NEWPORT — A colorful, fresh-picked bouquet counts as one of life’s better pick-me-ups.
In the New River Valley, folks who don’t have the time, space, or know-how to grow their own fresh flowers have an alternative — a CSA (community supported agriculture) flower share.
CSAs have had a presence in the New River Valley since 1991 when Seven Springs Farm in Check began providing organic vegetables weekly to customers who purchased a share before the growing season began. The payment helped the farmer purchase seeds and supplies during the leanest time of the agricultural year.
CSAs, however, aren’t restricted to veggies. There are meat CSAs, fruit CSAs, even cheese and bread CSAs. Stonecrop Farm, high on Gap Mountain near Newport, offers a flower CSA that runs through summer into October. In return for their payment, members receive a weekly bunch of beautiful, fresh, organically grown flowers.
Poppies are blooming in a riot of colors now, along with carnations, delphinium, yarrow, snapdragons, cinnamon-scented stock, glittery chartreuse blossoms called bupleurum, and much more. Bert Webster and Gwynn Hamilton, the married couple who own Stonecrop, their daughter Zoe, and their assistants tuck greenery and the occasional herb into their bouquets for color and fragrance.
“When we grow flowers, a lot of them smell good,” Hamilton said. “The ones you get at the supermarket that are probably shipped from South America don’t smell the same.”
According to Modern Farmer magazine, more than 80% of the flowers sold by U.S. stores come from South America, Colombia and Ecuador in particular. Pesticide regulations in those countries are very lax by United States standards. In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research found Colombian workers are exposed to 127 different types of pesticides while growing flowers.
Stonecrop brings in predatory pirate bugs to control pests such as thrips and aphids. Webster and Lawrence also pick pest-prone flowers early, before Japanese beetles have a chance to attack, or grow plants under row covers. No pesticides or artificial fertilizers are used on plants or vegetables at Stonecrop. Although Stonecrop opted not to go through the certification procedure again after the contaminated organic compost it purchased in 2016 killed their greenhouse seedlings, everything is grown according to organic standards.
“We grow oats and rye as cover crops and till them under as green manure,” Lawrence said, “and a neighbor delivers manure from his goat farm. We love to see that manure truck come.”
Growing flowers is practically a year-round job at Stonecrop Farm. Only weeks after their Christmas wreath season ends, Webster and Hamilton turn on the heat in their greenhouse and start flower seeds in flats. After a few days in a heated germination chamber, the flats are dotted with tiny specs of green. The flower seedlings start going into outside beds in April.
Stonecrop’s CSA customers pick their bouquets from a selection delivered each Wednesday to one of five pickup sites in Blacksburg: Eats Natural Foods, Annie Kay’s, CrossFit 460, In Balance Yoga Studio and Warm Hearth Village. Customers can choose among the spring flower share (five bouquets for $100), the summer share (20 bouquets for $280), or the addict’s share, which runs April to October without interruption (27 bouquets for $400). Right now Stonecrop has 42 summer share customers and expects to add a few more within the next weeks, Hamilton says.
“I find people waiting for their bouquets when I make my deliveries on Wednesdays,” Hamilton said. “That is so flattering.”
Doug Feuerbach is a returning Stonecrop flower share member this year. He visited Stonecrop Farm once and decided growing flowers was “an insane amount of work.” He even told Webster they ought to charge more.
“Flowers brighten the house. It’s nice to look forward to picking up my flowers every week,” he said.
Judy Lauschman, executive director of the Association of Specialty Cut Flowers, said many consumers also like the fact that American growers consume fewer resources in growing and transporting flowers than their foreign counterparts, leaving a much smaller carbon footprint.
In addition to its CSA customers, Stonecrop also supplies flowers for weddings and special occasions during the growing season. They’ve arranged flowers in cigar boxes, mint julep cups, on arches and in urns. They’ve provided arrangements for banquets, birthdays, baby showers and funerals. Stonecrop sells flowers at Sugar Magnolia on Main Street in Blacksburg and the Saturday Blacksburg Farmers Market.
“We’ll make an arrangement on the spot at the farmers market,” Hamilton said. “Our fellow vendors call it performance art.”
Although they still bring produce to the Blacksburg Farmers Market — sweet potatoes, beans, cucumbers, carrots, onions, squash and nutritious microgreens — Stonecrop’s vegetable/flower ratio has flipped since the farm began in 2003. The 2 1/2-acre terraced hillside garden is vibrant with a carnival of floral colors these days.
“In the beginning, 95 percent of Stonecrop’s tilled acreage was in vegetables. Now it’s 85 percent flowers and 15 percent vegetables,” Webster said.
“Flowers are our focus, but we love some vegetables too much to give them up. These loyal, delicious crops have proven their longevity on our farm,” Hamilton said.
To make an online order or learn more about Stonecrop Farm, see https://stonecropfarmers.com or call 599-0839.