Collaborations and Connections
Since my last letter to you fine people, the main task I’ve been tackling at my farm has been clearing land for a new large-scale planting of perennials and woodies. It’s good work in the colder months. The woodland floor where we’ll be planting is dormant so I can see the bones of the space. And the cold means it’s not stifling to suit up in a layered armor of heavy Carhartts to defend against all the nasty thorns in the brambles. Though after a couple hours of back-breaking effort to pull massive vines out of the trees, a lot of those defensive layers come off!
This new land of mine is covered in a network of invasive vines, namely multiflora rose, honeysuckle, wild grape, porcelain berry, and poison ivy. The work to clear them is tedious, and yet surprisingly gratifying. There’s a sense of meditation that sets in as one spends hour after hour with loppers in outstretched hands, making cut after cut.
I learned an unexpected lesson along the way. These four species of vines are successful in their ambitious efforts to stifle out all the surrounding competing plants—even the massive old trees—only by working together. The multiflora rose seems to get started first, its thorns making it less likely to get easily grubbed out by wildlife and less-determined humans. Then as the multiflora gets established, the honeysuckle starts threading through it, weaving a network of thinner, more flexible stems that make it nearly impossible to separate the two species.
Without the multiflora rose, the honeysuckle would be easily annihilated by browsing and mowing. But the shield of the rose thorns gives it protection. The honeysuckle in return gives the multiflora more structure; and as the two grow together and mature, they become a force with which to be reckoned. The honeysuckle sends out runners in every direction that divert the attention of someone like me looking for the main root of the multiflora rose that’s at the heart of it all (the “Mother” as I’ve come to call those foundational multifloras, that often have massive trunks that require a chainsaw to cut).
After these two invasive besties get going, in come the wild grape and porcelain berry to scramble up the infrastructure the two original vines have made. Climbing the multiflora/honeysuckle ladder, the grape and porcelain berry can now reach up into the lower branches of the established trees in the forest, away from grazing deer. They then shoot to the top of the canopy and start sucking up all the sunshine, weakening the trees, which ultimately helps the multiflora/honeysuckle duo on the ground who can now dominate the forest floor even more. Last, but certainly not least, is the poison ivy. It chooses to scramble up the trunks of the trees themselves, deterring anyone who might want to climb up there and clip those grape and porcelain vines out.
And here you thought plants were just plants. It turns out they are clever collaborators who are making smart decisions to succeed as a community, despite so many critters and humans wanting to cut them back.
As I spent day after day among this vine community, I stopped being so angry at them (man, those multiflora rose thorns are a beeeeep!). Instead I came to find myself in deep admiration of their collaboration. It would have been so much easier to destroy just one species if it was growing alone. But because they worked together and made physical connections to support each other, rather than compete for the same little patch of ground, they are able to take over acres of land in just a year or two.
I never would have guessed invasive vines would have some deeply instructive impact on me (far more likely they would destroy my lower back). But this unexpected lesson has been really sitting in my heart as of late, making me think about how connections between humans can be—and should be—so powerful and effective. The ASCFG is nearly 2000 growers strong now, each with immensely different goals, backgrounds, and needs. As individuals, each on our own little piece of ground, we can be pretty vulnerable. But together, through our connections, we are all reaching for the sun and succeeding on a larger level. The stronger those connections, the stronger we each become.
This was very evident at the Denver meeting in February. Our events at the ASCFG are usually pretty lively and always educational, but this particular one was humming with a new level of support and connection. Maybe it’s because many of the expert speakers were being very vulnerable with sharing the hard (often emotionally painful) lessons they have learned running effective and sustainable businesses over the years. Or maybe it was because so many of the attendees were attending their first event and had brought wide-open hearts with them. Or maybe it is just where we are at as an organization. Whatever the reason, there was such an inspiring mixing of new energy and seasoned experience in those rooms.
The ASCFG has nearly tripled its number of members in just five short years. That kind of rapid growth can be hard for an organization to manage. Our group’s needs are getting more and more diverse. How do we serve and support everyone? That’s the challenge your ASCFG Board is currently facing.
I hope that we’ll all take that invasive vine lesson to heart and continue to thread ourselves together, spreading what we grow (sustainable local flowers) across more and more of the greater global floral industry. Our collaborations and visceral connections are the way forward for this incredible, grassroots association that has bootstrapped its way into an increasingly important role. A phrase was mentioned at our Board’s last planning meeting that really rings true: “by growers, for growers”. That’s what the ASCFG is all about and each one of us has got a vital role to play in the success of our ultimate mission.
“What can you do to help the greater whole?”
I’m going to continue to contemplate that question myself as spring settles in and planting commences. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go cut some more vines! Just because I admire them doesn’t mean they get to stay!