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175. Floret Flower Farm | Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Seasonal Blooms | Erin Benzakein | Skagit Valley, WA
7th March 2017 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:37:28

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Well, I couldn’t be more honored then to introduce todays guest who won’t need much of an introduction at all because she has been mentioned by many of my guest for her inspiration, her incredibly informative blog and now her new book coming out! She follows my passion for flowers and has written the book she wishes was there when she started out called Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Seasonal Blooms which was recommended by Jean Martin Fortier when I recently interviewed him who wrote a blurb for it so…

Tell us a little about yourself.

I have a two acre flower farm its called Floret about an hour north of Seattle.

What we’re known for is squeezing a ton of flowers into a really tiny space and we grow more like 4-5 acres in our two small little acres here.

Alright, well were probably excited to hear about how your pulling that off!

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

Well my parents, my dad was an avid gardener so I definitely grew up around nature… but when I was little, tiny like as far back as I can remember I would dig up weeds and plant them in long straight rows … my mom remembers I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet I would always ask for a a little plot of land which I never got! I grew up in the suburbs and I would plant little weeds in straight rows it was almost like I knew what my destiny was gonna be back then …

I bet a lot of listeners have memories of picking weeds and maybe not putting them in straight rows… but like picking a dandelion and putting it in the ground to grow…

How did you learn how to garden organically was your dad that way?

When we were, my kids were born, I started paying more and more attention, when I was pregnant ~ what I was putting in my body and then I had heard about pesticides and started eating organically and that whole world opened up and when I started growing my first garden at my house

  • my own vegetables
  • planted an orchard
  • got chickens and
  • did all those things

I knew I didn’t want to use any chemicals and started researching and learning all I could… so I read Eliot Coleman’s book

NewOrganicGrower

The New Organic Gardener by Eliot Coleman

It was more of a farming book and applied those things to my vegetable garden ….  As the flowers took over my life I just kept applying those organic prinicipals to everything I was growing… because I didn’t want to be

  • surrounded by chemicals and 
  • babies playing in the mud I’m not gonna
  • spray chemcials in  my yard

From the beginning really in my own personal garden always… been organic…

So do you want to tell us how you got flowers?

So we left the city …I grew up in the suburbs then in Seattle, I was a city kid

Chris and Erin Benzakein Floret Flower Farm

a city kid who’s always longing to live in the country so when my husband Chris and I got married and we had our daughter

Olora

I had this really deep …. a strong calling … we have to get out of the city … and we need to go now! …  and go put down roots somewhere!  We looked for a little over a year but we

couldn’t afford until we discovered the Skagit Valley… this beautiful place we now call home and we bought a house with an acre…

  • tilled up a garden
  • planted an orchard
  • got chickens
  • wanted to have an homestead

which is hysterical now, I’m like totally lazy in some ways and I can’t imagine slaughtering my own chickens and all that… I had this idealistic…

it sounds dreamy right…

it totally does and it’s disgusting when you actually do it …. we tried

so the more we tried…. I wanted all these things

  • heriloom orchard

and

  • heirloom chickens

I tried all these different ideas out for maybe a way I could be growing things and be home with my kids and also bring in some income … and flowers really … after a lot of trial and error and testing out a bunch of ideas …  it was when I saw how someone reacted …

Why Flowers

I delivered a bundle of sweet peas a $5 jar of flowers to this woman and I handed them to her and she smelled them and she just started bawling and telling me all these memories and I had childhood memories associated with sweet peas and then I started crying  … right there standing on her doorstep and we’re both bawling and I knew this is what I am supposed to do!

These little tiny blooms had so much power… I wasn’t even aware of that and so I came home

  • tore out the vegetables
  • tore up the orchard gave it away
  • got rid of most of the chickens and
  • planted as many flowers as I could pack into my backyard
  • more and more and bigger
  • took over the neighbors back field 

and it grew from there

“So you took over the neighbors backyard, that’s an interesting way to expand…  so you’re renting or leasing?”

We are leasing.. Our house is on 1 acre … maybe a 1/6 of an acre so it’s like a very large garden off our back porch…  there’s 2 acre field that borders our back property it was a

  • horse pasture
  • became a soccer field

and then one day my neighbors lawn maker broke down and he was angry and frustrated and his kids weren’t playing on the soccer field… and I ran out there with a bunch of cash begged him to let me rent it … and he said yes, and I caught him at the right moment…

I started tilling up that field and planting more flowers so in total we’re only growing 2 acres of flowers…

So my next question is then how did find your market if your kind of far from town…. where do you see things and  how did you get that part?

What To Do With Flowers?

The first couple of years, it was figuring out what do I want to with flowers?

