15 March, 2021
“The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” – Amelia Earhart
Cross Street Flower Farm began on less than an acre in my front yard. I hired a friend with a tractor to plow up our lawn while my husband, Scott, looked on in shock. That was Spring 2015 and each year since then, I have steadily increased the footprint and reach of Cross Street Flower Farm. 6 years later, we have a flourishing 7-acre flower farm at the historic Jacobs Farm and over 700 flower share members each season.
Looking back, there are so many lessons that I have learned from farming and running a small business.
I am a self-taught gardener turned flower farmer. If anyone had told me at age 15 that I’d start a flower farm at 40, I would never have believed them.
My path to Cross Street Flower Farm is long and twisting. There was my undergraduate degree in Russian which led to travels abroad, followed by a short career in international banking in Boston, graduate work in nonprofit and Internal Studies in New York City, and then 8 years raising my 3 young boys.
I am not a native New Englander, in fact, I grew up moving up and down the East Coast (New Jersey, Georgia, North Carolina) with my family for my dad’s job, never living in the same place for longer than 5 years. When Scott and I decided to leave Boston and settle in Norwell fifteen years ago, it made me very unsettled to think about staying in one place. But it turns out that setting roots is exactly what I needed, and the symbolism of the phrase ‘bloom where you are planted’ could not be more fitting.
Once in Norwell, I was inspired to start my own little farmstead. I started small with just four raised beds and the first thing I planted were Giant Mammoth Russian sunflowers as an ode to my travels in Russia. Over the next few years, I built the garden of my dreams and experimented growing all sorts of vegetables, strawberries, blueberries and flowers – zinnias, dahlias, gladiolas, cosmos, sunflowers, verbena, celosia. I learned to raise chickens, planted apple and peach trees, started beekeeping, and even made several failed attempts at turning part of our property into a wildflower meadow. I read every book I could find about small scale farming and homesteading.
Once I gave myself permission to view my garden as a creative experiment, something that I could learn from and improve upon every season, things started to take off. I didn't limit myself and grew as many things as I wanted, and then hedged my bets by doubling down on the winners the next year. This remains the driving force of Cross Street Flower Farm. We start small, make loads of mistakes with little risk and then scale up the following season.
By far the most important gardening lesson I learned early on was that of benign neglect. I started out smothering my garden with too much love – overwatering, over-weeding, over-worrying. Luckily life stepped in, we went on vacation and my garden was neglected for a whole week, and I realized that the garden did quite fine without me hovering. This lesson of benign neglect carries over quite well to parenting in my experience. ;)
My interest in farming took center stage in 2010 when I helped to start and run Norwell Farms, a nonprofit community farm. Over the next 5 years, I hired farm managers, built a greenhouse for propagation, had a well drilled for irrigation, applied for loans for equipment, and I set strong roots in the Norwell community. Most importantly, I learned first hand about the demand for local products in our community, and gained valuable insights about how to provide it.
When I turned 40 in 2014, ignoring all the naysayers and my own doubts, I finally followed my heart and apprenticed in the fields to learn how to grow on a larger scale. I couldn’t have been happier that summer planting, weeding and harvesting acres of vegetables with the college-aged field crew. The only thing that was missing in those fields were flowers....
That summer was a turning point for me, and I knew I had found my calling digging in the earth and creating something simple yet beautiful to share with the world. Cross Street Flower Farm was born later that winter with trays of cut flower seedlings overflowing from my dining room table onto the floor.
I have learned so much about flower farming in a very short time, things that once seemed daunting- like planting acres of flowers, learning to drive a tractor, building greenhouses, or growing specialty cut flowers through a New England winter are now quite manageable. I'd like to use this space to share some of that knowledge with you.
I am humbled by the outpouring of support and excitement in my community for our flowers. 2021 is poised to be another year of incredible growth for Cross Street Flower Farm and we have a lot of exciting offerings this year. We have sold out over 700 flower shares over the winter, but we still have plenty of exciting plans for the season.
We are excited to launch our new website which we hope will be much more intuitive and geared for e-commerce. We plan to post weekly flower specials and arrangements that you can preorder and pick up at the farm.
For those of you interested in growing your own cut flowers, we will have a larger selection of cut flower plants and seedlings, dahlia tubers and fall bulbs available for pre-order on our website in the next few weeks and months. We will also be releasing new Cross Street merchandise later this Spring.
We are planning more Cut Your Own Bouquet events and workshops at the farm throughout the season. Our flower shop in the barn will be open Thursdays through Sundays 10-2 starting in early May.
Thanks for stopping by and I'll see you at the farm! - Nikki Bartley
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