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The Lush Life: Flower Farming in Washington

On her two-acre farm in the Skagit Valley of Washington State, Erin Benzakein of Floret grows organic flowers, designs romantic arrangements, hosts workshops, and writes openly and honestly about her experiences as a farmer-florist, entrepreneur, and working mother of two. No wonder her business is blossoming.

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Photography by: Gabriela Herman

Floret

2014 design Winner
Erin Benzakein
Mount Vernon, Wash.
floretflowers.com
Floret is a family farm and floral-design studio specializing in handcrafted organic arrangements for weddings and other special events.

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Photography by: Gabriela Herman

Longing for a quiet, simpler life, Erin Benzakein and her family moved out of Seattle 14 years ago and relocated to a farm 60 miles north of the city. A few years later, with two small children in tow, she wanted to start a business that allowed her to work from home. She had been a gardener all her life, so she began by growing vegetables, then heirloom apple trees, and she eventually even tried raising chickens. Nothing, sadly, was quite right. It wasn’t until she planted a double row of sweet peas to honor her great-grandmother that she found her calling. She grew an abundance of blooms in her organic garden that first year and started offering some for sale. “When I handed my first customer a bouquet, she took a big sniff and started to cry, remembering her own grandmother’s love of sweet peas,” she recalls. “That’s when I knew I had found something I really wanted to do with my life.”

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Photography by: Gabriela Herman

She still struggled, however, with how to turn her love of flowers into a profitable business. She pulled images of floral arrangements she liked from magazines and began making her own. “Yet it never occurred to me to cut flowers from my garden for them. I somehow had disconnected the two—gardening and flower-arranging—thinking that flowers for arrangements came from a store. Isn’t that funny?” she laughs. Once she made the connection, she gave herself permission to cut (and cut and cut) from her garden. Her local Whole Foods loved the bouquets she sent there and asked for more. So she ripped out the vegetables, found homes for most of the chickens, and started growing flowers as a business. “I quickly went from a backyard gardener to a farmer,” she said. And Floret was born.

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Photography by: Gabriela Herman

She began documenting her experience on her website, floretflowers.com. “We discussed the blog as a family, since the kids are so intimately involved with the farm. We had to make sure they were comfortable being a part of the blog, too,” she says. Photographs of Benzakein; her husband, Chris; and their kids working in the fields fill the blog, as do pictures of gorgeous arrangements and rows of blooms in the evening sun. But life on a farm is not always a bed of roses (even when that’s one of your crops). Benzakein writes honestly about the difficulties of being a working mom and farmer—the exhaustion, the insecurities, the failures, even the piles of dirty laundry. This candor has endeared her to her fans (she now has more than 66,000 Instagram followers) and propelled her as the voice and face of the growing farmer-florist movement. But her openness does not end there. She shares the work of her colleagues, frequently writing about other designers and growers. She also hosts multiday workshops at the farm; this year’s six classes are already sold out.

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Photography by: Gabriela Herman

Today, the farm thrums with activity year-round. Floret has densely packed its two acres—comprising 11 hoop houses, a heated greenhouse, and open growing fields—with flowers. Chris now works full-time on the farm, and Benzakein has hired more staff to help with orders, planting, and harvesting. Even so, “during the flowers season, we consider it a marathon,” she says. They are up before dawn and are often toiling until after the sun sets. Benzakein also creates arrangements for weddings and special events, sells seeds, and is looking to expand into shipping flowers nationally. Life on the farm might not exactly be quiet or simple, but she wouldn’t trade any of it. “We’re living in the middle of a fairyland,” she says. “To walk out your back door and see towering rows of sweet peas— it’s pretty magical being surrounded by beauty all day.”

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Photography by: Gabriela Herman
Stunning Bouquets by Floret, 2014 American Made Design Winner
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