I am privileged and thankful to have the opportunity to talk with people from many walks of life. Whether at the local Farmer’s Market, on the phone with floral designers, chatting online, or traveling abroad in the off season, a common question I am asked is “Why do I Farm?”…
On the surface, this is an easy answer for me today, and it is “Hope.” Hope for future generations, hope for a local economy, hope for responsible stewardship of the land, and consequentially, hope for our planet.
It hasn’t always been this way. In the beginning, back in 1998,
I chose to farm for a simple reason: To have the winter off to ski. In the early years, I lived in my van on the same piece of land I still toil away on now, 20 years later. My aspirations were quite simple: To make a few thousand bucks that would allow me to get a season long ski pass, and move my van up to the base of the ski area, where instant oatmeal, Ramen noodles, and hot chocolate with butter mixed in, fueled an exploration of Vermont’s winter wonderlands.
After a few years of this routine, as a young man in my early 20’s, I deeply desired to spread my wings and explore as far as my rolling base camp would allow. This required that I step it up a notch a bit on the farm, maybe even try for $10,000 in gross sales. That lead to cultivating more land, building a greenhouse, developing channels to sell more flowers. These sales allowed me to travel for the winter, and with great passion and enthusiasm, I drove all over North America, clocking 200 days a year on skis, never having crossed another skiers track. I dove deep into the backcountry, in places like Teton Pass Wyoming, Roger’s Pass British Columbia, Wolf Creek Pass Colorado, and one of my absolute favorite places to this day: Galena Pass Idaho. I built snow caves, I listened to Wolves howl at the moon, I skied into remote hot springs where eventually the locals quietly, and gently, suggested other places to move my adventure on to.
One day in the summer of 2001, when my father came to visit and camp out with me on the farm, I proudly stated that I had planted 500 sunflower seeds, nursed them to grow into beautiful blooms, and sold them locally for $1/stem. In
his characteristic short winded wisdom, my father replied “So next year plant 10,000.” And so I did. I also started growing Oriental Lilies, and in quick time attracted attention from some big national wholesalers, who were drawn to my product partly because of quality, but also because these cut throat businessmen knew I was “green” and that they could dazzle me with big numbers, and in my desire to meet those demands would agree to low prices. (More on that later!) By 2005, the Mountain Flower Farm was producing 80,000 lily stems per summer, using varietal differences to achieve a staggered harvest from late June into mid September. We were also growing Zinnia in even greater numbers, delivering most of it to regional distributors.
Now, without ever consciously setting out to do so, I had created a business that was flourishing, and was too good to walk away from…
Around this time, word was starting to get out about the Mountain Flower Farm. I’d receive random calls from buyers wanting to contract our whole crop. I’d receive emails from high end luxury designers, willing to pay any price to secure what they needed for upcoming events. I was honestly a bit dazzled, and I had to ask them why.. The answer, time and time again, was quality. Our reputation for absolute top quality blooms. Global producers were visiting the farm to learn about our production methods, and in all honesty, I was just winging it. One thing I was firm about though, was only certified organic methods.
As it turns out , this was the key to the whole show. Not because there was demand for “organic” flowers, but because organic techniques produced the best blooms.
This brings us to a turning point in the original question of “Why do I Farm?”. The 10 year struggle to be economically viable was behind. The future looked bright ahead, and what brought me the most joy, was flower by flower, chipping away at a market dominated by toxic, imported blooms, that were coming to us with great ecologic, economic, and geopolitical costs. Replacing this old standard with beautiful, healthy, organic blooms, became the reason why I farmed. Make no mistake, farming is no easy task. Broken equipment, harvests gone awry, sore backs, cut up hands, cash flow challenges. The battle was, and still is, fought with the strength and pride I draw from producing an ecologically sustainable crop.
Fast forward to 2018. Hope. Hope is now my driving force. Hope for my daughter to grow up in a healthy world. Hope for other flower farms to flourish. Hope that collectively we can create a change that will echo worldwide, and help everyone from the smallest scale local farm, to the largest producers in existence to adopt proven organic techniques that are not only ecologically sustainable, but economically viable as well. There is no need for us to live in a world where Glyphosphate poisons our rivers and people. No need to live in a world where persistent petrochemical fertilizers linger in the soil. No need to use toxic pesticides that destroy nature’s balance.
I’m working hard to meet this goal. In my next blog post, I’ll talk about “The Rewards and Reach” we are driving for, and how other farms can adopt some of the tricks and techniques that are making it possible. Moving further towards spring , I’ll be discussing some specific methods to help market growers realize impressive yields and profits. I hope you’ll join me on this adventure.
Best wishes from Vermont,