Episode 254: Today’s Modern Flower Farmers: Georgia’s Steve and Mandy O’Shea of 3 Porch Farm and Moonflower Design
July 13th, 2016
News and Updates:
Last month I mentioned news about the Slow Flowers Creative Workshop, which I’m co-teaching with Teresa Sabankaya of the Bonny Doon Garden Co., in Santa Cruz, California.
We have a schedule update – the workshop dates have moved and will begin 24 hours later than originally planned. We’ll now begin on SUNDAY August 21st and continue to MONDAY, August 22nd in order to accommodate those of you who have Saturday wedding conflicts. Here are the details:
Teresa is founder and creative director of Bonny Doon Garden Co. and past guest of this Podcast. We’re teaming up to lead an intimate group of fellow professionals — floral designers and farmer-florists — for an inspiring, two-part workshop taking place over the course of 1-1/2 days.
Our focus will be floral storytelling and media messaging for your business. This valuable experience is designed to help you clarify, document and communicate your personal artistic message. Go deep into Slow Flowers “brand building” and find your own voice as a floral storyteller.
You’ll also explore and expand your approach to garden-inspired design. Working with Teresa, you’ll identify the artistic inspiration for your aesthetic. Her hands-on exercises will explore how floral elements and complementary elements support your design brand and focus on how mechanics that support your style.
This all takes place in the setting of a beautiful garden, where you’ll feel right at home with beautiful flowers, gardens, farm animals and new friends! Spaces are limited and you won’t want to miss out on the chance to hone your message through words, images and flowers.
American Flowers Week is all wrapped up for 2016, with a record-breaking 1.3 million potential impressions tracked on Instagram and Twitter alone for the hashtag #americanflowersweek, more than 3 times the engagement for the same period in 2015.
As I was analyzing the social media activity, I started digging deeper into the use of the Slow Flowers hashtag, as well. And it was mindblowing to see that our top posts and most influential users of #slowflowers are today’s guests, Mandy and Steve O’Shea of 3 Porch Farm in Comer, Georgia. In the past 30 day period 3 Porch Farm has used the hash-tag 29 times with potential exposure of more than 310,000 impressions.
Mandy and Steve joined me recently over Skype to talk about their journey as flower farmers and floral designers. They’ve shown great leadership in our Slow Flowers community, both in their own community and far beyond as attested to by their social media presence.
As you’ll hear in our conversation, the couple also operate Moonflower Design Studio as a sister business for weddings and events. There, along with more than 16,000 followers on Instagram, Mandy and Steve share their floral artistry that inspires farmer-florists and studio designers around the world. Moonflower is another top 10 influencer using the #slowflowers — the combined reach of these parallel ventures is impressive.
Let me share a little more about this dynamic partnership:
3 Porch Farm is a “Certified Naturally Grown” operation (measured by the same standards as USDA Organic). While Steve and Mandy are beginning the process towards certified organic, their commitment to sustainable farming goes far beyond that. All three of the farm vehicles run on waste vegetable oil recycled from restaurants in Athens.
Since April 4th 2012, the farm is entirely solar powered, with an installation of solar panels that provides enough electricity to supply the needs of the entire farm plus quite a bit extra to feed back into the grid. 3 Porch Farm’s goal is to be as close to carbon neutral as possible and to use as many locally harvested building materials and green products while developing the infrastructure.
Though organic fruit is difficult to pull off in the south, Mandy and Steve are currently experimenting with a variety of hearty and delicious apples, plums, pears, peaches, kiwis, nectarines and more.
The farm is lush with strawberries and blueberry bushes allowing 3 Porch Farm to sell its fruits, mushrooms, seasonings, honey, and beautiful flower bouquets and bunches at the Athens Farmers Market on Saturdays and Wednesdays as well as the Freedom Farmer Market in Atlanta on Saturdays. There’s also the “fantabulous” popsicles called HoneyPops, made with 3 Porch Farms’ fruit and local honey. Sold at their farmer’s market stalls, HoneyPops offer customers a sweet dessert treat on a hot Georgia morning (and actually gives them a healthy breakfast at the same time).
While they love all of those crops, flowers are Steve and Mandy’s true passion! Their relationship with flowers keeps growing and this year has proven to be incredibly abundant because they’ve planted more than ever! They’ve added hundreds of rose bushes and peonies, thousands of dahlias and ranunculus, and myriad of other varieties for every season.
I love this sentiment on 3 Porch Farms’ web site: “We have the good fortune of living on an amazing farm with acres of gorgeous landscaping, constantly in bloom, and filled with wildlife. It is our great pleasure to spend our years working together to bring something positive to an already wonderful community.”
Here’s a little more about today’s guests:
A Georgia native, Mandy O’Shea graduated from University of Georgia at Athens with a degree in Horticulture.
During that time, she began working with a local sustainable farmer and selling their goods at the Big City Bread farmers market and other local venues. She has been hooked ever since. Her love for the farm life took her to California via the WWOOF’s program where she learned to combine her love for horses and farming.
