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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!