I get asked this question a lot: "How did you become a flower farmer?" It has taken me over a year to articulate my story. Attending ASAP's Business of Farming conference this past weekend provided me with the structure and encouragement to sit down and really think about how I got where I am today. I can't pretend that this story is just about me however. William, my husband, best friend, love of my life and partner in all things, is the real reason that I had the courage to follow this dream.
I grew up on the coast of South Carolina and some of my earliest memories are of climbing the giant magnolia trees outside my dad's office and picking wildflowers along the path to the beach. My parents are both plant people through and through. My mom taught me at a young age that to pick lettuce, you don't actually yank the whole plant out of the ground. And that vegetables from the garden are immensely tastier than those bought from the grocery store. I spent hours every summer watering trees at my dad's plant nursery and landscaping company, and I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. Family vacations were spent camping in the same mountains that I now call home. So its no wonder that my heart led me to be growing plants here the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I spent my 20's living and adventuring in the Western states while leading outdoor adventure trips for teens - backpacking across British Columbia, mountaineering in Washington and rock climbing in Northern California. I would save all my money in order to travel (and do the same activities) in places like Nepal, Peru and Costa Rica. I apprenticed on an organic farm in Georgia and fell in love with farming. I eventually became the director of the outdoor program and after 10 years of traveling, I started to crave a home. I got a dog, a cat, some chickens and built a huge garden in the heart of Asheville. I reconnected with a college friend and fell in completely in love. I married that sweet friend, added another dog to our family and built a bigger garden. But I started to feel restless in my professional life. I loved working with kids and wanted a new challenge, so I joined an incredible team of folks who were starting a K-8 charter school. It was a wonderful experience, but my heart was still restless and being drawn even more strongly towards farming.
I knew deep down that I wanted to be growing plants, but vegetables didn't feel right. One day while trail running, I had an intense vision that I needed to be growing flowers. I could see it so clearly in my mind: fields full of flowers. Throughout my life, I've carried with me my parents' love of flowering plants - drooling over dahlias at Pike's Place Market in Seattle before I even had a home, always having vases of fresh flowers in the house, growing them in my yard and designing the flowers for our wedding. I tentatively approached William - who by now was well aware of my professional restlessness and wild dreams - and told him that I wanted to become a flower farmer. I started reading, researching, writing business plans and creating financial projections and spending every spare moment developing this dream. The biggest obstacle (besides finances and actually doing the hard work of farming solo) was that I wasn't sure that I could build a new business and really give it 100% while working a full time job. When I set my mind to do something, I go all in and want to be successful. I wanted to quit my job and become a full time flower farmer. William was nothing short of heroic as he encouraged me to pursue this dream.
So we made a plan: we depleted our savings, I tearfully left my job at the school and found some beautiful land to lease. I was absolutely terrified. Leaving behind a steady paycheck, health insurance, set hours for work and the camaraderie of coworkers felt like such a huge risk. But I knew that in order to make this dream happen, I would have to be organized, focused and work my ass off.
We humans crave beauty in our lives. Flowers truly feed the soul and are such a unique expression of caring. Seeing the look on someone's face as I hand them a bouquet of fresh-picked flowers is unlike anything I've ever experienced. I love telling people the romantic names of varieties that I grow and feeling proud that when someone sticks their nose into my flowers, they'll inhale fragrance instead of chemicals. With each seed sown, weed pulled and bridal bouquet created, I am literally building our future and living the dream.
Following your dreams is never easy - its hard work, sore muscles, fear of failure, loneliness, mistakes and lots of dirty laundry. But having the courage to step out of my comfort zone and explore that restlessness, with the unfailing support of William, led me to start this little flower business. Its the best risk I've ever taken.
P.S. This is the long version of my story :) My next homework from the conference is to write the short version. Why is it always harder to condense stories and edit? Wish me luck!