Episode 248: Cooperation over Competition, Part Four of the North Bay Flower Collective series
June 1st, 2016
American Flowers Week is only one month away, scheduled for June 28th through July 4th.
Check out our dedicated web site here to read stories about members who are involved with this cool media and consumer awareness campaign. Find free downloads of graphics, a badge for your blogroll and images to use on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
And here is our brand new fun coloring map of the USA, which you can download and print here to share with customers. Get out your pens and pencils and color to your heart’s content. Then PLEASE post your creation and tag #americanflowersweek — we look forward to seeing your work. A grateful shout-out to Jenny Diaz, our designer, for hand-drawing and hand-lettering the adorable 50-state map.
You’re also invited to contribute a bouquet of your own by designing a red-white-and-blue arrangement with local flowers from your state — and be sure to post and send us a photo of the results. Sign up here.
We’ll add it to our “50 Weeks of American Grown Flowers” gallery that will live on americanflowersweek.com and at the Slow Flowers Community on Facebook. So far, we’ve had people from 11 states volunteer to contribute a photo of their patriotic bouquet –and we’d love to receive your imagery by mid-June. Please share the love and get involved!
And by the way — all submissions will be eligible for several prizes donated by our sponsors, including three $100 dollar shopping sprees from Syndicate Sales. We’ll have more swag to announce in the future.
I’m really excited to share today’s episode with you, recorded during my two-day March floral excursion hosted by the farmers, florists and growers of Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, also known as the North Bay Flower Collective.
If you’ve been listening to this series, I can only imagine you shared the same response as I’ve experienced — that of being awed and inspired by the basic human truth that we each need a tribe; we each can soar to achieve that which we imagine or dream, when we are not alone.
Together, this community of people who make their living on flower farms and in design studios tells an important narrative of collaboration over competition.
I recorded this segment in two parts at two Sonoma County farms, both of which provided me lodging and meals, not to mention friendship and breathtaking scenery.
First, you will hear my conversation with Zoe Hitcher, the head flower farmer at Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg, California, and Jaclyn Nesbitt, owner of Jaclyn K. Nesbitt Floral Design based in Santa Rosa, California, two Slow Flowers members who are part of the North Bay Flower Collective. You’ll also hear a few comments from my ever-present escort Daniele Strawn of Chica Bloom Farm.
Here’s a bit of background about Front Porch Farm.
After other successful careers, Peter and Mimi Buckley started a 110-acre organic farm outside Healdsburg six years ago. Front Porch Farm lies along a wild stretch of the Russian River, due east of Healdsburg, California.
The farm rests on a bench of rich alluvial soils, surrounded by low hills forming a lovely pocket valley. There, they tend a mosaic of fruit, nut, and olive orchards; fields of grains, alfalfa, and pasture grass; a wide variety of heritage vegetable crops; and wine grapes on the sunny hillsides.
Blackberry cultivars ripen along the fences and the Russian River flows nearby, alive with osprey, herons, deer, and the occasional mountain lion. Organic farming depends on biological diversity and flowers are an integral part of the farm’s ecosystem.
By attracting pollinators and beneficial insects, the flowers that Zoe grows keep fruit trees and berry bushes productive as well as row crops protected. They add beauty and bring joy to those who work with and receive them. Front Porch Farm’s flowers are sold at the farm, at local farmers’ markets, and in local floral shops around Healdsburg and Sonoma County. In addition, as flower manager, Zoe provides elegant and natural design work capturing the spirit of the farm customized to unique clients and events.
Zoe’s bio originally appeared in the Field to Vase “grower’s spotlight” blog, written by our second guest, Jaclyn Nesbitt and used with permission:
Zoe has a rich background in flowers and gardening. She has worked at a flower shop, urban community gardens, and a school garden. She participated in the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture at UC Santa Cruz and finally, before joining Front Porch Farm, she and two colleagues ran a thriving farm in Santa Cruz.
The farm’s owners, Mimi and Peter, are two vibrant, beautiful souls who are dedicated to biodiversity and sustainable agriculture in a region solely focused on wine.
In Zoe’s words: “Our vision at Front Porch Farm is to create a diverse farm in the midst of wine-country monoculture. We see ourselves as stewards of the land which means it’s our job to look after the health of the soil and the Russian River that runs through our valley. We want to create habitat for the honey bees and the migratory birds. We also want to create the highest quality produce, most cared-for meat (look into our heritage pig operation!) and, my charge, the most beautiful flowers! Thanks to my partner Mimi Buckley and her vision, we are in the process of turning two acres of our farm into a vibrant flower garden, including over sixty varieties of annual flowers and many perennials and bulbs as well. Ultimately we aim to be a training ground for new farmers and a resource for our local community.”
Here’s an introduction to Jaclyn Nesbitt:
Jaclyn K. Nesbitt Designs specializes in flowers and botanicals for special events and styled shoots. She takes pride in sourcing local and seasonal materials for her unique, organic, and artful designs. She wholeheartedly believes in supporting the incredible flower farmers she has made personal relationships with in the Greater Bay Area. Rooted in her strong values, Jaclyn is able to honor the earth, the local economy, and the region’s rich agricultural heritage. Formally trained in painting, photography, printmaking and textile design, Jaclyn is a true artist that can put her creative sensibilities to work through any medium.
She writes this manifesto on her web site: Our work thrives where art + nature collide. Our passion for design, fine art, and fashion is balanced by a lifelong love relationship with the wild, mysterious natural world. Articulating this fine balance is what motivates our work.
We love and respect our local flower farmers. Through our commitment to using seasonal and locally sourced materials, we strive to honor the earth, our local economy, and our region’s rich agricultural heritage. Celebrating the diversity of people and their extraordinary stories is what makes our work meaningful.
