The growing, sustainable blooms business brings fresh flowers to locals who love them

I’ve been blessed with many bouquets, but it’s the ones spontaneously presented to me when my three sons were little that I hold closest to my heart. My oldest, at about age six, told me that I was as pretty as a Firecracker rose. I’ve never forgotten that, and on some of my worst bad hair days, I often hear that little voice and those words.

The Firecracker rose is a burst of exciting colors, a trio of red, orange, yellow and white. The name of the rose is quite appropriate, like so many other titles given to flowers. Bachelor buttons, forget-me-nots, naked ladies and other charming names really get the imagination going and can conjure up some interesting images.

Zoe Hitchner, flower program manager at Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg, put it in a nutshell: “Flowers are a sentimental thing for people and invoke memories.” She went on to explain that it’s especially the scents of flowers that have a special way of reminding one of their childhood, grandmother or a number of other experiences.

Saying it with Flowers
Flowers rank pretty high on the scale of significance, if there were such a thing. They’ve been used throughout the centuries, in every known culture, to mark milestone events and make meaningful offerings to humans, gods and lovers. We honor the birth of a baby with flowers, the death of a loved one, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, performances; we adorn our homes, our hair, our dinner tables, our backyards and especially our wedding celebrations with flowers. Sometimes flowers speak when we can’t find the words—or the right words,  anyway.

“We say thank you with flowers, we say I love you with flowers, we say so much with flowers,” said Hitchner, who added, “I’m inspired by the way flowers allow me to connect with people.”

North Bay Flower Collective
Sonoma County is home to a good number of flower farms, and many of the passionate growers wearing those rubber boots are members of the North Bay Flower Collective. This inspiring group aims to work collaboratively, instead of competitively, to support the local flower economy and bring fresh local flowers to those living and visiting the North San Francisco Bay Area.

Sharing resources and educational opportunities and employing sustainable practices are just a few of the North Bay Flower Collective’s core values. Their website lists many of the key players in Sonoma County’s floral business and other valuable information for those interested in learning more about flower farmers and florists.

Dragonfly Farm
Although new flower farms are breaking ground in Sonoma County, Dragonfly Farm founder Bonnie Z was one of the first to bring the crop back during a period of grape monoculture about 25 years ago. There’s no doubt that Dragonfly Farm in Healdsburg has been an inspiration for some new flower farmers in Sonoma County. Bonnie Z treasures the way that flowers have connected her with the community in a very intimate way, spanning over generations of local families.

Working the farm everyday, Z shows no signs of slowing down. Her love of gardens and fresh flowers and foliage has given birth to more than one garden in her lifetime. A charming plot in Point Richmond is where it all started, yielding cherished memories with her daughter Carlisle Degischer. Today Degischer is also a floral designer and a business partner with her mother at Dragonfly Farm. The Point Richmond garden was “a wonderland for kids and everything was edible,” said Z, who applied similar characteristics to Dragonfly Farm. Today Z often tackles her daily duties with a different little one by her side, a grandson, and so the treasured pattern repeats.

Kids and adults of all ages find Dragonfly magical, and visitors are encouraged to walk around and stay a while. Dragonfly Farm, established in 1990, is a floral leader in Sonoma County, creating arrangements for more than 150 weddings and events a year. Floral arrangements for hotels, wineries and restaurants are distributed regularly, and the talented staff touts over a century of combined experience.

Early leader in alternative agriculture
Busting out flower arrangements has never been the goal at Dragonfly Farm, whereas, increasing the vitality of the land has been. “It was a monoculture of grapes when I arrived here,” said Z, who often expressed her concern about some of the common practices at the time. “There were a lot of chemicals being used,” explained Z, who helped to usher in the alternative agriculture movement in Sonoma County.

Originally planned for vegetables, Dragonfly Farm quickly morphed into fields of flowers that would help heal the soil and restore bird and insect populations. “Flowers are special because they increase diversity and attract pollinators and birds,” said Z.  She employed cutting-edge concepts, like the Australian flow hive (a method to extract honey from hives in a gentle way), which have since become more popular locally.

“There are a lot of different kinds of bees here,” she said, adding that moths keep the pollinating going even after the sun goes down. “There’s so much activity, even at night.”

Today the farm is a busy hub of activity for pollinators, birds, wildlife and people, but Z still continues to study, using the Internet as a tool to take her research and farming practices to new heights. “It used to be that there wasn’t a lot of information, except in books. Today the easy access to information benefits farmers tremendously,” said Z, who is currently trying out a new mound system called Hugelkultur, pronounced “Hoogle Culture” (that doesn’t favor tilling the soil). Soil building has been a backbone of Z’s farming style and continues to be a strong area of interest.

