Farming state of mind

It’s so easy to feel creatively numb in winter. Being a farmer helps. Just over a week ago, my boyfriend Ben and I pulled on a few extra layers and headed to the rooftop farm he co-founded in Long Island City, the Brooklyn Grange. There, we met up with Bersi, a farmer-in-training working with me at the educational farm where I grow flowers, The Youth Farm.

We’ve made an annual event of sowing the first seeds of the season together, a welcome escape from the spreadsheets and computer screens we get mired in over winter months. Our seed sowing days in early February are like a soft opening to spring and a helpful mental thaw in the dog days of winter.

We sow Onions, Sweet William, Foxglove, and Snapdragons – crops with long maturation periods, or crops that need colder environments to “germinate” or sprout. Entering a hoop house on a bitter cold (but sunny) day is like taking a direct flight to the Oaxacan coast in January (spoiler alert) – it’s always surprisingly warm, slightly humid and smells like a trail in a redwood forest, the moisture captured inside mingling with whatever organic matter is festering there: open bags of potting mix made of peat and compost, a volunteer sunflower patch shot up from fallen seeds,  forgotten, and now bursting with charming green life, algae growing on the interior of the house’s plastic walls… Once we get to shoveling soil into trays we begin ripping off those layers as quickly as we put them on and it almost feels like May. Add hot coffee and music to this equation and I begin feeling like a whole person again. Here are some pics from our Foxglove crop from last summer – if you stare long enough, you might trip and think it’s July:

Once the onions and cold-hardy flowers are nestled in trays, gently being roused from dormancy, it’s back to the desk and the numbers and Google Docs. The Youth Farm’s flower crop plan needs finishing touches; our CSA needs promotion; after 6 six years, the Propagation and Growing Soils courses I teach in spring for Farm School NYC are in desperate need of a syllabus makeover; there’s long-range fundraising and program planning for the Youth Farm, and organizing curriculum and holding interviews for this year’s Urban Farm Training Program (UFTP), a 30-week intensive farm training program I co-lead at the Youth Farm. This program is one of my greatest passions and sources of joy. It’s modeled after my certification program at the 30 acre Farm and Garden, part of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems/ UC-Santa Cruz. It’s been in operation since 1971 and was recently dubbed the “mothership of organic agriculture’ by Mark Bittman:) For me, this six-month live-in farm apprenticeship was the perfect combination of hands-on farming and sit-down workshops on everything from 5-acre farm budgets to the Solanaceae family; it was also an important period of incubation where I immersed myself in learning and was surrounded by like-minded people, and had precious time to think and read and hike and play and forage for mushrooms. Finding ways to continue to be a learner is important. I feel like I’m doing that this year, making farming take a back seat to the floral design and trying to identify and strengthen my weaknesses as a designer and business owner. Here’s me in Santa Cruz, 2008, jotting notes in a workshop; contemplating in the fields:

Back view of my tent, the stunning UCSC campus; front view of my tent, the 10 acre tractor-scale farm we worked on as part of our training:

An unforgettable spring dinner of fava beans and artichoke soup on the back porch of our Farm Center; me and Karen Washington, one of my earliest inspirations, friends and mentors in the food justice and urban ag movement – we completed the training together:

Yesterday, my Youth Farm co-Manager Erin and I began interviews for UFTP 2016. These interviews, like the greenhouse trip, the Mexico interlude, and the daydreaming are always welcome sparks of warmth during gray days. I love getting to 61 Local – one of the farm’s longtime supporters and where we hold interviews – a little early for a hot coffee or tea. It’s cozy and humming with the steady keyboard clicking of freelancers.

Every year I’m re-energized by teaching and farming with the ten student farmers we take on. They’re from all corners of the world and all phases of life, at a turning point in their lives, excited and ready to learn how to farm, just like I was at 24. They’re motivated by the injustices and dangers of our globalized industrial food system. They’re athletes, dancers, recent college grads, retirees, actors, lawyers, med school drop outs, wall street defectors – all ages, races, genders, faiths – essentially everyone. Here’s the 2015 crew in the Youth Farm hoop house; planting garlic in 2014:

Bersi and Erin processing Bearded Iris last spring; a CSA vegetable harvest from fall 2015:

In between interviews Erin and I  traded stories from our winter vacations (winter is when farmers take vacation). I told her about the dry heat and colorful beauty of Mexico – in particular Mexico City and Oaxaca City, where Ben and I spent two weeks in  January, visiting farms, incredible botanical gardens, indigenous Zapotec ruins, and as many markets and street food vendors as possible:

She told me about New Zealand and Australia, skipping Hobbitville and the sheer majesty of the landscape. (Summon New Zealand mountain-valley moonscapes in your mind).