  • Did I want to do weddings?
  • I did a weekly flower subscription
  • I tried a lot of different things …
  • people weren’t really biting

I was really really struggling to sell the flowers the first 2-3 years I couldn’t figure out how to sell them, I could figure out how to grow the flowers but I getting people to take them was a whole other story

I figured out how to grow them

I was interviewing this woman for a farming article I was writing she was talking about being the face of my business.

I’m naturally very shy, and naturally introverted she said instead of doing a logo  and the business name that I actually

  • hire a photographer
  • put on a cute outfit
  • take pictures of me holding the flowers

I was like Omg are you kidding me, no way am I gonna do that… but I was desperate, and nobody would by my stuff and everybody was a little bit panicked when I walked into a flower shop I was  a little aggressive with my

Buy local

nobody cared about local what I didn’t realize what they really cared about was our story, as an artisan maker what they care about is

  • why you do it
  • who you are

Market your story

So I changed out all my marketing material and added pictures of my family and i working with the flowers and it all changed since I haven’t really had to sell anyone… I just tell our story and people totally connect with it…

So where do you sell them then at florists or farmer’s markets or I thought you sold to a CSA?

  • we sell to 24 Whole Food Stores throughout the Pacific NW
  • boxes to the largest CSA in the country full circle farm and our spring blooms they ship to
  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • California
  • all over
  • local florists
  • local wedding of florists

they go a ton of places I would say natural grocery foods like whole foods have been our biggest customers from day one.

What’s the weather like in the Skagit Valley, I would think Valentines, Mothers’s Day in the Rocky Mountains

  • we’re more mild for sure
  • we have a very wet cool spring
  • daffodils just poking out of the soil….
  • over the years more and more hoop houses so now we have
  • 11 hoop houses – 2 of which are heated

haven’t forced things out of seasons just extended our season

Season

Mid March we’ll be picking anemones through oct nov kind of when we close the farm down…

at least from field and farm work

Tell us about something that grew well last year or last season…

Dahlia’s are always a huge beautiful crop for us so last year we had over 7000 plants in the field! I am kind of crazy I like to plant in rainbow order so for the photos…

So it went form burgundy all the way to red to raspberry all the way to white…

Probably biggest and best dahlia season to date…

The feeling of standing in the middle of that beauty it’s hard to even catch your breath…

So is it true your husband takes most of the pictures?

Photography Magic

Yep taught ourselves photography … the ones that look overhead…those are the ones I shoot

unless it’s a picture of our entire family where we bring a photographer in… he does all the pictures for

  • our shop
  • for our website…
  • he really has quite a talent

Are there any tips and tricks you want to share they’re so beautiful…

we usually

Evening Glow

we have really beautiful light

we don’t use any special stuff we don’t to a ton of editing… occasionally we have clone out a blue port-o-potty out in the background because they’re so annoying and ugly ~ we ask the berry picking guys  please move that….

there’s a bright blue one in the back field …

there’s very little editing we do…

Magic Light Hour

  • last hour before daylight
  • all of a sudden everything starts to glow
  • sparkly and twinkly

either shooting in the early morning when the sun is rising or in the evening when the sun is setting that’s what is giving that stunning glow and then we try to put the sun behind the subject

If I’m standing and Chris is shooting me with a bouquet of flowers I try to stand with sun behind me so it’s throwing it’s light through the blooms and behind me and so it’s creating that magical glowing quality…

Well they are stunning and gorgeous and A lot of it is the flowers your growing, the bulk of them it is… all together…

it does’ it goes on forever… the berry fields behind us there’s rows and rows and … a lot of people thing they’re ours but it’s just the farms around us… we’re this little postage farm in the middle of all these gigantic farms all around us.

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

This year our biggest farm goal

We have a small seed company that we started last year… we’re bringing in seeds from all my favorite breeders all over the world

all of my favorite cut varieties mentioned in the book….

ones the … 

Resurrecting the sweet pea

We have seeds from the best sweet pea seed sin the world

growing them out on the farm

10000 little seedlings in the greenhouse

We’re going whole hog to growing our own seed

importing is getting harder

due to drought in California and New Zealand

growing out some other varieties … dip our toe into that world….

we have our own seed line

take our own

I love the way you said we’re gonna dip our toe into that world… and that’s where Skype dropped the call…

I saw that you have that little blog post you wrote that has the pictures

Floret Seeds

We have our own seed line ….

  • 100 varieties of seed
  • dahlia tubers
  • bulbs from holland our favorite varieties…
  • 2nd year doing that
  • expanding

certain varieties that we can’t get our hands on or there is a world shortage that’s why

falling out of favor and the seed breeders are going to drop the lines that’s why we’re  trying to catch up and  speed to grow out these varieties

hold those genetics save...

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