Flower School at Dragonfly Farm
Z began sharing her knowledge years ago by offering classes at Dragonfly Farm, but it was when Lead Designer/Instructor Pam Bell came on the scene that the floral education program really took off. A charming barn at Dragonfly Farm is dedicated to the flower school, and a list of carefully selected, monthly design classes attract adult enthusiasts and professionals of all ages.

With Mother Nature as the guide, Bell’s menu of classes promises to inspire and deliver a meaningful experience. “Peonies in all their Glory,” “Garden Roses and Field Flowers” and “Designing with Dahlias–Dancing with the Sacred” are just a few of the classes that she will offer this year. A full list of classes is posted on the Dragonfly Farm website with a description and other relevant details.

Bell also offers a flower farm tour, visiting a number of other local flower farmers in the Sonoma County area. One stop is Front Porch Farm, also in Healdsburg, where Dragonfly sends a lot of their Do-it-Yourself (DIY) bridal customers.

Front Porch Farm
Front Porch Farm offers a treat for DIY brides; a bucket of bulk blooms features the season’s freshest, top-quality flowers. From there, brides can build their own bouquets for their special day. Event design services are also available at Front Porch Farm and arrangements are described as wild and romantic.

About 20 acres of the 110-acre farm is in production with olives, grains, vegetables, fruit, winegrapes and flower plots. About four acres is dedicated to flowers, which are sold locally and seasonally at SHED in Healdsburg and at California Sister Floral Design & Supply in Sebastopol. Front Porch Farm also sells flowers directly to local florists. Heirloom and unique old-fashioned varieties of flowers are a highlight.

“Some of the really old varieties are more true to the original characteristic of the flower; for example, it might be really fragrant,” explained Hitchner.

Snapdragons, sweet peas, hibiscus, Icelandic poppies and ranunculus are some of the early bloomers at Front Porch Farm that will be the first to hit the market in spring. Front Porch Farm holds events throughout the year and offers tours by appointment.

Full Bloom Farm
Located in Sebastopol, Full Bloom Farm is a resource for organic, bee-friendly, diversity-rich flowers. Farmer/Owner Hedda Brorstrom grows more than 200 different varieties and is a leader in the industry, offering workshops, collaboration and farm tours for groups. Wedding flowers are her specialty and she offers full-service design, and also DIY buckets.

With a knack for thinking “outside the box”—or vase, rather—mandalas and wall hangings are just a few offerings this cutting-edge florist/farmer brings to life’s most cherished celebrations. “Wearables,” like flower necklaces, bracelets and hats, are yet another option. “They are fun and interactive,” said Brorstrom, noting that the farm-grown blooming jewelry tends to be a conversation piece at events.

Serenity Flower Farm
Serenity Flower Farm is new to Sonoma County, and 2017 will mark the second season for this trio of family members. Annika Avila, brother Josiah Patton and sister-in-law Kellie Patton always talked about farming together, and last year they made that dream a reality. The group combined their diverse skills to produce supreme quality flowers, and they sell flowers directly to the public and florists.

“We’re all avid gardeners with green thumbs,” said Avila, who added, “We like to play in the dirt.”
Dahlias are one of Serenity Farm’s specialties. “They grow very well in our climate,” said Avila, who values the diversity within the dahlia species. “They come in almost every color, shape and size range, from a tiny little pincushion flower to a large ruffled and fluffy flower.” Creative and vibrant arrangements composed of dried flowers are also a proud project and focus for this farm.

California Sister
California Sister Floral Design and Supply in Sebastopol, founded by Nichole Skalski and in its second year running, works with neighboring farms to offer fresh flowers and gifts for sale at The Barlow. As a member of the North Bay Flower Collective, they offer workshops for florists and enthusiasts.

Co-owner Kathrin Green said the first year of business “ran very successfully,” so successfully that a little reorganization had to take place this year. The wholesale Sonoma Flower Mart (formerly located in the back of the California Sister shop at The Barlow) will move to Santa Rosa and be run by farmers this year.
“We grew faster than we thought,” said Green, who was impressed by the big demand for local flowers.

Local Love
So it looks like Sonoma County has yet another agricultural claim to fame: local flowers. It makes sense that people would appreciate the option of supporting local farms in this endeavor that adds diversity to the Sonoma County landscape, therefore serving future generations.
Although there’s nothing like a backyard handful of flowers picked by our young sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren, it’s a good bet that a local bouquet can serve as a treasured reminder of those sweetest expressions of love. SD