While in California, she also worked at the prestigious organic olive oil company McEvoy Ranch for multiple years, helping to manage their 7-acre vegetable and cut flower gardens as well as doing daily flower arrangements to beautify the ranch, the S.F. Ferry Building store and for frequent events. After missing her home state for too long, she and Steve packed up their dogs…and bee hives… and headed east bound and southward to begin their new farming endeavor. She is excited to o help bring beauty, blooms, and good food to the local folks.
Steve O’Shea came to Georgia from northern California to try and make his farm dream a reality. With a varied background ranging from biology to building, he spent a few years on a sustainable farm as a mechanic on veggie oil vehicles (tractors, generators, etc), on construction of an eco village (strawbale, cob, lime plasters), and as a floater on a variety of other farm-support tasks from harvesting to CSA management.
He’s also spent years working in renewable fuels as a mechanic and tour driver, prior to becoming a timber framer for close to 5 years. At 3 Porch farm, Steve heads up farm construction and sustainability projects and helps his farm mentor (Mandy) in the fields. Steve has long struggled to try and find a profession that provided a living wage in a way that respects and nourishes the natural surroundings and the community at large and still appeals on a personal creative level. 3 Porch Farm is now the setting in which he is working to create that profession instead of seeking it out elsewhere.
P.S. Steve and Mandy mentioned some of the people who helped and inspired their journey with flowers. And of course, all are past guests of the Slow Flowers Podcast. If you’d like to listen to those past episodes, here are the links:
SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: Growing Hardy Annuals with “Cool Flowers” author & flower farmer Lisa Mason Ziegler (Episode 159)
SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: East Coast-West Coast, meet Jennie Love and Erin Benzakein, creators of The Seasonal Bouquet Project (Episode 114)
A final note about 3 Porch Farm.
During our interview, I neglected to ask Steve and Mandy to discuss their farm’s name, but here’s the explanation from their beautiful web site: “The thought of the South is always deeply entangled with the culture and imagery of the porch. In many ways, porch culture has thinned out a bit in the era of conditioned air, but it is still an inherent part of Southern culture and history and remains a romantic and charming part of what draws us to the South. A porch, a couple chairs, a banjo, a cold drink, fireflies and crickets, lightening in the distance and a slight breeze through the Pecan leaves to cool you ever so slightly or at least take the edge off the summer heat… Beats T.V. anyday.
“When we set out to purchase land and start a farm, we had a fairly modest amount of savings to do it with and had prepared ourselves for living in a tent and working the land for quite some time.
Somehow, we had the amazing fortune to find a beautiful piece of property that not only had a home we could afford, but it also had 3 porches — a front porch, a back porch and a sleeping porch. We were, and still are, elated. It is a rare day when we use A.C., so a great deal of our non-work life is situated on a porch. Smoothie breaks during the heat of the day, the occasional meal with friends, and that two hours before dusk after the Saturday market in which we gratefully squeeze in a ‘weekend.’ Virtually all of our farm planning and appreciation takes place on a porch. We can overlook the expanse of the farm, watch the animals forage, hunt, and play and be inspired enough to step off again and get back to work. For these reasons and a few more, we are 3 Porch Farm.”
Thank you for joining our conversation today! Here’s how you can find and follow Steve and Mandy
3 Porch Farm on Facebook
3 Porch Farm on Instagram
Moonflower Design Studio on Instagram
I can’t close this week’s episode without commenting on the devastating events our nation witnessed last week. Caring about flowers, flower farming and floral design feels pretty frivolous in the face of lives that have been lost so tragically — and it’s a challenge to find meaning in the bigger scheme of things.
I’ve been struggling with speaking out but I have to. I am the mother of two amazing young men who happen to be biracial; they have one white parent and one black parent. My husband and I want our sons to live in a world where they can thrive and experience their potential, their dreams, gifts and talents, just like any parent wishes for their children. Each of us should care about the lives of all humans in our communities and especially our children. Please join me in paying attention, in being kind, in being intentional. In employing or doing business with someone who doesn’t look like us; in opening our minds and attitudes; in challenging old assumptions; in loving rather than hating.
The more that I think about it, flowers actually can play a very special role in times of uncertainty and fear; during times when words are not enough, the gesture of giving flowers can speak volumes. This week, one of my oldest friends, a gardener and an Episcopal priest, cut flowers from her parish garden and took them to her local police department as a simple gesture of humanity. She is equally supportive of the #Blacklivesmatter cause in our community and she serves disenfranchised and privileged alike with love and respect. Showing dignity to other human beings is something we each can do. I pledge to fight apathy and be intentional — and I ask you to do the same in small and large ways.
The Slow Flowers Podcast has been downloaded more than 106,000 times by listeners like you. THANK YOU to each one of you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing. It means so much.
Next week is our third anniversary for the Slow Flowers Podcast and I have a special guest whose return engagement will join me in discussing the state of the Slow Flowers Union. Please tune in on July 20th for our special episode, 255.
Thank you to 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.
A big bouquet of thanks goes 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
Next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review.
The content and opinions expressed here are either mine alone or those of my guests alone, independent of any podcast sponsor or other person, company or organization.
The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew and Hannah Brenlan. Learn more about their work at shellandtree.com.