The Beauty of Broadturn Farm
Not your ordinary flower business
Stacy Brenner did not see it coming. She was blithely pursuing the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) route on 30 acres in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, when she and her husband, John Bliss, arranged to rent 434 acres from the Scarborough Land Trust in 2006, and Broadturn Farm was born. At that point, their agenda—including educational programs, summer camps, and hosting weddings—was already more open-ended than your typical CSA. They figured that going beyond the usual offerings of vegetable and livestock harvest shares available through CSA would give them the best chance of securing success in their farming endeavor. But when the cut flower component of their CSA took off, Brenner and Bliss were blindsided in a positive way. Without further prodding, they opted to focus on that strength.
Cut flowers account for half of Broadturn Farm’s annual earnings. With 12 acres in cultivation, two and a half acres are flowers that shimmer in every color before being sheared for sales. Many of those blossoms make their way into the 60 to 70 weddings that Broadturn Farm designs annually, not counting the couples who pick their own flowers for their ceremonies. As a result, the farm has expanded with that specialty in mind and the staff has gotten up to speed with flower arranging, using Broadturn’s unique spin on bouquets. Now, thanks to their cut flower sales, Broadturn Farm has a staff of 23 including Brenner and Bliss.
Couples find their way to Broadturn Farm for many reasons. The primary impetus is undoubtedly the beauty of their product. The fields at Broadturn Farm are filled with a dazzling array of blossoms far beyond the typical repertoire available at florist shops. Broadturn plants zinnias, dahlias, gladiolus, yarrow, daisies, peonies, lisianthus, phlox, lilies, and all the other usual suspects for cut flower work. But Brenner also pushes the envelope into foxgloves, clematis, cobaeas, poppies, sunflowers, campanulas, scented geraniums, Solomon’s seal, tansy, sweet peas, hyacinth beams, love-in-a-mist, feverfew, and a litany of other blossoms not normally grown by the cut flower trade. Thanks to Broadturn’s open mind, couples can work with unique flowers that will make their ceremony distinctive and memorable.
In a burst of ingenuity, Broadturn also added shrubs to their cut flower fields. Most productive from a cut flower perspective are the rows of hydrangea cultivars that they grow. Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and H. paniculata cultivars ‘Limelight’ and Quick Fire grace the fields with their ample heads of flowers. First to be harvested are the blooms of ‘Limelight’, which open lime-green, turn white, and age to pink and burgundy. Flowers are picked when the heads are 95 percent open. Quick Fire has a particularly long harvest period with cotton-candy shaped flower umbels opening white in early summer and blushing pink through autumn. Brenner finds that the hydrangeas branch beautifully after cutting to form denser, more productive shrubs. To extend the life of the flowers, she puts hydrangea stems into warm water while harvesting.
Other shrubs in residence include Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ (hardy to zone 3), a ninebark valued for its deep purple foliage, spring flower clusters, and autumn berries. Rather than cutting the whip-like new growth, Brenner harvests mature stems for their graceful arching shape. In addition, Viburnum dentatum ‘Chicago Lustre’ is planted for its navy-blue autumn berries. And winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are planted in red and orange and harvested primarily in early fall when the berries are peachy green. Winterberries require a male to pollinate the female, berry-producing shrubs—one male per 25 female plants.
But the bushes are only one part of the configuration that includes annual and perennial plants. Broadturn takes a no-holds-barred approach to cut flowers. Starting in February, the farmers plant seeds in their greenhouses and begin receiving plugs for potting on. If a flower can be grown in Maine, they experiment with it from spring bulbs to autumn echinacea. “If a flower is pretty, we cut it and give it a try. If it holds for longer than 24 hours, it will make its way into a wedding.” Supplying events that occur during a short window of time allows Broadturn to work with blossoms that might not endure in prime condition for a full week. Their product can be more ephemeral—increasing the palette of blooms they can use. Of course, resale bouquets are a different story. For bouquets that need a longer shelf life, Broadturn opts for tried-and-true cut flowers that hold for five to seven days. Still, their presentation is more daring and dramatic than the standard fare.
But that is just the beginning, because Broadturn Farm’s philosophy goes deeper. Couples can feel good about their bouquets on an environmental and economic level. By buying locally, they save transportation costs and minimize the carbon footprint of their wedding while supporting their neighbors. Meanwhile, Broadturn Farm takes a conscientious approach to business. “Our workers are not exposed to pesticides,” Brenner says of their organic practices. “Our staff is paid a living wage and we are deeply concerned with workers’ rights. This is so different from the international floral trade, and that’s what you’re putting your dollars toward. Some couples come to us for our values.” Indeed, Broadturn raises pork, chicken, and vegetables, which are available to the crew. “We offer our employees what we call our Wellness Benefit Package.”
They provide premium locally grown flowers, but there is a hitch. They need flexibility on the buyer’s part because they are cutting from their own fields during the growing season. So the tradeoff is that bridal couples need to be cool with variability. Rather than committing to a specific list of flowers for a wedding, the designers at Broadturn Farm prefer some artistic license. They discuss with each couple a color palette and work within that range to fill the type of arrangements and bouquets needed for their wedding. Broadturn Farm grows a vast array of flowers to anticipate what couples will crave. And Broadturn’s work is not limited just to the growing season. During the winter months, they visit flower markets, hunting for exceptional blooms.
Some couples come to Broadturn Farm for their distinctive style. Unlike typical self-conscious bouquets, Broadturn specializes in a looser look. Rather than working with a dozen roses, a dozen carnations, and a bunch of filler, Broadturn’s designers work with a broad range of flowers. They echo those blossoms with multiples for continuity, but the look is much more relaxed—and profuse. “The goal is to evoke the way the garden feels,” Brenner says. A garden is usually a medley and so are Broadturn Farm’s bouquets. To further expand beyond the “expected palette,” Brenner is apt to scavenge in vacant lots for wildflowers and woody branches. The goal is a product born in Maine, giving couples a reflection of their own neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Brenner and Bliss are following their dream and making it work. For Brenner, supplying the ingredients for people’s “happily ever after” is just another step along a path that she has followed throughout her life. Before she was a farmer, and before she began growing cut flowers, Brenner was a nurse/midwife. “It’s such an honor to do this,” she says. “I love being part of people’s special moment.” And for Brenner and Bliss, “happily ever after” means living with nature and flowers throughout your life. Bouquets are a big part of that concept.