season in a row, had a growing number of individual bouquet orders, dried hundreds of stems that I used to host a successful dry flower wreath-making workshop this past winter, and made flower confetti for weddings, but I still had a lot of flowers that I just didn’t have the time to sell. Lesson learned. Just because I can grow 1/2 acre doesn’t mean I should. I expect I will grow 1/2 acre again some day, but next season I will scale back to 1/4 acre — at least until I have field help. Doing all the field work and the marketing and deliveries on my own was a little bit too much to keep up with and succeed on all fronts. You have to make choices when you are working alone.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 8.43.25 PM

After a number of unexpected personal losses in the fall and winter of 2015, I decided that I needed to refuel, and that I was also at the point where I could really benefit from learning with and from some other flower farmers and designers. Taking time away from my own venture felt scary, but I realized that the further I got with my own business the harder it would be to take time away to work with others, so I decided to take the risk and commit to one full year of learning with and from others before I take my next step.

I packed up my belongings and put them in storage, got rid of most of my furniture, and kicked off my year of learning May 18th. This blog will be where I share with you what I am learning along the way. If you have any questions for me or any of the farmers or designers I am visiting, please let me know, and I will make sure to get answers!

So far I have visited three farms. I stopped at Cultivated by Christin in Victoria, BC. On Salt Spring Island I visited the lovely Molly at Bullock Lake Farm. And this past weekend I spent three days immersed in flower growing, designing, marketing and networking at a Floret Workshop in Washington with the woman who inspired this crazy journey — Erin.

In my next blog post I will share my experiences at Cultivated by Christin and Bullock Lake Farm. The post after that will be all about my magical weekend at Floret Flower Farm. I have just landed in Sacramento, California, where I am visiting my mom and hope to connect with a number of growers and designers. In July I am planning to head to Michigan to spend a few months learning from Jennifer at Bloom Floral Design. And in November I am very excited to be heading to New Zealand to be immersed in the world of Roses with Zoe at Field of Roses on the North Island.

I am calling this blog ‘Where the Flowers Are’ because I have realized this year that home is where my heart is, and my heart keeps¬†leading me to flower fields. If you are interested in flowers, travel, tea, culture, colour, texture, adventure and pursuing dreams, and want to follow along this year, this is where you can do it. I invite you to join me on my flower learning trail, ask questions about methods, varieties, the places I am visiting, and anything else you are curious about along the way. I am aiming for three blog posts a week. You can support me by keeping me accountable. If I start slipping with blog posts I give you permission to give me hell!

poppies

Join me for my next Where the Flowers Are post on Thursday. You can also find me on instagram at @flowerconnection or search the hashtag #wheretheflowersare See you Thursday!