Hope Grows

A North Carolina grower believes cut flowers can help preserve a family’s 100-year farming legacy

Stephanie Frisbee still recalls the exact moment she decided to start growing flowers: In 2016, Frisbee was taking classes to become an extension master gardener, and a flower farmer came to the class to talk about her work.

“She told us about growing flowers for weddings and scheduling photo shoots on the farm and I thought, ‘I could do that,’” she recalls.

Not long after the class, Frisbee started Hopeful Acres Farm and Gardens, growing flowers on a half-acre plot of land on her family farm. Although she grew up on a farm in China Grove, North Carolina, Frisbee never considered herself a farmer; her grandfather, father and brother were the “real farmers,” raising corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, hay, and straw on the farm that has been in their family for more than 100 years.

In 2014, after her father died and her brother lost his job, Frisbee took on more farm responsibilities but recognized that handling the recordkeeping was not enough to sustain the farm for future generations. Although she questioned whether growing cut flowers would be profitable or sustainable on a farm that grew commodities, she decided to give it a shot.

“There was no time for research; I just jumped in and did it,” she says.

You Can’t Eat Flowers

While Frisbee was enthusiastic about the possibilities, she admits that not everyone in her family thought growing flowers was a good idea.

“We converted some of the vegetable land to grow flowers,” she recalls. “My grandmother was skeptical; [she told me], ‘You can’t eat flowers.’”

The first season was all about trial and error as Frisbee learned about different varieties of cut flowers, set up drip irrigation, and spent countless hours weeding—and she did it while working a full-time job and raising two young sons. She admits that the juggling act is difficult but believes the long hours and late nights are worth it.

“I want our boys to love our farm and understand that everything I’m doing is for their future, to make sure the farm is always here for them,” she says.

As it turned, flowers and row crop farming were a great match. Frisbee often uses the cotton, wheat and crimson clover that her brother grows on the farm in her bouquets. Tending to a crop of her own also helped Frisbee embrace her inner farmer: She discovered that she loved growing flowers and had a knack for nurturing handfuls of seeds into beautiful blooms.

In 2017, Hopeful Acres Farm and Gardens started selling at local markets. During her first weekend farmers’ market, Frisbee sold four bouquets.
“I was so nervous; I worried that people might not like my flowers or how I arranged them,” she recalls. “Four bouquets might not seem like that many but I was so excited because I wasn’t sure I’d sell any.”

Expansion and Diversification

Before long, Hopeful Acres Farm and Gardens had regular market customers and orders for on-farm pickups from those who couldn’t make it to her booth on Saturday mornings. Last summer, Frisbee grew all the flowers for a wedding, and supplied bouquets for a luncheon at North Carolina State University; she hopes special events will become a growing part of her business.

The farm has expanded: Frisbee grows 28 varieties of cut flowers, including tulips, calendula, sunflowers, lavender, basil, ornamental kale, and zinnias. She added eight low tunnels and borrows space in a family greenhouse to start seedlings—and she does it all while working full-time in the county parks and recreation departments where she teaches others how to start their own gardens.

On her own farm, Frisbee is focused on more efficient operations. In addition to investing in infrastructure such as a mulch layer and walk-in cooler, Frisbee prioritizes marketing, thinking about how Hopeful Acres Farm and Gardens is different from other local growers.

Before expanding to a second, larger market where she was one of three flower farmers, Frisbee visited the market to check out the competition. She did not want to undercut their prices and wanted her blooms to stand out. Instead of bringing bouquets, Frisbee showcased fresh flowers in chalk-painted mason jars. The research paid off and the mason jars were a hit.

“Our flowers represent the quality of our farm and what we stand for,” she says. “I take pride in it and I want to share it with others.”

At the end of another successful season, Frisbee is looking toward the future. She hopes to add a high tunnel and include agri-tourism activities, including photo sessions and art on the farm events.

“I work so hard and hope it’ll help secure the future of our farm,” she explains. “But it’s not just about ensuring our farm is around for another 100 years but that all farms are around for another 100 years.”

Jodi Helmer

freelance writer

Jodi Helmer is a freelance writer in North Carolina. Contact her at [email protected]