Why we love the Farmers’ Market!

The other evening at the Petaluma Farmers Market, the State Agriculture Inspector came by our booth.  She took one look at our stand and said, “Growing flowers is hard, huh?”  I had to hold myself back from giving her a hug.  “Yes!” I exclaimed. It was so nice to have someone recognize the ugly truth behind our beautiful bouquets.

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Every Wednesday and Friday this summer, Lisa and I wake up at the crack of dawn, harvest until we can’t harvest no more, push through hours of bouquet making to bring our bounty to the Petaluma Wednesday market and the Saturday Santa Rosa market at the Wells Fargo Center. By the time the market’s over, we feel like we’ve worked at least three days straight.  But….it’s worth it.

We started our small organic flower farm this year after working on other farms for a few years. Collectively, we’ve started a CSA farm on Lopez Island in Washington, lived in a tent and worked as an Apprentice on a 25 acre farm at UC Santa Cruz, grown flowers for a non-profit educational farm and learned bio-dynamic growing techniques on a farm in Wisconsin. We’re still not sure exactly how we ended up on this new adventure together, but it was a combination of our mutual love for flowers, the desire to create our own small flower farm oasis, be self-employed and the fateful intervention of the Northern California Farmlink Coordinator.  She had a feeling we could create something beautiful together. And, despite the perpetual dirty fingernails, lack of sleep and callused hands, I’m reminded that this is true every time I set up our stand at the market.  For beginning farmers like us, the farmers’ market is an invaluable direct line to help us get to know our community.

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We grow about 60 different varieties of annual and perennial cut flowers on ¼ acre plus we have about 1/8 acre of 15-year-old rose bushes we inherited from a wonderful man (and expert flower-grower!) named  Percy in Petaluma.  This is a learning year, so we’re constantly tweaking our bouquet sizes and figuring out the ideal prices we should sell them for, but our regular customers and the consistent stream of admiration and compliments we get at the market keeps us motivated through all the uncertainty.

One reason why Lisa and I have been able to create a harmonious partnership and endure through the long hours of prepping and selling at farmers markets is that we share a common goal of being “community farmers.”  To us, this means being farmers who interact with and rely on their local communities to mutually sustain each other.  We believe that this is about treating the land right, bringing safe products to our customers and demonstrating the link between the farm and the end product. Most farmers know that a lot of people have lost the connection between their food and the land and people that grow them – but this might be even more true with flowers.  When you go into a supermarket, or even a florist shop, most flowers come from another country and have been treated with chemicals and preservatives. But when we sell our flowers at the farmers market, we have a chance to tell people exactly where they come from, how they’re grown and why it’s important not to use pesticides or farming practices that degrade the soil, air or water.  A dahlia is even prettier when you know that no beneficial insects were harmed in its creation or that your child can bury her nose in a phlox bloom and not worry about chemicals that might change the fragrance or, even worse, make them sick.

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Another key part to making our business community-minded and sustainable for ourselves (besides remembering to take time off!) is to create enduring and meaningful relationships with our customers, like the ones that can only happen at farmers markets.  The same day that we were visited by the Ag. Inspector, a 72-year old retired longshoreman came by our stand to buy flowers for a nurse who helped him through three bouts of cancer.  Each week he has a new life lesson to share, like how we should appreciate the beautiful things in life, like flowers, and never regret the past.  For some reason, when he tells me this, I listen more.  Another regular came by that same day and encouraged me to stick with the flower business because, she said, “the more you work with beautiful things, the more beautiful you become.”  I’ve got to believe that’s true!  And another man, whose wife told him to stop buying flowers from supermarkets because they were not local or sustainable, visited us at his usual time near the end of the market. He started up his gift-giving tradition again because now he can buy flowers for her that are grown in their hometown without pesticides.

All of our customers, regular or not, are invited to come by our farm, which is right up the road from the market at 4588 Bodega Ave. to check out our flowers for themselves or buy a bouquet on a non-market day.  These interactions bring us into the community and the community to our farm. Without the farmers market, our ideal of becoming sustainable, community- minded farmers would be further out of reach and we might be the only ones who recognized all of the hard work behind our bouquets!

Categories: Farmers' Market

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