Meet Your Farmer – Beth Mort/Snapdragon Flower Farm
August 1, 2018
Beth Mort is the owner and operator of Snapdragon Flower Farm and Zinnia Permaculture Designs in Spokane, Washington. Snapdragon Farm sells bouquet subscriptions, a do it yourself service for bridal flowers, and floral design workshops. Zinnia Designs is a garden design company that blends permaculture principles and gardening concepts to meet the goals of their clients for beautiful and sustainable landscape designs.
How did Snapdragon Flower Farm come into existence?
I became interested in growing flowers about four years ago. I have always had plants as a focal point in my education, and have worked at nurseries and small farms. I had also done a very small vegetable CSA while I was working for the Department of Ecology and liked it so much that I decided I really wanted to do farming full time. But there are so many vegetable farmers in our area that are doing such a great job, it left me wondering what I could do to add to the mix that would be different. Flowers had been on my mind, but I actually started a different small business called Zinnia Designs, where I do permaculture garden design. So I quit my job and really focused on Zinnia designs, but I also had the idea of growing flowers, or a combination of flowers and vegetables. My husband and I sold our house and it just so happened that Heron Pond Farms had a rental and ground to lease. When I had done the vegetable CSA I was not on site at the farm and not present all of the time, so I did a lot of driving between my home and where I grew the vegetables. I learned from this and one of my new perimeters was that I wanted to be on site. The opportunity at Heron Pond Farms has allowed me to rent a house and lease an acre all at the same location. It has been working out very well.
Tell me more about Zinnia Designs, your garden design company. What sets you apart from other garden designers? Who are your clients?
My clients typically are people who are really interested in doing the work themselves. I don’t do installations, only consultations and on paper designs for people who want to create a road map for what they want done. I am not a traditional landscape designer. Everything that I do is conceptual. My design lens is really permaculture focused. People want their landscape designs to reflect their ideas of beauty and comfort, combined with functionality. My focus is to try to help my clients produce a yield of some kind using patterns that you find in natural ecosystems, and using methods that are not chemical based. Zinnia Designs clients are often people who want to harvest fruit or vegetables or animals on their land. I focus on putting things into a landscape that makes sense for the most efficient use of the land. It takes a holistic approach to looking at the total ecology of the land, which is generally food focused or pollinator focused.
How do you see your flower farm evolving?
Last year was my very first year. We only moved to this house in April of last year. I had planted all of my seeds and seed starts in the winter but I didn’t know where I would plant them for the growing season. I thought I would plant them all in the back yard of the house that we were staying. However, the opportunity to move happened really fast and so we tilled up old pasture land and I set up my rows and got my plants in quickly. I didn’t have the time to get many amendments into the soil, but my harvest produced so much more than I could have asked for or imagined. I still have this naturalist desire, so I leave some rows to see how the plants that are there can make their own little eco system. I also have experimental rows. I feel like the plants and the flowers do their thing while I am trying to evolve and catch on. My evolution involves continual learning and trying to make things more efficient with each year.
Where do most of your customers come from?
I have a nice sized CSA this year, and I sell bouquets to Main Market Co-op in Spokane. This year I want to focus more on selling bouquet flowers to florists, and also to people who are doing their own weddings and other events. I would really like to have a farm stand out here; keeping my fingers crossed that it will work out. Last year I sold a lot more edible products but have not spent as much time dialing that in this year.
You offer a bouquet subscription service, and I love how you have described the subscription service on your website because it is very clear and so beautifully explains the reality of a farming season. It reads: “Signing up for a subscription makes you connected to the farm in that you agree to both the bounty and the risks of the farm season. For example, weather may negatively affect some flower crops limiting them and there may be a bounty of others. Each year comes with its own surprises and variability.”
Can you provide an example from this year of any surprises you have encountered with your flower crop and modifications you have made as a result?
A couple examples that come to mind have to do with my experimental rows. Bells of Ireland is a pretty tough flower to grow, I think it does better with direct seeding. I am playing catch up because I started with such urgency to get everything in. Bells of Ireland last year did awesome for me; they reseeded like crazy. The Chocolate Lace flower also reseeded beautifully. I need to just designate spaces so that they can reseed naturally and I can get a few years out of them instead of rotating crops every single year. It is different from vegetables in that I like the idea of letting them reseed for production the following year. Blister Beetles are crazy this year and have been going after marigolds and calendula. So I am thinking of basically using my calendula as a sacrificial plant; using it as a baited trap and planting it farther away from my other crops.
Spring through fall is clearly your busiest time, what keeps you occupied in the winter months?
During the growing season I plant many flowers that are good for drying, and I work on creating dry bouquets during the winter months. I also do a lot of organizing and picking up of things that I don’t have time for during the summer. I am still really trying to develop a better system of harvesting and delivering. This fall and winter I would like to look at the last two years and do some market analysis and planning. And I work with many of my clients through Zinnia Designs starting in the fall and running into early spring.
What do you love most about your job?
The plants and the insects, more than anything. The flowers, insects and bees, and seeing how things grow. It is always amazing to me that you can get these huge, beautiful productive organisms that bring so much joy from just a tiny seed. It is fascinating to watch the process. In my previous job I had the sense that I was not making best use of my time on the planet. I felt like I should be growing things, and now I am making that happen.
To contact Beth/Snapdragon Flower Farm, visit: https://snapdragonflowerfarm.wordpress.com/ or call 509.276-0023.
Interview by Juliana Anderson.