I often feel most insightful and inspired in the shower – interesting how actual heat stokes the imagination. The other place I feel most creative is at the end of a long day in the hot sun when I’m exhausted, dirt-covered and sweaty, but happy. Or after a wedding design marathon and the energy of the event seeps in my bones as I deliver and set up the flowers, to the point that when I leave I feel like hitting the dance floor instead of collapsing in my truck.

I think that the “farm” is a deep space in everyone’s conscience, a place of freedom where we access the desire to ignite ideas and projects that were just flickering fireflies in the darkness, hard to grasp when we go about our daily grind. It’s where forward movement can root down and become tangible. People come to the physical farm to make space for something new in their life, and to inherit a new language, to share and develop new modes of identity, perception, communication, political structure, community. What I see over and over is that like me, people want to connect to something real and produce something beautiful; that that feeling and process is priceless and essentially human. As folks join the daily routines of planting, watering ,weeding and harvesting, I see people actually talking to each other about meaningful stuff, or just laughing with each other. The shared experience with diverse people and the vibrant growth of vegetables and flowers and insects around them parallels that inner movement and production of new ideas and plans; urging it along, encouraging it. When we can access that state of mind, and sow seeds for new ideas and projects, (and its not easy), its pure joy.





a very ‘slow’ valentines day…

As hard as it is to resist the urge to organize a 2nd annual pop up featuring unspeakably gorgeous locally-grown flowers for Valentines Day, buying directly from the local farmers who are working hard to produce gorgeous blooms just in time for February 14th, this year Molly Oliver Flowers will be forgoing the February flower frenzy to channel energy into some other exciting directions and mainly get our asses in gear for a dynamic year. The big news is I’ve just moved into a new studio in South Slope, Brooklyn! In between home improvement DIY projects for the sweet new spot, I’m gearing up for our first weddings of the season, Open Houses at some awesome Brooklyn venues like Brooklyn Winery and 501 Union, plus the usual marketing, bookkeeping, dreaming and scheming.

Instead of hawking local Anemone and Ranunculus this February, in the coming days we’ll be posting tips on our Facebook feed to direct you and your sweeties towards locally-grown flowers in NYC and beyond. To kick off our pre-Valentines Day slow flowers advocacy, here’s a great piece that helped raise awareness about making a conscious choice on Valentines Day 2015, by Sarah McColl: Thank you Sarah!

A pic from last year’s Valentines Day pop-up at Erica Weiner Jewelry:
VDAY sneak peak

In other wintry news, I’ve been chipping away at my 2016 flower crop plan  — I manage a 1-acre urban farm called The Youth Farm where we grow 3,000 sq. ft. of cut flowers, the city’s largest urban cut flower plot — and crazy but true, seeding this year’s Foxglove, Delphinium, Snapdragons, and Sweet William begins next week. Lucky for these beauties, they’ll have a cozy home up in The Brooklyn Grange’s rooftop greenhouses until nighttime lows hit the 50s this spring. At that point, they’ll head to The Youth Farm and continue their incubation in our unheated hoop house. Seed orders were placed in December and boxes from Johnnys Seeds, Fedco, Gloeckner, Geo, and other companies have piled up in the hall much like a snow drift against my apartment door. Applications are nearly all in for the Urban Farm Training Program I lead, and the anticipation of launching into another year of teaching and building more community through farming and flowers is a sparkly shimmer on the horizon.

