Delight Flower Farm

Gardens: Delight Flower Farm

Delight Flower Farm

While the eat-local food movement has many consumers thinking more about where their food comes from, many are still unaware of where their flowers originate.

Story: Christine Walsh

Photos: Christine Walsh

While the eat-local food movement has many consumers thinking more about where their food comes from, many are still unaware of where their flowers originate. One local business is trying to change that.

The Delight Flower Farm on North Lincoln Avenue in Champaign grows a variety of crops, including perennials. While the farm is still under an acre, its use of crop succession allows a lot of diversity. Some varieties can be planted as many as five times per season because of the methods used.

Delight started in 2011, and this is the third year it has been located at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, which uses Delight’s flowers for its farm-to-table dinners.

“We learn from them,” Delight founder Maggie Taylor said. “We really have a lot of respect for (owners) Leslie (Cooperband) and Wes (Jarrell).”

The flower farm also uses Prairie Fruits’ goats for their goat yoga workshops.

“It’s kind of informally a mentoring relationship,” Taylor said. “Pretty much all of us are yoga instructors. It’s important for us to connect people to nature.”

Last year, Delight added a greenhouse built through a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and a zero-interest loan from a company called Kiva. The greenhouse has enabled them to “trick the seasons” and extend their growing season to nine or 10 months out of the year.

“It’s amazing for us,” Taylor said.

Delight also grows evergreens used to make holiday wreaths, so the business is actually in operation year-round.

The farm sells for weddings and to local florists like Fleurish and Blossom Basket and grocery stores like Harvest Market and Common Ground Food Co-Op. It will also be selling at the Lincoln Square Farmers Market.

The flowers are typically in customers’ hands the same day they’re picked and have longer vase lives; it’s not uncommon for them to last up to two weeks.

“You’re going to get a much fresher product,” Taylor said.

The flowers are all grown organically, using no herbicides, pesticides or other chemicals. Not only do conventional farms use those chemicals, but they usually use preservatives like formaldehyde that make them survive the stress of transportation.

For people in shared spaces like offices where co-workers may have chemical sensitivities, the organic flowers are a good alternative, according to Taylor.

“When people sniff them, they’re ingesting whatever is on the plant,” she said.

Taylor said one of Delight’s advantages is that it keeps money in the local economy and is a small, women-owned business.

“Those kind of businesses all need support,” Taylor said. “Knowing the source of whatever you’re consuming and trusting that source is important, as is cutting down on transportation time. It’s not like you’re requiring a lot of fossil fuel. It’s a more green choice for the consumer.”

One difference between the organic flower and food industries is that internationally, there are a lot more regulatory food standards, according to Taylor.

“Flowers are fairly unregulated at this point in time,” Taylor said.

Taylor noted that the floral business is a billion-dollar industry that sometimes has a dark side. For instance, she said, many of the South American and African workers are women who are not paid fair wages and who later experience health problems like respiratory disease and cancer from their constant exposure to chemicals.

“You’re giving someone a gift that represents love or compassion for grief; why not give a product that is already infused with those good vibes rather than the dark underbelly of that industry or possibly health risks?” Taylor said. “You want to give something as pure and genuine as your emotion is.”

The growing number of “farm-to-vase” flower farms represents a cultural shift, Taylor said.

“In the ’50s and ’60s, it was pretty common for people to have home gardens and at least supplement what they bought from the store,” she said.

But the imported flower business grew as cultural perceptions changed and people began to believe it was exotic to be able to buy Belgian chocolate, Costa Rican tiger lilies or Colombian orchids.

“There’s a trend sweeping the nation as more people learn about this,” Taylor said.

She grew up helping her mother with a big garden.

“At the time I wasn’t a big fan of it,” Taylor admitted.

She went to school for art as an undergraduate and ended up in Champaign-Urbana for graduate school in library sciences, becoming a reference librarian at Parkland College. As her side flower business grew, she decided it was time to make a decision.

“I thought, ‘If I don’t devote more time and energy, it’s going to die out,’” Taylor said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to take a risk and see how it goes.’”

The risk paid off, as just last year, Delight’s revenue tripled.

“We feel fortunate to have support from the community,” Taylor said.

Delight accepts volunteers.

“For people that live in apartments, it’s a little bit of dirt therapy,” Taylor said.

Taylor attributes Delight’s success to several factors.

“All of us work really hard and care about what we do,” she said. “We have fun and work well together. We also have really beautiful flowers.”

Delight has a subscription service. It used to only do a summer CSA but has just added one for the spring. Taylor said some subscribers have told her that they have flowers in every room of their homes because the previous weeks’ are still fresh.

“It keeps the customer coming back to us,” she said.

A 10-week subscription starts in mid-June, while a 15-week subscription goes all the way into October and will include seasonal flowers like dahlias. Taylor encourages people to give their loved ones a CSA for Valentine’s Day in lieu of roses, which are not in season locally in February.

The farm grows over 100 different varieties of flowers.

“We can’t get crop insurance for that reason,” Taylor said.

Their summer flowers include sunflowers, zinnias, snapdragons, ranunculus, eucalyptus, cosmos, sweet peas and lisianthus, which looks like a rose but doesn’t have thorns and has about a three-week vase life.

“They look good for so long,” Taylor said.

The farm grows lilies in crates, which allows them to be easily moved to make space for other crops.

Some of the farm’s flowers are medicinal or edible and can be found at places like Bacaro, Watson’s Shack and Rail and Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant.

“Sometimes the chefs are making a special dish that needs some color,” Taylor said. “Since we grow organically, it’s really safe to consume.”

Taylor noted that a lot of conventionally grown flowers are handled a lot, from being packaged on the farm, to being transported through an airport, to being taken to a wholesale warehouse in a city like Chicago or Indianapolis, to being driven on a delivery truck before being repackaged at a florist.

“A fair amount of time could pass, but that’s also a lot of handling of a somewhat fragile item,” Taylor said.

Liz Faermark was the third person to join the Delight team after the second, Holly Curia. She helps with some of Delight’s workshops on subjects like using herbs medicinally and said while the relationship between flowers and yoga might not be obvious, it is there.

“A big part of our mission is to educate,” Faermark said, adding that she likes teaching people to use plants from nature to take care of themselves. “One’s body and mind can be benefited. Bringing people that ability can bring a lot of happiness.”

Faermark enjoys getting out to the farm to connect with nature.

“What we do is sort of a radical act,” she said. “It’s an important statement to make. It’s teaching the community about the importance of supporting local farms. I really love this job because it kind of synthesizes art and nature.”

Daniel Kamberelis is the newest member of the crew.

“I feel like there’s a lot I had to learn from Maggie and from Liz and Holly (Curia),” Kamberelis said. “We have a lot of knowledgeable, intelligent and hard-working people in the operation, and I want them to rub off on me. I’m very interested in farming practices, especially practicing ecologically conscious and sustainable farming. The small scale seems to promote a healthy ecosystem.

Delight Flower Farm is located at 4410 N. Lincoln Ave., Champaign. For more information, email or call Taylor at 402-432-9342.