Grower Profile: Stars of the Meadow

Join us for a discussion with flower farmer Marybeth Wehrung!

W
hen people ask farmer Marybeth Wehrung what types of flowers she grows, her first thought is, "How much time do you have?" As a small-scale flower farmer, Marybeth packs in 60+ individual varieties of flowers on her one acre plot in Accord, NY. These flowers have become part of the Hudson Valley regional flower supply–as beautiful bouquets in local establishments or as centerpieces for weddings and other big events. Stars of the Meadow, Marybeth's no-till farm, is located just around the corner from our former headquarters and its where most of our Dahlia tubers were first sourced. With Dahlias getting ready to be shipped out soon, we thought we'd check back in with Marybeth to see what's new and learn more about her perspective as a local grower. 

Due to the pandemic, more folks have taken up hobby gardening this past year; how would you describe your own trajectory as a grower?

When I was young, I had that same matter-of-fact curiosity that all children seem to have about the natural world and their surroundings. At four (or earlier), I would walk around our tiny yard in springtime, visiting Johnny Jump-Ups, Daffodils, Lilacs, Lupine, and Poppies. Later on, in high school, I worked at a plant nursery on weekends; in college, I kept houseplants on my windowsill and couldn’t wait to move off campus so I could have a garden. I eventually graduated from a community garden plot to growing medicinal herbs on ⅛ acre with two friends, which became an herbal CSA, then a flower farm.

It was a natural and also kind of ordinary progression–a progression I actively chose, but it has mostly felt like the plants were choosing me and I was just responding. Someone starting to garden during a pandemic could just as easily end up a flower farmer!

That's so relatable and inspiring. Do you think these earlier experiences influenced your approach to farming?

Yes! My approach to farming was first as a gardener. Permaculture and regenerative agriculture taught me to trust in the wisdom of ecosystems, including the living organisms within soil, and to disturb it minimally. The theory of building soil structure 'like the forest does' made sense to me, by layering the forest floor with carbon (leaves, branches, carcasses) and the teeming biology above and below ground. So I decided to try farming like a gardener, with no uncovered soil, and have found it to be an efficient way to sequester organic matter.

Carbon, minerals, water–and most importantly, microbial and mycelial pathways–all get disturbed through disruptions like plowing, tilling, and weed cultivation. Regenerative practices increase the biological activity on my farm and in the soil, and I’ve been able to consistently grow robust flower and foliage crops on one little acre.

Tell us about the flower varieties that you grow. Which flowers do you get most excited about? 

This year I’m excited about a new planting of fancy Daffodils, which have really made a resurgence among cut flower growers. I’m also experimenting with starting some of the cool season annuals like Bupleurum, Bachelor’s Button, Bells of Ireland, Larkspur and Poppies and planting them out earlier to experiment with their cold hardiness.

Dahlias, my personal favorites, are hands down the most popular flowers I grow. Starting to bloom in August but really hitting their stride in September, they fly out of my market booths. Florists and people getting married want them for their events, and photos of dahlias cause a flurry of activity on my Instagram. Ball Dahlias–including Ivanetti, Snoho Doris, Cornel Red and Cornel Bronze–all have a vase life of over seven days! The fluffy and larger types like Ripples, Wyn’s New Pastel, Canby Centennial and Mikayla Miranda are more ephemeral, lasting 3-5 days once cut, but make up for it in bloom impact.

We know that Dahlias are generally low-maintenance plants, but what are some things to keep in mind to keep Dahlias healthy?

To grow healthy Dahlias, try to source tubers grown in the U.S., ideally local to your region. Almost all of the Dahlias in garden centers, nurseries, and big box stores are from overseas, and can carry plant viruses and gall. Plant them in full sun and make sure they receive an inch of water per week. Some taller types may need support, so staking them with wooden stakes and twine, or locating them along a fence is advisable. Amending their planting holes with rock phosphate, or just some good compost, will give them a nutrient boost. Also, not covering them with too much mulch until after they emerge will cut down on slug activity. Mulching after emergence will conserve water and keep weed competition down. Cutting the stems frequently will inspire the plant to produce more blooms!

For those who are less familiar with the cut flower industry, what would you say are the benefits of sourcing organic, locally grown flowers for both everyday use and events?

Cheap flowers are plentiful in every grocery store, gas station, bodega, and even at your local florist if they aren’t prioritizing buying from U.S. growers. For these low-cost luxuries, we are paying a hidden cost from fossil fuel consumption, depletion of natural resources, misuse of pesticides, and worker exploitation. Buying local flowers seasonally is as important as buying local and seasonal food, especially those that are organically and regeneratively grown. Local flowers also last longer, and there’s a whole range of shapes, textures, colors, aromas and attitudes they possess!

Yay for local flowers and making a difference! Thanks for sharing your little slice of heaven with us, Marybeth.

Stars of the Meadow flower farm offers locally and sustainably-grown specialty cut flowers and foliage to florists, DIY wedding couples, and for on-farm pickup.

Visit the Stars of the Meadow website to inquire about pre-ordering and flower pick-up. And for lots of gorgeous shots of the flower farm, keep up with Marybeth on Instagram here

Shop our Dahlia collection here.

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