Soul Food: Flower Farmers Harvest Local Beauty
In the age of 1-800-FLOWERS, a group of Upstate farmers has joined forces to provide South Carolina with local blooms that not only benefit our own economy but are faster and fresher, too.
A blue sky suddenly darkens. Clouds roll in, seemingly out of nowhere. The heavens open and a deluge of water comes down, no telling when it will stop. An early morning rainstorm.
To most people, this weather phenomenon is little more than a minor inconvenience. To some, it’s even an excuse to crawl back under the covers. Most people won’t have their entire schedule changed, the day a muddy mess of ruined plans, of ruined plants. Then again, most people aren’t flower farmers.
Melissa Smith is. She’s also a planner. She has to be. This job, this life, demands it.
“Farming is hard,” Smith says, staring up at the sky from under her porch. “People have no idea how much work we do. People assume because it’s beautiful, it’s easy.” The rain has ruined her initial plans to harvest her raised beds, no choice but to adjust.
No adjustment was necessary though, when at the end of February, she sent an email to all the other flower farmers in the area inviting them to a potluck lunch. The plan? To share a meal and share ideas. To form a group so all the farmers could learn together, grow together. Her fellow farmers were even more receptive to the idea than she’d hoped.
And so, SC Upstate Flowers was born. And with it a website and Facebook and Instagram accounts that showcase the farmers’ blooms for wholesale, farmers markets, and grocery store customers.
Kendra Schirmer, owner of Laurel Creek Florals, is one of the nine SC Upstate Flowers farmers.
“Where we are is such a special place,” Schirmer says. “I love growing things that reflect that.”
Schirmer, who sells her blooms mainly at farmers’ markets, Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery, and has begun to dip her toes into the wedding scene, is grateful for the sense of community and shared knowledge that being a part of SC Upstate Flowers has brought.
“There is so much moral support in this group,” she says. “Farmers are so nice. We text, we email. Farming always has its risks. We’re figuring out what works, understanding the downfalls. It’s about community over competition.”
That community has expanded to include local florists as well as farmers. A weekly email availability list detailing which farmers are harvesting which flowers has made it easier than ever for florists to shop local.
“There’s a sense of accountability being a part of the list. We have to keep our act together,” Smith laughs. “It provides a huge sense of encouragement, too.”
Smith sells strictly wholesale to event florists, and grows accordingly. When planning and prepping her beds she takes popular color schemes and seasonal themes into account. Blush, light pink, and off white for the spring and summer; rich, deep tones of purple and maroon for the fall.
“We’re always talking to each other and exchanging info,” Suzie Bunn, owner of Greenville’s Statice Floral, says of the florists and farmers. “A year ago, we didn’t have this local supply of flowers. The renewed sense of love and passion I have for my business and what I do is because of these farmers.”
Instead of ordering flowers from across the country (or even across the globe), Bunn is able to get bigger, better flowers right here, right now. Always fresh, always fast. Instead of having one third of her order arrive damaged or dead, she can order her blooms at the beginning of the week and make a bride’s dream come true by the weekend.
“They understand shape, color and size. There’s such a difference between a flower grown by one person on a farm, versus one grown in a hot house touched by hundreds of different people,” says Bunn. “My work is getting better because of what they’re growing, what they’re providing.”
SC Upstate Flowers isn’t just providing better business to local artisans but is actively involving and educating the community. At the first annual Flower Throwdown at the TD Farmers’ Market in downtown Greenville, four farmers were paired with four local florists in a race against time to create various arrangements and bouquets. Afterward, the expertly crafted arrangements were donated to the GHS Children’s Hospital Support Group. The audience was able to see firsthand the amount of product and precision that goes into creating a local, seasonal floral masterpiece.
The SC Upstate Flowers farmers donated all the flowers and foliage for the event. They gave freely of their plants, the evidence of their tireless efforts in fields and on farms. They only wanted others to see their work, to know their worth.
Because flowers do more than pretty up a tablescape. Schirmer sums it up best: “Flowers feed the soul.”
scupstateflowers.com for more information