But. For now, I’ll enjoy my tea and crop planning by my non-working fireplace. That uber-hectic time of working 7-day weeks, farm-wedding-farm-wedding, is thankfully and necessarily not quite here yet. Between the steady, quiet, indoor office work of farm planning, supply ordering, apprentice hiring, business planning, meeting clients and booking weddings and events, I’m feeling full of gratitude for the very decent bits of living and stillness winter affords. I’m milking these months for the opportunities to drink coffee in bed for a full 10 minutes at 7am, to catch a movie at BAM, to meet a good friend for a pedicure, try a new recipe from an actual cookbook while wearing cozy fleece slippers, read a great novel (instead of emails) on the train, to get to a yoga class with my favorite teacher – or just not just around and stay in. Hope you’re all savoring and enjoying the hibernation months as much as I am…whether it’s slow food, slow flowers, or slow business… I am embracing all aspects of SLOW this February.

In fact, on Feb. 14th, my man and I will bitter-sweetly head to Brucie for their farewell Valentines Day dinner/funeral (sob). Of all the little red-door’d restaurants, red (or hot pink) – lipped, spandex one-sy-clad chef/owners, and DIY-red wallpapered kitchens, Brucie (and owner Zahra Tangorra) had my heart. Not only did they serve the best damn food in Brooklyn — when I asked Zahra, a complete stranger, back in 2011 if she’d buy locally grown flowers from me (my inuagural season at the farm), she without hesitation said YES!. Can’t wait to see what that brilliant, vivacious, and extremely lovely lady does next…follow her now @_highfivegirl_ .



looking back, looking forward…

Molly Oliver Flowers had an exciting and rewarding fourth year. Thank you so much for being a part of it! As a small business, run by two working urban farmers, our company received more interest than ever before and we really reveled in the process of designing with locally grown blooms, sourcing always from our favorite local farmers, and watching their own spirits rise to see such increased interest in their products. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to see a hardworking farmer see their work valued. We also connected with several new local flower farmers who began delivering to Brooklyn – yay! Thank you, Tiny Hearts Farm and Butternut Gardens!

We’re setting our sites on a bigger and better 2016, and hope to grow and improve a LOT.

As you may know, I’ve been managing a 1-acre urban farm, the Youth Farm, since 2011. I’ll be working less at The Youth Farm next year, stepping into more of an advisory/support role, and continuing to train new farmers through our Urban Farm Training Program. This farming season has been so rewarding – farming and teaching others gives me a high that’s tough to match. It’s really pure joy to see others sow their first seeds and watch them sprout; to hammer out some transplanting math or build a compost pile. Growing farmers gives me hope for our future.

However, being a farmer in the city requires ingenuity and I’ve been able to make it by designing flowers for weddings. I grew up with an insanely creative mother, an artist and volunteer florist for our church. I inherited from her a love of design and of composition, of reveling in textures and colors and shapes, and so the floral design becomes a natural outlet for that creative urge.

In order to strengthen Molly Oliver Flowers, I need to hone some more design skills. I’ve been farming for 10 years, designing for four. And it’s time to dig in deep and GROW. A big, yet exciting change! Part of growing and getting the word out about what we do, is launching a new website we’ve been working on that will share more about who we are, and what our philosophy is. So stay tuned, and thanks for bearing with our old website:)!


Introducing our New Logo!


Introducing….. our NEW LOGO!! This has been a labor of love for us. Choosing an image we connect to – and even a font, proved to be more of a process than we imagined. Featuring a whole plant as something beautiful felt natural and important; as farmers, Red Clover is an important winter cover crop responsible for housing nitrogen-fixing Rhizobia on its roots, a boon for soil health. Ultimately we opted for Molly’s handwriting paired with a drawing of red clover by Molly’s mom, Mary. Our friend and graphic designer (and lovely part-time Greenmarket flower seller) You Young Kim rendered our work into a logo combined with the classic serif font Adobe Carlson Pro. Thank you Mary Culver for your dedication and drawing skills, @Howard Hebel for scanning the drawings, @Barbara Sullivan for your initial critique, and many friends who helped steer us towards the final product with your input.

Proud florists for our farmer friends at the National Young Farmers Coalition: Winter Supper Event!

We’ll be bringing the best of the local blooms for the National Young Farmers Coalition’s benefit at the Wythe Hotel tomorrow night! As farmers ourselves, we are so happy to support the amazing NYFC, which is working hard to push policies in Washington that help support young farmers: to create tax incentives for agricultural land owners, to increase access to land, and a campaign for student loan forgiveness for beginning farmers. #farmingispublicservice