American Flowers Week has officially begun, and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than featuring one of our favorite American farmers! Glenwood Farms in nestled in the Tualatin Valley in Oregon, about a half hour west of the city and the Portland Flower Market. It is a family operated flower farm, run by Kendra and her father Deke, growing over sixty varieties of flowers, sticks and berries.
Supporting small farms and buying locally is very important to Mayesh, and we’re so appreciative that Kendra was kind enough to take some time out of her busy day to answer a few questions about their farm!
So Kendra, can you share a little bit about yourself, and how you ended up in the flower farming industry?
I actually began farming flowers when I was in middle school through 4-H. I would help my mom in the garden and choose a flower or two to enter into the annual fair. Then in high school my dad and I planted some liatris to sell. At the time, my only responsibility was to help him harvest and process. He took care of all the farming and business. Even though I have always loved flowers, at the time I didn’t see myself as a flower farmer. I didn’t even really realize that that was something that people did. So, after high school I went off to college at the University of Oregon where I studied Journalism and Business eventually earning my degree. I had worked at a bank while in college and continued when I moved back to Washington County eventually getting into management. In the meantime my mom and dad started farming flowers beginning with an acre and a half of hydrangea that my mom acquired. For extra money I would help out during the summers again with the harvesting and processing. In 2011 my husband and I were expecting our first baby and I just didn’t see myself in banking anymore. My mom and dad, both having other careers besides the flowers, had essentially plateaued in what they could do with the farm and together we decided that I would become more involved with the business side. So, I ended my banking career, put on my Carhartts, and became a farmer.
I love that you and your dad are a father-daughter team. I, too, work with my dad and other family members, which is awesome but definitely takes work! Tell us a bit about how it is working side by side to your dad, and what challenges you face with that, if any 🙂
Luckily, my dad and I have always been really close. And, not just that we love each other but that we respect each other and maintain an open line of communication in all aspects of our relationship. For the most part, our duties have been fairly separate. He takes care of the day to day farming; irrigation, fertilizing, weeding, pruning, pest management. I am in charge of harvesting, processing, selling and administration. We combine on anything new that we want to do including new places to sell and new products to grow. In recent years he has been able to travel more and get ready for retirement. This has enabled me, with the help of my husband, to learn more about the duties that he has been in charge of.
Is it just you guys, or do you have a team helping out on the farm?
We don’t have any full time employees. However, we couldn’t do this all ourselves and regularly rely on a few hired workers to help when needed. Luckily, we have a lot of amazing farming neighbors who we job share with when they are at slower times of the year. It works out well for everyone; keeping people busy and employed. My husband regularly helps by mowing or setting irrigation as well as maintenance of our farm equipment.
Tell us a bit about your operation now-where are you located and how big is your farm? A virtual tour, if you will!
Our farm is located about 10 miles south of Hillsboro, in rural Washington County. It is a total of almost 60 acres and we are currently farming about seven acres in cut flowers. It is mostly flat land with irrigation and easily assessable to the Portland Flower Market, making it an ideal place. It is just far enough from town that when the sun goes down and I leave the barn for the evening, you can see all the stars in sky and when you are packing up the van to go to market at 4:00am you are welcomed with the sounds of the birds singing a morning work song for you. And a straight shot to the market only takes about 30 minutes. It has taken some years but we have a pretty good set up right now with coolers and equipment that allows us to work efficiently and process our product in a way that will get it into the customer’s hands in the best condition possible.
Flower farming takes a special type of person; someone passionate, patient, and driven. What inspires you to do this on a daily basis?
This career doesn’t come without some sacrifices. I often leave our house in town after our kids go to bed to pick or prepare for market and wake up at sunrise to beat the heat in the summer on the weekends when my husband is home. I make late night trips to the flower market to deliver product for the next morning and try to do bookwork during nap time. But, it is in me to be a flower farmer and each day that I do it I feel so blessed to live my life. With each flower that I pick I honestly think about the florist that will buy it, that will use it in a design that will go into someone’s home or be used on a special day in their lives like a wedding. I feel honored to be a part of that. And, when my girls want to pick flowers from our garden with me and take them inside to make arrangements I stare at them with awe that they are appreciating what the earth is giving us and that someday they may have the opportunity to do something they enjoy. At the end of the day, we do need to make money and it isn’t always as romantic as it may seem but a lot of days it is really fun, I am able to learn something new, and I am proud of what I can offer.
What are your favorite varieties to grow and work with?
I love woodys. Anything that is odd and interesting or crazy or that you wouldn’t expect to see in a flower design. They are also fairly easy to maintain. You don’t have to dig them up like bulbs each year or replant like annuals. They can be challenging too. Sometimes they can have a limited vase life or are so unruly that they are hard to transport to market. We have been trying to diversify over the past few years adding more bulbs and more herbaceous perennials to our offerings. We want to be able to offer product year round and enough different things that we can retain our customer’s interests.
What are your hopes for the future of Glenwood Farms? Expansion, experimenting with new varieties, etc.?
There are definitely some varieties that we currently grow that I would like to get more of and I am always up to try something new. I foresee us planting more acres over the next few years. However, with our current work/life balance we are at a point that is manageable and our expansion efforts will be slow and steady. I want to make sure that we are always offering a great quality product and that we can fulfill our obligations to our customers.
Supporting local growers and educating people about what you guys have to offer is so important, and these days it seems like awareness is really spreading! Tell us a little bit about your experience and/or involvement with the American Flower Farming Community.
Although the time I am able to give to awareness seems limited, I am so thankful for some of the trail blazers in the Pacific Northwest that have been vocal and active promoting American Flower Farming. To be in such close contact with these amazing people, it is sure to rub off on you and I definitely feel more empowered not only as a flower farmer, but as a woman farmer, since I have had the opportunity to attend conferences and increase my leadership. I am in my first year as a director on the Oregon Flower Growers Association Board. This has enabled me to learn even more about the industry as a whole and given me some more direction on how I can possibly help new growers sell their product. I had the honor of speaking at the Small Farms Conference in Corvallis this last winter. I was able to make contact with some other flower farms in Oregon and learn what similar challenges we might have and how we can collectively overcome them. Just in the past six months I have joined some social media groups that collaborate and work together to further everyone in the industry and began an Instagram account that has opened my eyes to many new growers, farmers and florists. I am able to work with Wholesalers, like Mayesh, who are dedicated to the American Flower Farmers and support us by buying local.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions about your lovely family business! One final question, what advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own flower farming business?
I think there are two things that I would say. “You can do it! There are a lot of great people in this industry that are able and willing to help.” and “Be ready to learn something new every day.”
Thanks again, Kendra, for sharing your lovely story. For more Glenwood Farms updates & photos, follow them on Instagram. Stay tuned for another farmer feature in the upcoming week, happy American Flowers Week!