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Local blooms abound in Madison area

Six flower farms offer local bouquets and CSAs

Spring may have taken its time getting to Wisconsin this year, but now that it has arrived, it’s time to celebrate. And what better way to celebrate spring’s arrival than with a commitment to bouquets of beautiful local flowers all season long? These six farms will give you your flower fix May through November.

Mad Lizzie’s Flower Farm
Katy Ripp has held a lot of different jobs in her life — soldier, web designer, special education teacher’s aide, banker — but the one that feels most natural and the one she’s been falling in love with for the past three years is the role of flower farmer. Ripp developed a fondness for flowers with her husband Dale Ripp when they purchased their first home. The couple would take laps of their yard together evaluating the colors and textures of different blooms in different spaces.

A Craiglist posting for a beautiful rural property near Cross Plains ultimately led them to their decision to grow flowers for others. The husband-and-wife team now co-owns Mad Lizzie’s Flower Farm, named after their daughter Madeline Elizabeth, who is named after Madeline Island in northern Wisconsin. Katy does the bulk of the arranging, designing, marketing, event planning and dreaming while Dale helps maintain farming operations.

“He’s a total work horse,” Katy says. “[Dale] lives to be on his tractor. He loves to make things efficient and easy on us, so he’s always looking for the next best implement.”

The easiest way to get the couple’s flowers is through a Bouquet CSA, which takes inspiration from the Community Supported Agriculture model, now common throughout Madison for purchasing locally grown produce. The idea is the same as with traditional CSA: pay in advance of the season for a share of what the farm grows that year, and you'll receive elegant, seasonal flower bouquets. Mad Lizzie’s spring share is already sold out, but you can sign up for the Summer Bounty CSA (delivered weekly, biweekly or monthly through June, July, August and September) or Sunflower Power (delivered for six weeks beginning in mid-July) offerings. Deliveries occur at local businesses in Madison, Middleton and Cross Plains.

In addition to the Bouquet CSA subscription, you can find loads of other options in the “What’s Bloomin’?” section of their website, including custom floral design, buckets of blooms for the flower arraigning DIYers, succulent gifts and living frames.

Sunborn Gardens
Sunborn Gardens, a local institution, has been providing flowers to the Madison community since 1975 when Carol Larsen attended her first Dane County Farmers' Market under a bright yellow patio umbrella. Larsen, a pioneer in using organic growing practices for cut flowers, has left a large footprint in the local flower scene since then. Alongside running her own business, she founded the University of Wisconsin–Madison Beginning Flower Grower School and initiated the development of Fair Field Flowers, which is a cooperative partnership of flower growers in south central Wisconsin. She's also an active member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flowers and has helped them grow in Madison.

In 2012, ownership of Sunborn Gardens started transitioning to Carol’s son Hans Larsen and his wife Lisa Larsen. Since Hans and Lisa took ownership, the growth has been exponential. “What was once a one-woman operation has now grown by 30 percent each year in order to support employees and our growing family,” Hans says.

While Hans learned about the production side of the operation, his wife Lisa worked in the design studio with Carol. “I've always been into art and design,” Lisa says. “When [Hans] came to me about wanting to keep the family land alive and continue his mother’s business, I was uncertain of my role. After living on the farm for a bit and helping Carol with weddings, I quickly learned my place would be with the design studio. I couldn't be happier that my job allows me to use my creativity on a daily basis.”

Over the past few years, Hans and Lisa have added wedding and events to their business while continuing to sell flowers wholesale and at farmers' markets. Last year, they attempted their first bouquet CSA subscription to some of their most loyal patrons with great success. They will continue the subscription into 2018 with both a spring and summer offering. The spring share is already sold out, but the summer share can be picked up on the farm or at Sunborn's farmers' market stand biweekly from July through October for $150.  

“Hans grows stunning flowers,” Lisa says. Sunborn fills CSA orders ahead of selling at farmers' markets in order to offer premium blooms for subscribers. "It is like getting a fancy large bouquet without having to worry that they will be sold out before getting to our stand," she says. "We create our CSA bunches with a lot of love.”

Agora Acres
Right off the highway, 15 miles east of Madison (and just a couple blocks from downtown Cambridge) sits a romantic, hilly property that is the beginning of Samantha Dalsing’s burgeoning flower business. Dalsing moved to the farm with her family in 2017 after nearly a decade of living in Madison. She had been biking from community garden to community garden attempting to satisfy her green thumb, and immediately hit the ground running with her own flower farm, Agora Acres.

“We had been members of Vermont Valley [Community Farms]’s CSA since we moved to Madison in 2008,” Dalsing says. “And I had always thought it would be such a cool idea to have flowers delivered as part of the CSA." She started talking to friends, who said they'd love bouquets on a recurring basis, so as soon as Dalsing bought the land in Cambridge, she started Agora Acres. 

She knew the bouquet CSA would be a cornerstone of her business and currently markets this to her local community through weekly, biweekly and monthly offerings that can be picked up on the farm. An adorable flower cart came next when her husband wheeled home an abandoned wooden cart he found on the side of the road. They repaired rotted boards and added some paint before bringing it to the Galleria 214 in downtown Cambridge. There, they sell bouquets on an honor system all summer long. In the winter, they sell crafts and dried flowers.

