Grant Award: $6,000 — Crop Diversification: Specialty Cut Flowers
Joe has diversified his successful five-acre vegetable farm with the addition of a half-acre of cut flowers. To achieve this level of production, he has increased the mechanization of his farm with a plastic mulch layer and water wheel transplanter.
With this equipment, Joe can manage weeds efficiently and set transplants quickly while honoring organic production practices. The plastic mulch suppresses weeds that would compete with the flower crop. The equipment efficiently lays drip tape down as it simultaneously installs the plastic mulch. The transplanter allows Joe to set out thousands of plants at a time while also watering them immediately, lessening transplant shock—which is especially important during droughts.
Joe experimented with a number of different flowers: bells of Ireland, Dianthus, bachelor buttons, peonies, larkspur, Echinacea, zinnias, sunflowers, Rudbeckia, marigolds, and sweet Annie. In addition to providing additional income, the flowers attract beneficial insects and pollinators that benefit the vegetables’ productivity.
Joe has noticed that in recent years customers are becoming interested in experiences and not just the fresh food at farmer’s markets. A pick-your-own flower operation and on-farm events such as dinners could tap into the public’s need to be on the farm.
“Flowers add a dimension to the farm that is not only aesthetically pleasing but interactive for visitors and guests,” Joe said. “It will effectuate an experience that typically people would not get when buying bouquets.”
Joe expects to also sell to the Blue Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast, which shares the property he farms. He is incorporating flowers in his Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares and selling bouquets at the Asheville City Market and West Asheville Tailgate Market as well as Madison Natural Foods and Ramble & Root in Marshall.
Joe thinks that his project can communicate to other sustainably minded small farmers, who are often hesitant to buy large equipment, that mechanization is important for the health of the farmer. “Farming can be stressful at times,” Joe said. “Sustainability is not just with regards to the environment but to our own well-being as growers.”
In 2015, Joe started a long-term lease on five tillable acres in Marshall, marking his sixth year growing for market and fifth year offering a CSA membership, now at 30 members.
Joe was able to transition to farming all four seasons following his 2014 WNC AgOptions grant. He has operated his own farm since 2011 after learning from and working with other Western North Carolina farms and farming for two years in British Columbia. He also participated in the Organic Growers School CRAFT program that connects interns and farmers within the region.
“My farm is my life,” Joe said. “It is where I am most inspired and find gratification through hard work. It has enabled me to live in Western North Carolina and have a steady income. It allows me to maintain a quality way of life that I believe in.”