Two Local Flower Gals Helping One Another Bloom
By Bonnie Warndahl
I found Maggie Sheehan in 2017 when I decided to shift my farm focus from vegetables to flowers. An email inquiry from someone seeking local flowers for a wedding led me to an internet search for other flower growers in my area. I was new to western Wisconsin, and wasn’t yet at a production level to sell buckets of blooms to DIY brides, but I wanted to assist and throw some support behind another local flower farm. I referred the bride-to-be to Maggie at Green Light Farm, about 25 minutes away from where I lived at the time (just south of Wheeler).
It was a year later that Maggie and I found ourselves at the same farmers market in St. Croix Falls. Meeting in person, we realized that we weren’t complete strangers—we had actually gone through the same farm business training course together in 2014 called Farm Beginnings at the Minneapolis-based Land Stewardship Project (LSP). In those days we were both about to dive from the crag into completely new ways of life. My partner and I were scheming a garlic and herb empire with a side-slung heirloom vegetable seed business. Maggie and her partner had intentions toward veggies and herbs, both for wholesale and retail markets. Obviously, things took a turn for both of us.
In 2016, when Maggie started her first season, she also planted a few cut flowers. She threw in the towel with vegetables the following year and transitioned to growing flowers, exclusively. “For me, it became clear that it was the right niche from the standpoints of both passion and profitability,” she said.
The flower bug bit me when I happened upon an interview on the Farmer to Farmer podcast (2016) between the late Chris Blanchard and Don Lareau of Zephyros Farm and Garden based in Paonia, Colorado. In the interview, Don revealed his success growing flowers and selling to florists and farmers markets, as well as doing wedding work. My interest not only piqued, it blew up the bells and whistles. I became hungry for knowledge, scouring every podcast, video, article, and flower-growing book I could find. I learned a lot about the cut flower industry, including it’s not-so-bright-and-sunny side. (Did you know, in the early 1990s, the US government basically sold out the domestic flower farm industry to Mexico and Columbia in an effort to reduce cocaine production? To this day, most of the cut flowers sold in The States come from outside our border, laden with pesticides, and often cloaked in a dark shroud of poor employee working conditions and inadequate pay in order to keep flowers cheap). This knowledge only gave me fuel for the fire. With just a morsel of floral arranging experience from a previous job, I hit the ground running, quickly receiving positive feedback on my design work.
Meanwhile, Maggie was molding her business into a wholesale model, hocking some of the most stunning stems I’ve ever seen, to florists. She was making weekly rounds to local floral shops, rapidly building a client base. Whenever I needed extra flowers for design work I would contact Maggie. When DIY brides asked me about flowers I sent them to her (and still do). When brides contacted her about design work, she sent them to me, (and still does). It was a win-win (and still is)!
Over the last four years my floral design “itch” has grown into an insatiable desire. However, as I’ve struggled along—now 40-years-old with rheumatoid arthritis—trying to make my way as a one-woman farmer, my body and mind have taken a beating. Having purchased a new farm in spring of 2019, I had to start all over. Production of annual flowers was all I knew up to that point, but I wanted to get more perennials going. Unfortunately, without the means to hire employees, it’s been a challenge to keep up with the demands of the farm. As I woefully watched last fall, as thousands of my perennial seedlings perished—neglected by an overwhelmed farmer, too busy and exhausted to shove them in the dirt—I knew I needed to find ways to lighten my work load. So, this past winter, I reached out to Maggie about buying in flowers from her on a weekly basis to supplement my floral subscriptions. This would allow me to reduce annual production and focus more on establishing perennials. She enthusiastically agreed.
It’s a no-brainer, really. By joining forces we are supporting one another in a variety of ways, directly and indirectly. Sourcing some of my flowers from another farm reduces my work load without sacrificing the variety of quality flowers my customers have come to love. It allows me time to accept more wedding and event work, which is not only lucrative for me, but also for Maggie, since I will be buying even more product from her. It gives flower-lovers the opportunity to support two hard-working farm gals and our families, and it expands the reach of both of our businesses by doubling up our promotional resources and social media presence. On a more personal level, I get to see the smiling face of a friend each week, which often isn’t possible for us farmers during the hustle of the long working season. Overall, I believe this partnership will be a great boost to both of our businesses and overall quality of life.
I invite you to experience the magic of weekly, local, fresh-cut flowers this season by trying out a bouquet subscription. It’s a delightful way to learn about the seasonality of different flower varieties in our climate. Subscriptions also make great mother’s day gifts! There are a few options on my website winnowburrow.com/shop and several pick-up sites, including my farm (Winnowburrow Farm) north of Colfax, WI, the Colfax Public Library, Menomonie Market Food Co-op in Menomonie, WI, Just Local Foods in Eau Claire, WI, and Ray’s Market in Ridgeland, WI. Bouquets will start lighting up hearts and homes each Thursday, starting in May (or whenever the tulips and daffodils start blooming)!
Also, if you want to learn some steamy facts about the cut flower industry, I strongly recommend the New York Times bestseller Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful by Amy Stewart. It’s very well-written, full of interesting information, and a simply great story that highlights the many lives behind all those beautiful flowers that make us smile.
I hope you decide to jump on the flower truck with us!
Contact: Bonnie Warndahl, firstname.lastname@example.org, (612) 462-9311