In addition to growing flowers, Dalsing and her husband raise three young girls. When I ask Dalsing how she balances running a farm and business with being a mom, she laughs.

“I don’t!” Dalsing says. “I wake up at 5 a.m. and work until my husband has to start work at 8 a.m. Sometimes I am able to do a little work between his coming home from work and dinner time. Then, as soon as my bedtime duties are over, I'm back working until [nightfall]. I get a babysitter for a few days a week during the flower season, but it’s definitely not enough time. For now, I'm doing the best I can with a pretty limited schedule.”

Agora's spring CSA is out of stock, but find other weekly and monthly CSA offerings that start in mid June by clicking here

Yellow Dog Flowers and Produce
One of the new kids on the block when it comes to growing flowers, Molly Stentz founded Yellow Dog Flowers and Produce in 2017 after more than a decade working on well-known organic farms throughout Wisconsin and Illinois. She produces both vegetables and cut flowers for the Madison area on leased land outside of Edgerton.

“I've always loved growing my own food,” Stentz shares. “I had been telling myself for years that I would start my own business once I had saved up enough money to buy land. Well, after years of working on farms and in journalism, I've realized that could take awhile, so I decided to rent land and just start small.”

Flowers were an obvious addition to her young farm because of the simple beauty they brought to her life, she says. Stentz has worked for years at WORT, a community radio station in Madison, covering news and public affairs. The content she shared was often upsetting and hard to hear, she says. “[Flowers are] my way of finding a little balance in the world, bringing joy and beauty to people. We need flowers for the soul!” Stentz insists.

You can find Yellow Dog’s produce and flowers weekly on Sundays at the Northside Farmers' Market in the parking lot of the Willy Street Co-op’s northside location. Stentz also offers bouquets for weddings and direct deliveries in Madison by arrangement.

Five Green Acres
At Five Green Acres, flowers have been in farmer Mary Jo Borchardt’s family for decades. She comes from a long line of women who love to keep gardens — gardens that produce ample amounts of food alongside impressive flower beds. Like the women who came before her, Borchardt has always grown flowers at her homestead outside Poynette. She says it’s the “idealist and artist in her” that led her to take her passion to the next level in 2016 when she started a flower business with her husband Andrew.

“I remember the moment the idea entered my head — it was almost magical,” Mary Jo reminisces. “It was Jan. 2, 2016, a time of reflection and optimistic dreaming for the year ahead. I was at my spinning wheel making yarn when I decided that I’d really like to grow some cut flowers for bouquets. Then the simple, but perfect idea of developing a wedding floral design business using flowers that we grow ourselves hit me like a thunderbolt."

Mary Jo already had formal experience at a couple of floral shops, so she knew the mechanics. A perpetual maker and farmer, she says "it's the best job I could imagine for myself.”

Though Five Green Acres business focuses primarily on wedding and event floral design featuring premium flowers, eclectic textures and diverse greenery, you can find Five Green flowers at the Westside Community Market in Madison on Saturdays, April through November, selling succulent dish gardens, floral hydrosols, early season bulb bunches, fresh bouquets and late season wreaths.

They don’t do a bouquet CSA at this time, but Mary Jo says, “getting our flowers onto folks’ dining tables is a major priority for us. CSA could very well offer a great way to do so in the future, and we’re open to where that might lead.”

Hilltop Community Farm
In the stunning hills of La Valle on a formerly abandoned dairy farm sits a hand-powered, ecological and agricultural paradise. Owned and stewarded by Rob McClure and wife Erin Schneider, Hilltop Community Farm reflects the highest standards in sustainability. The couple’s farm and home runs entirely on renewable energy, they work the land by hand and they follow organic practices. Seeking to go beyond those methods, they constantly push their practice toward total ecological stability.

Alongside their flowers sits a CSA vegetable operation and mixed species food forest of currants, elderberry, kiwi, quince, pears and other perennial fruit crops. Diversity is key at this dynamic farm where Schneider grows 122 species for her bouquets (not to mention the additional varieties).

“From an energy and conservation perspective, growing a diversity of flowers and perennials in particular means a minimal footprint on the land,” Schneider explains. “There is less soil disturbance and microbial disruption that comes with tillage; reduced need for investment in infrastructure such as hoop houses and greenhouses that use energy for heating and materials; increased soil and water holding capacity; and increased diversity of pollen for our honeybees and native insects, birds and bats that feast on flower power.”

This ethic shows through in their flowers, which are as exquisite and unique as they are sustainably produced. Schneider’s bouquets emphasize native plants suitable for cut flowers as well as a diversity of perennials. The bouquets are primarily sold through a flower CSA. Options include seasonal (10 bouquets throughout the season for $235) or monthly options (4 bouquets throughout the season for $100) which are delivered to La Valle or Madison on Thursday afternoons.

When I asked Schneider how she found such a passion for farming, her answer is simple. “As a farmer, I can be myself,” Schneider says. “Flower farming continues to teach me how to be in the world. What I have learned is that art and heart are often left out of the food and farming conversations where policy, research and formal education hold sway. Flower farming is a way to bridge these worlds and bring more beauty into our day in a way that speaks to suspending judgment and just enjoying the moment. Flowers soften the edges of our meeting spaces, balance the science and day-to-day needs of production with love and celebration.”


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