The Floral Field Trip – American Grown Flowers in Vermont
About a month ago, I was lucky enough to be able to attend The Floral Field Trip, to beautiful Waitsfield, Vermont. The purpose of the trip was to learn more about sourcing American Grown Flowers and to build relationships with several American Grown flower sources in the area. As you probably know, using American Grown flowers is very important to me, and is just one avenue for making my business as green and sustainable as possible. We stayed at the beautiful Knoll Farm (specializing in blueberries and purebred Icelandic sheep!), and spent our days at Mountain Flower Farm (selling primarily peonies and hydrangea, but also other goodies!)
The view was incredible. We were literally on top of this mountain looking down into a valley, right when the trees were beginning to change colors for autumn!
Using American Grown flowers is important to me because I believe in shopping local, which helps to support not only local families, but also local infrastructure like emergency services, schools and businesses. This, in and of itself, is a great reason to support our American Flower Farms, in my opinion. But, for me, there’s more. In addition to supporting local businesses, buying local flowers also helps reduce my business’ carbon footprint (by using less resources to get the product to me), which is one of my CORE values of owning a more sustainable business. So, buying American Grown flowers is just one part of the green practices I am employing throughout my business in order to be more sustainable. Other efforts include making sure to recycle all of my packaging (I could seriously write an entire post about the horrendous amount of waste that my industry produces), reducing my use of floral foam and other plastics, and using recyclable products to deliver my product. I have found that wholesalers are not always very forthcoming about where their flowers are coming from, which makes sourcing local/american grown blooms more difficult. BUT, I am finding that sourcing directly from farms/co-ops ensures that I get the kind of product that I want, even if it does take me a bit more time to complete my ordering process.
I specifically came on this trip to support Kelly Shore (of Petals by the Shore) and Mary Kate Kinnane (of The Local Bouquet) and their message, but also because Mountain Flower Farm is a distribution list that I am already on, and I wanted to learn more about Walt and his farm. It’s so much more informative to be able to see the product in person, and to build those personal connections with the farmers. The premise of this trip was that it was educational but also in a retreat-style format, and so I was really looking forward to a bit of relaxation as well!
So here we go! Day One: I drove 8 and a half hours (really pretty drive through the mountains!) and arrived on Sunday evening at Knoll Farm. I was in love the moment I saw it! We had to park at the bottom of the hill and had to go up a HUGE hill to get to the little yurt villages.
The yurt villages were incredible. They were all grouped together at the top of the hill, and shared a communal solar-heated bathhouse. There were outdoor showers (if you’ve never showered outside, I highly recommend it!) and even an outdoor hot-tub! I shared a yurt with the fabulous Alison Ellis. We had an outlet for the computers and phones, two beds, a shelf and a small table. The yurts were surprising comfortable, and had windows and a skylight that could be opened!
We started with a welcome from Peter Forbes. We talked to us about the history of the land, from the Abenaki tribe, to the Irish settlers. He knew the names of everyone who had owned the land – I loved how aware he was about the land and all those who had come before him to this property. Meals were served family style, in a huge barn and all locally sourced. There’s even an outdoor pizza oven for fresh pizza! We had a toast and spent the first night getting to know each other by the fire!
Day 2: We woke up early and headed to Mountain Flower Farm, grower and seller of Vermont-grown peonies and hydrangea, among other things. Walt gave us a beautiful tour of the property before we began our discussions. He told us so much about all of the plants he’s growing: hydrangea, viburnum, forsythia, peony, ninebark, clematis….
Walt cut samples of many of the flowers and foliage he had growing. In the image, directly below, the two darkest foliages are ninebark, which you may recognize, but did you know that peony foliage is pretty hearty, and it turns red in the fall? It’s positively beautiful!! In the second image below, the foliage is forsythia, which I had no idea was so hearty! I’ve already started using it in my fall weddings. But I think my all-time favorite bloom from the farm was the lace-cap hydrangea. Not only does it get a red tint to it in the fall, but not all of the blossoms fully open, which gives it a more lace-y look.
Here is some more of the beautiful red tint of the limelight hydrangeas!
There was some beautiful clematis blooming (I ended using some of the ‘swirl-y pods” in my boutonniere for the photoshoot), and I couldn’t help but stop to smell some late-blooming lilac!
Even the viburnum turns a beautiful red color in the fall! There is a beetle that likes to poke holes in the tops of viburnum earlier in the season. The beetle comes back later on and lays its eggs in holes it left. Because Walt tries to avoid using chemicals/pesticides on his farm, he and his team work tirelessly after the beetles poke their holes to remove the tips of the viburnum plants BY HAND. This is just one of many examples of how hard Walt works to create a farm that uses practices he is proud of. It’s obvious that he pours his heart and soul into his farm!
