8 Years of Carolina Flowers: Reflections on Year 1

I still remember the exact moment I decided to start a flower farm. Eight years ago this month with my hands in the dirt, it occurred to me that flower farming is a job. I should have known that — my grandfather grew up on our family’s flower farm, and I heard stories about it all my life. Nonetheless, my epiphany required a beautiful June day with my hands in the soil.

For the month of June, we’ll be celebrating 8 years with special offers, gifts for you and even a birthday party you can attend!

Our official birthday is June 2016 because that’s when I decided flower farming would be my job. I was working full time as a journalist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, and I was completely disillusioned with media. We were approaching the 2016 election, and although the Citizen-Times is a local/regional newspaper, I still felt very much amidst the fray.

I dreamed of a way of life that was connected to the outdoors, nature, and a community of like-minded customers. Although I am more of a paperwork farmer these days, I have more or less gotten that out of the gig and so much more!

When I look back at those early days of 2016, I was doing as much as I can to grow the dream with the relentless drive of someone who is a bit delusional in just the right way. I believed (and still do). I felt a North Star (and still do). It’s hard to explain, but I’ve heard other people who have had this sort of epiphany about a profession talk about the same thing. It’s like you feel the future. I don’t mean this in a woo woo way, although I know it sounds like it. It’s like the gravitational pull of the future, something magnetic. It feels very grounded and rational in a way that I know must sound completely irrational. My point is: It takes a certain amount of healthy delusion to do what I have done. I don’t know where it came from or how you get it. I have tried to recreate it for other pursuits. All I can say is, it’s a phenomenon.

Here I am in July 2016 holding my first armload’s worth of flowers, a mixture of rudbeckia, cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers and gladiolus murielae, which remain one of my all time favorite flowers to this day.

The smartest thing I did during my first year as a flower farmer was search for land to lease. I wish I had a little bit more of that initial pluck now. Ironically, 8 years later, I am still on the land hunt. I have more resources but probably less gumption.

In 2016, scoured the county GIS system, looking for flat parcels close to my stomping grounds. Something convenient, something with water. I’d find a parcel, research the owner, look for a phone number. Sometimes I went to people’s houses and left notes. I was so, so lucky to find Martha Wight and to lease the 5 acres we now call home.

The land was wild. On the left, here it is on the first day I was there: October 29, 2016. It’s shoulder high with brush. On the right, here it is on October 15, 2023. We’ve come a long way!

These things don’t happen without help! During that first year, Sarah and Adam who now own Dirt Craft soil company were wonderful farm friends and supporters who made me feel like what I was doing was legit (even though I am sure they were just as confused as everyone else), and Morgan Decker at Root Bottom helped me get the land in shape. I didn’t own a tractor until March or April of 2017. In 2019, I bought a professional tractor, and this year, it will be completely paid for. That paid-off tractor is just one of the many things that makes this 8th birthday so special. But I’m getting ahead of myself …

I’ve never declared June our “birthday month” as I am doing now, and there are a bunch of different reasons why I’m doing it now.

First, June is the winter of summer. It’s a month when we’re very busy with weddings, but daily sales are a little slow. What I’m saying is, I need a sales gimmick in June, and who doesn’t love celebrating a birthday? Convenient that it is also our birthday for real. 

Also, 8 years is a long time. Long enough to have earned a bit of celebration!

And this year in particular is a time of new beginnings for Carolina Flowers. It’s going from a “me” business to a “we” business. Sure, the story of the early years is mostly a story about me, Emily, the founder and owner. But these days, our story is much more about our amazing team, and I’m working to accentuate that. There’s 14 of us now, and I can’t do it alone anymore.

Sometime over the past year or two, we became a mature business. There’s no finish line, of course. My accountant didn’t present me with a trophy. When a certain number of debts are paid, and a certain amount of trends become predictable, everything feels different. Better. It takes a long time to really shake off that hand-to-mouth feeling of the early days. I’m still getting used to the new outlook, figuring out what to do next. Gathering information.

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