Flower Farmer Interview - May Edition
One of the main goals that I have in creating this blog is to introduce and educate my community on locally grown flowers.
I also have a goal, once a month throughout 2018, to introduce my readers to other flower farmers from around the U.S. All of these men and women are inspiring to me and all have a unique and inspiring business model.
April just happened to roll right on by and before I knew it May was here. This month I would like to introduce you to Sabine Carey of Full Circle Farms. Sabine's farm is located in Centre County.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself (your background and how you landed in the world of flower farming).
I’ve been active in various aspects of the organic & sustainable farming industry for more than 25 years. After buying our farm – which happens to be where my husband was raised – we ran a produce CSA for 15 years. Flowers had always been a part of our weekly deliveries, and when I ended our CSA program I was really, really excited to be able to focus more on offering local, organically raised flowers to my community.
2. Are there other avenues where you market your flowers?
I sell our flowers through a weekly farmers market, as well as smaller weddings and local florists. Our market is in a college town, so students and faculty leave town just as our summer flowers peak, and then in the fall we juggle varying shopper levels that correlate to home football games. It’s been helpful to connect with wedding planners and florists that look for unique flowers that don’t ship well. I’m also selling bouquets and wreaths through a local co-op, and I’m starting a weekly bouquet subscription program this year in conjunction with some CSA’s, culminating in Dahlia Mania month.
3. What acreage do you grow your flowers on?
My main garden is almost an acre, but a third of that is rotated into cover crops every year, and part of it is used for vegetable production. Annual flowers are probably less than half an acre. I am continuously expanding separate perennial beds for lavender, peonies etc. Our high tunnel is always packed with dahlias, heirloom mums, lisianthus and some of the sweet peas.
4. From your experience, what is the toughest aspect of this job that you have found? Balancing family and other jobs with the never ending demands of farm life – that’s a challenge no matter what kind of farmer you are. A farm demands TLC 24/7, and it’s always a struggle to schedule time to take the kids to the lake for an afternoon – since farm work is never done. It will never be all done. And then there’s marketing! There will be those days when all your gorgeous flowers are blooming right NOW, and the florist says they’d love them in 2 weeks. Marketing is crucial, and it takes a while to make all the connections.
5. What is the most rewarding part of it for you?
Connecting with people and hearing their stories of what the flowers mean to them. How the sight of my delicate sweet peas took them straight back to their grandmothers garden. How the scent of the tuberose wafting across the farmers market immediately made them homesick for Iran. Reminiscing about a childhood in Russia, where gladiola are a common gift for teachers. I love to hear these stories, and the connections they make to faraway places and long ago times.
6. Do you have any specific goals for your business in the next 5 years?
Yes! I’m always continuously improving systems, whether it is a better trellis for my sweetpeas, or a new wholesale order system. Some of my specific 5-year goals include obtaining more floral design training, creating a suitable design workspace in our barn, and installing a second high tunnel (because one is never enough!).
7. What is your biggest piece of advice to somebody just starting out in this field?
Come up with a planting and marketing plan, and refer to it often! Flower farming is so much more than just picking flowers on sunny days. Connect with other growers in your area, and join ASCFG! Never stop learning!
8. Tell us something fun about yourself!
I’m originally from Germany and was raised in Holland – so I was raised with the tradition of always, always having fresh flowers on the dining room table, and acres of tulips and greenhouses in my backyard.