After our tour and a delicious bagged lunch from Knoll Farm, Debra Prinzing (of Slow Flowers) lead us in a creative writing workshop to help us think more creatively about the words we use when we talk about and describe flowers! **Debra is one of my most favorite flower friends. If you don’t know about the great work she’s doing with regard to the Slow Flowers Movement, you are missing out! Please, take some time to see what she’s about!** She asked us each to pick one stem from the farm and describe it – not describe it in regular words, but describe it in flowery, metaphorical prose – something I am really, really not good at! I needed some guidelines, and after some discussion in the group, I decided to write a haiku (something I haven’t done since grade school!). I chose, of course, the lace-cap hydrangea…
A Haiku For Walt
Pristine blooms floating over seeds of burgundy blossoming from fields of green
Here is my lace-cap hydrangea stem with a beautiful list of botanical adjectives that I have already made good use of when writing proposals! Thank you Debra!
By the way, this is Walt’s view from his farm every day……it felt like a dream!!
Another exciting thing for Walt is that the same week that we were visiting, Walt was also busy separating peony roots to be sold! The fact that he took time away from this huge project to meet with us and show us the farm just shows how committed he is to bring quality blooms to florists all over the country! This man is so dedicated and passionate – he is truly inspiring!
After our day at the farm, we took a little excursion to Warren Falls. We hiked into the woods, not too far, and came to a beautiful set of waterfalls!
So there we were admiring the view, when Kelly looks over at me and says, “you know, sometimes people jump off this cliff into the water.” I don’t know if I was just excited to be on the trip with new friends, or if I was somehow afflicted with some temporary daredevil virus…..but I looked at Stacey (of Paeonia Floral Designs), my new flower friend, and said “Wanna jump?” She looked at me with a devilish look in her eye too and agreed! Let me tell you, Vermont waterfall water at the end of September is COLD, like, can’t-get-enough-air-in-your-lungs COLD. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for the world! It was an incredible experience!
After that exhilarating experience, it was time to head back to Knoll Farm to get cleaned up and have a few more break-out sessions. First up was Alison Ellis (of Real Flower Business), who talked to us about how to appropriately price a wedding proposal. After Alison, was Mary Kate, who lead a discussion about branding.
At was an amazing day and we complete the day with a delicious family style dinner among old and new friends!
Day Two was supposed to start with an early morning harvest at Mountain Flower Farm, but weather prevented us! We let some of the rain settle down, pulled on our boots, headed down for breakfast, and were treated to an awe-inspiring view of the fog settling low in the valley.
We gathered at Mountain Flower Farm and had morning sessions with Semia Dunne (of The Floral Reserve and Flowers By Semia) who talked to us about how she started The Floral Reserve, which is an incredible wholesale flower market in the New England area. She recognized a need/desire for more American Grown flowers, and started her own company, which provides high quality flowers, both domestic and imported. What I love about her market is that you can clearly see where each flower has come from! Next was Kelly Shore (of Petals by the Shore) who talked to us about best practices for sourcing American Grown flowers 365 days a year. Kelly has been a mentor to me for years, and I was really happy to be able to support her in this project, and there’s always something to learn from her. Last we heard from Mike Feiner, of Vineripe Greenhouse Construction, (not pictured) who taught us about the different types of greenhouses and the benefits of greenhouses for extending the flower season and sourcing more American Grown flowers year round. I’m so grateful to all of the speakers who gave their time to this retreat to share their knowledge with us!
In the afternoon, we were able to pick flowers from the farm – anything we wanted! We got to explore the whole farm, and choose more blooms and foliage to use in our bouquet for the photoshoot.
We returned to the farm to put our bouquets together and get ready for the photoshoot. (This is why florists drive big cars!!)
I am saving the professional photoshoot images for a separate post, but here are some of my fav “behind the scenes” photos and, of course, the obligatory group photos at the end! In some of these, you get a peek at the mechanics of the arch. I was SO pleased to be creating a foam free arch (I can, and will, one day, write a post on why we need to stop using floral foam immediately). The mechanics for this arch are different from what I’ve done in the past, but for a lush, full, arch like this, we needed to be able to provide water for some of the flowers. There’s always learning to be done!
I reunited with some old friends, and made some new friends, and I can say that I am soooo grateful for all of the friends I have made along my journey in this crazy industry!
We used our bouquets to decorate our farewell dinner that evening. Mary Kate and Kelly were so sweet to give us a little dinner favor – real Vermont maple syrup! My favorite!!
There’s one final thank you to say and that is to Sarah Collier (of Taken By Sarah Photography). She stuck with us the whole time, even in the rain and she is responsible for all of the prettiest pictures in this post! (Some were taken by me, and are noted below the image).