Sonoma’s rural flower farmers claim the bounty of fall

Farmer-florist Lennie Larkin says moving into agriculture as a second career was the answer to many questions in her life. “I’d never loved anything like I love flowers; I’d never been so fascinated,” she says. “The cultivation of flowers caused me to slow down and be in the moment more than anything I’d ever done. Talk about mindfulness.”

Larkin, who grows an acre of garden roses and other blooms at B-Side Farm in Petaluma, is just one of a group of farmer-florists changing the face of the local specialty cut-flower industry, an industry worth $4 million in 2020. Sonoma’s growers are leaders in advocating for the use of sustainably grown, local flowers—the so-called “farm-to-vase” movement.

Sonoma’s farmer-florists are expanding the range of blooms they grow, creating new avenues to support each other’s small businesses. And they are seeing real change in the inclusiveness of the industry as well. “I love the fact that people are so supportive of each other,” says Jude Crawford, who farms with her partner Dale Smith at Zannah Farms in Santa Rosa. “If I have a problem with cucumber beetles on my amaranth, I can reach out to other farmers to figure out what to do.”

Local growers value collaboration and community, explains Zoe Hitchner, who runs the flower program at Healdsburg’s Front Porch Farm, one of the largest farms in the county. She says there’s a feeling of abundance, that there is enough business to go around. “I can say to a client, ‘I can fill half of your order, and I recommend you go to these other growers, too.’”

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