Regular readers will know I am a bit of a stuck record regarding the importance of finding local seasonal flowers. Firstly, flowers are no different from fruits and vegetables. They ALWAYS grow, look, smell, last – and even taste – better in season. However, even more importantly, out-of-season, flown-from-afar flowers come with enormous environmental costs to our planet and the communities that grow them.
While 80% of the flowers purchased in the US still come from abroad, awareness of the ecological and social cost of these, a desire to return to flowers as they used to be grown back in our grandmothers’ day, the influence of social media and the impact of Covid on supply chains has led to the appearance of many local flower growers in our neighborhood and across the country.
Full confession, I am one of those new growers, albeit in a small and more sporadically seasonal way. I focus on three specific crops at different times of the year. Many growers, even here in the Northwest Corner, will be aiming for crops at least nine months of the year. While I might not have hoop houses and the multiple succession plantings in common with them, I’m fairly sure of one thing we can agree on; we all got into flower growing because we loved growing flowers, not because we had any desire to become über sales people. Ask any of us what’s the least favorite part of growing cut flowers and it’s not the weather, nor the pests, not even the physically backbreaking nature of the endeavor, but the actual selling of them.
Flowers changing hands
While there are multiple options as to how flower farmers can get their perishable beauties into the hands of their customers: CSAs, subscriptions, farmstands, farmers markets, wholesale and secondary outlets – all of them come with a mix of cost, skill, time or volume commitment which many growers cannot meet.
So welcome to this fray Jeb Breece, the brains and brilliance behind the Kent Flower Market. Now a full-time resident in Salisbury, CT, Breece was originally a weekender in Kent who, in the summer of 2019, driven by the urge to grow something, he wasn’t particularly fussed what, persuaded Megan Haney at the Marble Valley Farm in Kent to let him grow one row of flowers to sell alongside her vegetables and herbs on the farmstand there. While the growing experience proved to be one thing, realizing just how hard it is to actually sell flowers was eye-opening for him.
Flower farmers’ greatest dilemma
Breece had – and still has – no intention of becoming a full-time flower farmer. He has an entirely separate full-time career in finance and a young family to keep him busy. However, the following summer in the depths of the 2020 Covid pandemic, a conversation with the then manager of Kent Barns, Hiram Williams, about how to give the community the opportunity to gather together sewed the seed from which the Kent Flower Market grew.
“It is so important to support our local farm economy in any way we can,” says Breece. “From my experience at Marble Valley, I had realized the flower farmer’s greatest dilemma was often how much time it takes to sell flowers, particularly at their busiest time of year when time is the last thing they have to spare. I also appreciated that it is often the case of boom or bust with flowers – too much one day, not enough the next,” said Breece. “The idea was that in taking the financial risk by buying directly whatever flowers they have available – sometimes in quantities too small, sometimes too large for them to shift otherwise ensuring they weren’t going to waste – and then me selling these on through the Market, it would make life a lot easier for farmers. At the same time, having a flower market in the Square at Kent Barns would give the community a focal point around which to gather at a time when desperation levels to be out and about were at an all-time high.”
Two birds, one stone? It was worth a shot.
A huge success
And so, on Saturday September 19, 2020, with the help of its owners, Natalie and Greg Randall, the market was set up on the stoop of RT Facts. It was a huge success. So much so, in 2021 the Kent Flower Market became a regular part of Kent Barns’ Second Saturdays from May to October. In 2022, the market again ran once a month from May to September, along with a special holiday opening in November.
As well as supporting flower farmers with its flower bar and grab-‘n-go arrangements of seasonal flowers each month, Breece began to invite a handful of small local businesses and flower-related merchants to join him each month. Also added to the offerings were a series of related workshops on flower arranging, tablescaping, container growing and flower pressing, along with book signings and even a flower-related art opening at one of the Kent Barns galleries.
“I’m really keen to support small local business and drive demand toward them. The Market offers great exposure for them and, along with the workshops, introduces customers who would otherwise be unaware of them,” says Breece. “At the same time these draw in new visitors to Kent who perhaps otherwise would not have visited the area.”
Plans for 2023 include more of the same. The roster of flower farmers and growers supplying their blooms to the Market continues to grow. To date these include Anderson Acres, Loam Flower Design Co, Tiny Hearts, Maitri Farm, Hudson Valley Flower Farm, Blue Monday Flowers, Falls Village Flower Farm, English Garden Grown, Geer Mountain Farm, The Secret Dahlia Lady, Marble Valley Farm, and Le Jardin Flower Farm. The line-up of merchants and workshops will include past favorites as well as new faces.
For local flower farmers, seasonal flower lovers and even those looking to be connected to growers at any point in the season, the Kent Flower Market is fast becoming an indispensable resource. Breece might not ever have imagined quite such a flower-filled life back in those pre-pandemic days. However, it is clear his plan to help local flower farmers looks only to be growing from strength to strength.
In 2023, the Kent Flower Market will take place on the Saturday before Mother’s Day in May and from then, on the second Saturday each month through September. The Market is open from 10am to 1pm and is located on the front steps of RT Facts in Kent Barns. 8 Old Barns Road, Kent, CT.
To sign up for workshops and for more information, visit www.kentflowermarket.com or follow Kent Flower Market on Instagram @kentflowermarket
Pom Shillingford is an obsessive gardener originally from England and now based in Salisbury, CT. She offers seasonal cut flowers through English Garden Grown. Find her on Instagram @english_garden_grown.