Find Zoe Hitchner at these social places:
Find Jaclyn K. Nesbitt at these social places:
My second NB Flower Collective “farm stay” took place at Open Field Farm in Petaluma. On my last night in the North Bay, the entire collective gathered for a delicious potluck dinner and informal discussion that allowed me to meet many other members in this group.
Sarah and Seth James, owners of Open Field Farm, were gracious hosts, sharing their beautiful barn as a meeting place, as well as giving me a beautiful, comfortable room in their guest house that night.
I didn’t think I would have time to interview the Jameses, but at the end of the evening, which followed a long day of farm work and managing three precocious farm kids, not to mention cooking up a delicious crowd-friendly soup, Sarah agreed to sit with me and share the story of how she and Seth became farmers who grow food and flowers.
Here’s an introduction to these remarkable people:
Seth spent his first six years living in a house tucked between two dairy farms outside of Ithaca, New York. From his window he watched the tractors and farmers. He knew at an early age that he wanted to learn more about farming. After volunteering on an organic farm in high school, he choose to study sustainable agriculture at Sterling College in Northern Vermont. He had a goat, learned to handle a chainsaw properly, and skied the big open fields. After graduation, he became a staff member of the Visiting Students Program at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Harlemville, NY, helping to run a weekly programs for Waldorf schools that came to the farm. There he also gained tractor knowledge, helped in the dairy barn and started a firewood program.
Sarah grew up in the Bay Area. As a teenager, she woke up early to shop with her mother at the farmers’ market. She started helping her mother cook meals and by senior year she took over the job. In college at UC Berkeley, she volunteered at the Edible Schoolyard and worked at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. After graduation, she worked for 2 years as a line cook at restaurants in Los Angeles and New York. She loved the intensity of the kitchen and the skills she gained, but disliked the late shifts and being inside all day. On a whim, she decided to work for a summer as a camp counselor at the farm camp at Hawthorne Valley Farm. While there, she fell in love with farming and with Seth.
For 3 years after Hawthorne Valley, Seth and Sarah were fortunate to work on several small organic farms throughout New England and to learn about farming from accomplished mentors. First they traveled to Maine to intern at 2 diversified market farms, using draft power and raising sheep, pigs, and chickens along with vegetables. Next Seth apprenticed at Temple Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire, a year round biodynamic CSA, while Sarah worked at the Intervale Community Farm in Vermont, a large CSA with on farm pick up. During the winter, Seth groomed cross country ski trails and Sarah milked cows at two different farmstead cheese dairies. The next season they returned to Maine where Sarah worked in the garden at Avena Botanicals, growing medicinal herbs while Seth began to hone his carpentry skills.
in 2005, they married and settled in New Hampshire to look for their own farm and to start a family. Their bicoastal farm search started in the East but eventually they moved West. While they were searching Seth continued to work as a carpenter for several years, gaining invaluable building knowledge. He started and managed a CSA in Half Moon Bay for 3 years. Sarah ran the home front, including the children: Margrethe born in 2006, Oliver born in 2009, and Teddy born in 2012. The kids are full of energy and eager to help on the farm but like to cause trouble as well!
In July 2012, Seth and Sarah purchased the ranch and began to create a new farm on the solid foundation left by previous owners. It was historically operated as a dairy and chicken ranch in the first half of the 20th century. In the 1940s, the dairy herd was enlarged and the chickens were sold. The farm remained a dairy until the early 2000s when the farmer retired and leased the land to a local organic dairy farmer for silage and grazing.
The grassland has been well maintained, with few weeds and little erosion. The old farm buildings and much of the other infrastructure were in need of repair. With the help of many talented and thoughtful local tradesmen, Sarah and Seth replaced many of the old water lines, updated the electrical, and repaired some of the old barns. They cleared away berry bushes from the sides of buildings and hauled away dumpster loads of debris. They hope to continue restoring the old barns and the farmyard in the future.
Open Field Farm is a diversified farm, raising grass fed beef, pastured eggs, chickens, turkeys, and pork, while also growing a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, dry beans and corn, flowers, and small grains. Sarah and Seth hope to continue to add to the farm’s diversity as it grows. Their food and flowers are distributed through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Open Field Farm uses all organic and biodynamic practices and is in the process of being certified.
Please enjoy this bonus conversation with Sarah, recorded while Seth was putting the children to bed. Little did I know at the time that she still had to sit at her computer and write the farm’s weekly newsletter to CSA members. It was probably 10 pm when we finished and this intrepid farmer wasn’t daunted despite probably being eager to put her head on her pillow. I am humbled and filled with respect for farmers and witnessing even a tiny glimpse into their lives is a huge privilege.
Find Open Field Farm at these social places:
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I want to acknowledge and thank our lead sponsor for 2016: Certified American Grown Flowers. The Certified American-Grown program and label provide a guarantee for designers and consumers on the source of their flowers. Take pride in your flowers and buy with confidence, ask for Certified American Grown Flowers. To learn more visit americangrownflowers.org.
More sponsor thanks goes to Syndicate Sales, an American manufacturer of vases and accessories for the professional florist. Look for the American Flag Icon to find Syndicate’s USA-made products and join the Syndicate Stars loyalty program at syndicatesales.com
Thanks to Longfield Gardens… providing home gardeners with high quality flower bulbs and perennials. Their online store offers plants for every region and every season, from tulips and daffodils to dahlias, caladiums and amaryllis. Visit them at lfgardens.com.
And finally, thank you Arctic Alaska Peonies, a cooperative of 50 family farms in the heart of Alaska providing high quality, American Grown peony flowers during the months of July and August. Visit them today at arcticalaskapeonies.com
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