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  • Emily

How it Feels to be a Flower Farmer

Carrying on where we left off in my last blog post ‘Just One Concern’, I feel I should revisit my aim expressed therein to portray the feeling of working on a farm like Eleusinia Flowers. My mind wandered into one of the emotional aspects of our endeavor–to the heartbreak of battling the traditional floriculture industry and its heavy reliance on chemical solutions to pests, fertilization needs, and deficient soils.

But what of the physical?

Teasing apart the physicality of any work is impossible, and I think if you have only ever worked a desk job, you are particularly at a disadvantage when understanding the nature of a physical career.

A dancer is an athlete whose job is to execute motion beautifully, to bring pleasure to the senses through the perfection of movement and the expression of emotion through the body. A mason is a master mover too, using strength and skill to accomplish building tasks with precision and often breathtaking engineering acumen and a keen eye to functionality.

Flower farming is a child of the genius of dancing and of masonry.

Beauty, skill, patience, practice, motion, planning–a whirl of doing in the mud and in a cloud of flowers. We conjure beauty golems from Virginia red clay. Moving mud to generate grace.

Early, we wake up. Usually around sunrise, whenever that is throughout the year. Farming makes you a creature of the sun. When it exists in abundance, so do the tasks. As it wanes, so too does the energy of our plants and bodies.

We put on sunscreen. Long sleeves and long pants. Warm coffee, but not before the first tasks are done. Sometimes, the day begins with a brisk trek up a low slung hill to the barn to check on seedlings. Other times, it’s straight to the field. We ride over on our ATV, coaxing it to start if the temperature is below 40 degrees. Turn on the battery for ten seconds, then off. Try again. In the stillness, unravel the anxiety off all that must be done that day. On warm days, you can think about such things as you fill bucket after bucket from the hose.

In the winter, it’s a periodic check on the rows, jabbing u-shaped pins back into the ground to keep the protective row cloth in place. The pins dig into the soles of our wellies, into the underbelly where the rubber is all but worn away, worn enough away to let the muddy water creep in and the ice. You learn quickly not to forget your socks.

Sometimes it’s harvesting. Cut, cut, cut everything that is ready. Strip the foliage from the bottom of the stem and let it fall between the rows, back to the base of where the others grow. Bend to cut, strip the leaves (your hands are turning green and a little sticky), flip the stem beneath your arm, count as you cut (or maybe not–you’ll always lose your place), and onto the next. Or perhaps you’re cutting large stems–lie them on the ground as you go, then scoop them up into your arms–an entire bucketful!--and off you go. Don’t forget your rubber band, installed with practiced motion.

The sun is rising higher, and the beads of sweat are forming. The flowers need to be in the cooler now. Take them there: a drive back to the barn at 21 mph, turning to look out the back windshield at your haul. Pull up alongside the great green door, and unload into the waiting coolness, making sure no one needs resuscitating with a fresh cut. (If it’s been raining, of course, the procedure changes, and everything must spend some time drying off beneath the fans.)

It’s 11 am, and time for breakfast–the one meal we consistently honor. I love sandwiches for breakfast. Tempeh, eggs, tofu–anything filling and hot. I have an obsession for fruit, so plenty of that, too. I think I only manage to stave off dehydration by eating copious amounts of breakfast time fruit.

Somehow–everyday–after the plates and silverware are put away, there’s a need for a pep talk. A nap sounds nice, but the weeds are banging down the doors, the plants are beckoning for a bit of care, and there’s always the inbox to pare down. Back out into the heat you go–water has replaced your coffee–and a deep breath of air is all the pep you need.

What happens over the course of the remainder of the day depends, but there’s no doubt it involves crawling on the ground for at least several hours. Some days that’s all we do. We do tend to pull weeds while we’re down there, however, so it’s not all for giggles. Still, sometimes the fun becomes so unbearable, we have to go answer emails for a bit to bring us back to level ground.

We love chatting with customers, whether they are our wholesale clients or retail clients (who, since we serve a limited radius around our farm, are often practically neighbors). We are still–always–learning as much as we can about actually growing flowers. But there’s also plenty to learn about the other aspects of the flower industry, and our conversations with customers give us a window into their realm of flowers and allow for knowledge exchange. It’s a complex industry, with a great deal of nuance. Some plant varieties are protected by patent and cannot be grown by individuals outside certain countries, for example. Trying to find similar plants that we can grow is a delightful challenge that stretches our skills as farmers and helps us meet our customers’ needs. These are things about which we can mutually educate one another. Indeed, I would like to write more on these sorts of insights into the flower industry world, both for the benefits of florists and for the general public.

We’re back outside. The sun is setting. The barn doors are closed. Tomorrow’s list–to be revisited over the water hose–is already brewing in our minds.

There is something so addictive about working out of doors. And it must truly be addictive, because there are many things that disincentivize further gardening. I still remember the very particular sensation of all but flopping into an epsom-filled bathtub, every muscle wailing, exhausted beyond belief. That was at the beginning of my gardening career. (What I would later go on to do would have killed even that girl dead, but that was before I’d acclimatized, before I’d hardened myself on the edge of every possible type of weather, fourteen hour days, and the January to November marathon.) Yet for love or some other reward, I cannot stop. It’s just too satisfying. It’s like eating when very hungry. You start to need the garden, and nothing else will fulfill you.

Unless my mind is racing, dreaming of the possibilities of tomorrow’s flowers or some large order, I sleep so very, very well. All that crawling about on the ground, no doubt. Of course, sometimes my mom and I wake up with terrible, terrible leg cramps.

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