(above) photo by Caleb Cole
Local Flower Farmers Share Their Inspiration
(above) photo by Caleb Cole
by Nicole Jennings
Not all farm crops are food for the body—some are food for the soul. For these local flower farmers, growing sustainable native blooms has nourished their souls and allowed them the satisfaction of creating beautiful memories. Yet planting a flower farm is not all roses—it comes with many of the same toils and struggles of traditional farming and small business ownership. Here, we tell the stories of four local flower farmers who have truly blossomed.
Raised by missionary parents, Morgan Sharpe spent a little bit of time in a lot of places throughout North and Central America growing up. While struggling with a sense of placelessness both in life and the world, Sharpe became acquainted with the musings of farmer and author Wendell Berry. In his work, Berry discusses becoming a “placed person” by connecting with the land and its people. The idea resonated with Sharpe, “I thought, ‘maybe I should dig into the land.’ Literally.”
Living at High Point Farms, which doubles as a wedding venue, Sharpe decided to build a greenhouse. “Honestly, I just thought it was going to be a nice place to sit and read,” Sharpe laughs. But she soon began planting. “I loved it. I’d get home from work and all I wanted to do was check on my babies,” she recalls. A suggestion from a friend to grow flowers for brides using the farm venue planted the proverbial seed for Creekside Flower Farm.
As a Covenant College alumna, Sharpe won most of her startup funding in 2016 from the college’s Seed Project, a startup competition for recent alumni and students. Since then, it has been a steep learning curve, but research, experimentation, and the mentorship of Jenni Dickenson with Maryville’s Napping Cat Flower Farm have informed her path.
Starting everything from seed, she has 4,000 seedlings sprouting in her living room right now, which makes it a long operation with room for error. “I’m always trying different processes and new things. It’s hard. There are a lot of ways I’ve failed,” Sharpe admits. But the magic and beauty in the transformation spur her on.
Quoting Berry, Sharpe shares one of her greatest sources of inspiration, “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
(above) photos by Caleb Cole
After earning a degree in web design and working as a professional photographer, Becca Coleman realized she’d much rather work outdoors with her hands in the dirt. So, when she and her family moved to the Chattanooga area in 2016, that’s just what she did. Her first choice was botanical gardening, but when zoning and other issues blocked her path, she chose flower farming.
Endless research, visits to other flower farms, and gardening courses offered by Master Gardeners of Hamilton County helped plant Coleman on solid ground with Joli Jardin. Joli is French for ‘pretty’ and jardin means ‘garden’. “My mom spoke a little French, so I’ve always been fascinated with the language, plus I had a sweet little dachshund named Joli for nearly eleven years,” says Coleman.
Continually learning as she goes, she says Joli Jardin is a labor of love. “I love being outside and working outside, putting in all the effort, and then seeing my work come to life.”
When deciding what to grow, Chattanooga climate is her first criterion. Next, Coleman says looks are most important. “I grow flowers I would pick if I were a florist or just walking through the farmer’s market.” Additionally, she says she’s trying to grow some unique varieties local florists may not otherwise have access to.
It’s clear the future for Joli Jardin is bright. Coleman notes that, while the farm hasn’t completely outgrown the planning stage, business is blossoming. “We are supplying some local florists already, and we’ve gotten some terrific community feedback. Last summer, we handed out bouquets to all our neighbors because we had so many flowers but weren’t ready to take on the market yet,” laughs Coleman. “Getting to share with everyone what we’ve been working so hard to cultivate is a real dream, and they’re all really excited to watch us grow.”
Kelly Garcia’s mother, both grandmothers, and great grandmother were all avid gardeners. “I grew up alongside my mother’s garden saying I would never get out there, but all the weekends spent watching her dig into the dirt got into my blood,” she shares. Equipped with that gardener’s DNA, Garcia went on to obtain a degree in horticulture from the University of Georgia. While there, she was taken under the wing of Dr. Allan Armitage, professor and cofounder of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. That’s when her love of growing truly sprouted.
After school, Garcia and her husband started their family and returned to their roots in Chattanooga. Garcia began a nursery specializing in rare and unique perennials suited to the Chattanooga climate. But the perennials didn’t take off like she anticipated. “At a certain point I decided to bring flower arrangements from my mother’s garden to spruce up my booth. One thing led to another and soon I was selling more bouquets than potted plants,” says Garcia.
The slow and natural progression of Terra Flower Farm has allowed her to be present with her family. The balance of being a work-from-home mom suits Garcia well. “I like to able to be at the bus stop in the afternoons with a little dirt around the edges from being in the field all day,” Garcia laughs.
She says she selects fashionable flower colors and flowers proven to be reliable performers in the garden. While her flowers grow, Garcia sees growth in her business too. “Ultimately I want to have a business that allows me to contribute to my community and family, but in a sustainable way.”
Garcia admits the amount of hard work, time, and even tears invested in farming and running a small business can be tough at times, but the benefits far outweigh the struggles. “At the end of the day, the flowers themselves and getting to see faces light up at the sight of them make it all worth it,” she smiles.
(above) photos by Christine Davis, (last) photo by Kayla Wentzek
Sarah Ervin remembers huge family potlucks every Sunday at her grandparents’ farm. Her cherished memories transport her to times spent outside playing with mud pies and building forts. But it wasn’t until she took an environmental science class in college that she realized her true love for the land.
After graduation, Sarah began work as a wedding stylist. Through related research she discovered flower farming, and it dawned on her that this was the perfect blend of her passions: flowers, creativity, and sustainable farming. Most importantly, it was something she and her husband, Matthew, could do together. “It’s a way for us to carry on the history of both our families and respect the land we inherited,” says Sarah.
Neither of them had any experience with flower farming, but a fellow flower farmer recommended they join the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. As members of this network, the Ervins were paired with a flower farmer mentor. “It has been so helpful having someone as a resource to ask all the tiny questions you don’t think about before you’re in it. It’s really helped us get a jumpstart on our experience,” she says.
Now in their fourth season, the Ervins say working with their hands is their favorite aspect. “Having a full day in the field is grounding. So much of our days are spent in our heads, on our phones, busy with life. Out there you have to slow down. You can only work on the task at hand, and it forces your brain to stop,” shares Sarah.
The Ervins say they’d love to see more local flowers in Chattanooga; there’s room for them all. They also want to see a continuation of the shift in community mindset about buying local. “Chattanooga is so awesome for having so many local businesses that are thriving. Selling our flowers in little shops has made such a difference. I don’t know how different our business would be without other small business owners in the community,” Sarah reflects.
(above) photos by Reed McCoy, (last) Photo by Our Ampersand Photography