How I Decided to Start an Urban Flower Farm
The idea to start a flower farm actually began long before my hiatus from the corporate world. I read an article on Floret Flowers, started by Erin Benzakein, and I fell in love. Erin had started a small farm on 2 acres in Washington state. Her flowers were stunning, and her life looked like a dream. Her story about sweet peas – the flower that inspired her farm – brought tears to my eyes. I could close my eyes and see myself walking down a dirt road near my childhood house in Virginia, picking wild daffodils by the bundle, and I felt a yearning. But I lived in Brooklyn, and worked in Manhattan – pavement and skyscrapers were my reality. We had daffodils, but not growing wild, and none you could pick. Not to mention that the city is expensive – I’ve always said its a place for either the very rich, or the very young, and I was neither. However, I had a solid job at a well known wine and spirits company, making a fair amount of money, and I had a family. I couldn’t just leave my job to grow flowers.
My decision to start an urban flower farm was ignited when the company where I had been employed for the last ten years decided to implement a re-org which included eliminating the communications department. “Nothing personal”, I was told, but of course when something like this happens, you can’t help but wonder what you might have done wrong. I had many emotions running through me – confusion, panic, disgust, anger – but also relief. I felt stagnant in my job, I just didn’t know what to do about it. After the shock wore off, I did what most people do: tried to get back to a similar space, but it was difficult. Company loyalty was a detriment, it appeared, and I felt like I kept falling into categories of either being too experienced, or not experienced enough. After sending out countless resumes and cover letters, and going on just a handful of interviews, I began to question my abilities. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the corporate world, perhaps I was too much of a worker ant and not enough Queen Bee, maybe I was considered irrelevant because I didn’t grow up with social media coursing through my veins. I had always thought my capabilities and successes were obvious and, while I believed I was good at my job, I wasn’t good at tooting my own horn. I was taught early on that it was my job, as a PR professional, to remain behind the scenes and promote everyone else around me. Maybe I had taken this lesson too seriously. Or perhaps they could see something I could not. Maybe, I thought, I was an imposter, and everyone around me could see it.
Imposter syndrome is defined as a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Many highly accomplished people have suffered from this including David Bowie, Tom Hanks, Dr. Yvonne Cagle, and Hon. Sonia Sotomayor, to name just a few. I was in good company. I knew I was a hard worker, I knew that I had accomplished many things from a professional standpoint, and I knew that I had been successful in what I set out to do. I decided to think hard about what direction I wanted my career to go. This was a difficult endeavor. When you give yourself the freedom to pick any thing in the world you want to do – seriously ask yourself that question – and you either can’t come up with anything, or feel that none of your ideas are realistic, it can be somewhat depressing. However, I kept coming back to one of my ”unrealistic” ideas – working with flowers. I had changed my profession before – moved to New York and worked my way into the film industry as a camera person – eventually working on one of the Law and Order shows – taught myself how to be a script supervisor (joined the Union), and then changed course to go into marketing. I was agile, learned quickly, and was persistent. But I knew very little about growing, or arranging, flowers. I kept visiting Floret Flowers, reading her blogs, looking at all of her beautiful photos and thinking, “what if?”. After years of working ten hour days in the corporate world, I wanted to connect more with nature, to do something that seemed as though there was a higher purpose to my work life. But it didn’t occur to me to start a flower farm in the middle of Brooklyn. And then, Erin mentioned someone by the name of Sarah Nixon who started My Luscious Back Yard. Low and behold, someone was growing flowers in the middle of Toronto. Someone, this Sarah Nixon person, had started an urban flower farm, and not only that, she was willing to share her secrets!
Sarah is not only a visual inspiration, but she selflessly offers up all of her knowledge on her blog and social media, and she surprisingly and quickly answered any questions that I sent her about starting an urban flower farm. Her openness and generosity was refreshing, and it is something I have found to be evident throughout the flower world, and it inspired me. Right around the same time, Floret Flowers was offering, for the first time, an online course that taught you how to start your own flower farm on a small plot of land. I didn’t have 2 acres, but neither did Sarah, and I thought I could combine the knowledge of growing flowers from Erin, with the inspiration from Sarah to start a little farm in Brooklyn. Now, given that I’m prone to having imposter syndrome, I couldn’t just immediately dive into starting a farm. I decided to call it a flower farm “project”, I felt this gave me the permission to fail without any pressure, and I had to start small.
After completing Floret Flower’s online farming course, I endeavored to grow my own flowers. I carefully researched all of the items in which I needed to invest, flowers I thought I could – and wanted – to grow, and went to work. But then there was the huge barrier of reaching out to my neighbors to see who might possibly let me grow flowers in their yard. This was a daunting task, primarily because I was now going to have to expose my lack of knowledge, and possible failure, to the world (did someone say imposter syndrome?). Its one thing to grow a few flowers in your back yard that may or may not grow because you don’t have enough sun or you water them too much, its another to ask a New Yorker to sacrifice their precious real estate for your own passion project and hope that something will grow. And of course, there was the need to clarify the concept that I was not a landscape architect – these flowers were going to be, ultimately, for cutting. Who in the world was going to let me do that? I kept putting off this essential part of my endeavor, convinced no one would want to participate. But I was growing seeds in my basement. I had spent a lot of money, I needed to do something. So I sent out a note on a local list serve, explaining my idea, listing my criteria, and awaited the response. To my surprise, I received several dozen responses from neighbors who were interested in my idea! Maybe I wasn’t so crazy after all. I visited every yard, and from the list of about thirty selected five in which to work (I figured this would be more than enough to start, as I was just one person). And that is how I started Spry Flower Farm.
I still consider this a fluid project – it is an ongoing process of learning, and I don’t know exactly where this is going to go – but I’m now in my third season, and each year I continue to expand my offerings. Do I sometimes think I’m in over my head? Of course. I make a lot of mistakes, there are times when I think nothing is going to grow, but I work hard to push away all of my doubts. I continue to work in PR – this is, after all, one of the most expensive cities in the world, and growing flowers is seasonal – and I have discovered that allowing myself to do something that I love, while connecting with nature, has reinvigorated my ability – and desire – to think creatively and develop strategic programs for other brands. I like to think that I’m also contributing to the universe – bringing beauty to the borough with my flower growing, little by little.