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Hobby blooms into career at Folls Flower Farm in Owasco

OWASCO | Just a couple of days after a fierce snowstorm hit central New York may not seem like the appropriate time to be talking about flowers.

Under a bright blue sky, the fields at Folls Flower Farm in Owasco were still covered in snow and the roads leading to the Harter Road farm were dotted with snow drifts a week before the official beginning of spring.

But Thea Folls was ready to talk about her flowers — the ones that she grows organically and with an environmental conscience and the ones that were recently featured in a book along with 25 other flower farms.

Folls Flower Farm is one of 26 farms across the country highlighted in “Fresh from the Field Wedding Flowers,” written by Lynn Byczynski and Erin Benzakein. The book is meant as a do-it-yourself guide for both established and novice growers alike and includes a 75-minute DVD of instruction from Benzakein, also a grower and designer.

“They chose 26 of us, and I was one of them. It’s quite an honor,” Folls said. “It’s a nice book. … I’m really happy to be in the book.”

The book also highlights what Folls said is called the “field-to-vase” movement, a  cousin of the “farm-to-table” movement that encourages people to purchase and consume food and goods grown locally and organically.

As a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, Folls said more than 80 percent of flowers sold and bought in the United States were actually grown in South America.

As part of that, Folls said she grows her flowers organically, though her farm is not certified organic. She doesn’t use a greenhouse, and all of her flowers grow naturally outside in the field, though she starts some plants inside just before spring starts. Even then, she takes space and heat into consideration so that she’s using both wisely.

“I grow stuff out in  the field, but I start a lot inside,” Folls said, noting that the growing season for her, at least outside, runs from June to mid-October. “We try to be as organic as possible.”

That includes not using fertilizer, even the organic kind. With three horses on the Folls’ farm, Folls said she uses their manure to boost the flowers. Along with that, populations of birds and bees live naturally among the flowers and assist during the growing season.

“Once the flowers are all in bloom, the birds are out there,” she said. “I have some bees that live out in the garden. … It’s really great to have the bees and the birds here.”

The birds eat the insects among the flowers, taking away the need for any kind of pesticide, and Folls added she plans to start raising honeybees to boost what is becoming an endangered species, since there is already a healthy population among her flowers.

And with a 100-acre farm, Folls said nothing is wasted but composted instead, including plant debris from when she makes her arrangements and pulled weeds from the garden and other byproducts of the farm.

A koi pond was dug out in front of the garden and is used to feed the flowers, instead of the well that brings water to the Folls’ home.

Folls used to be a teacher, but she and her husband, Hal, added the flower farm to their existing acres of crops and horses when his father became ill and moved in and she needed to be around to help  out.

Their daughter and grandson also moved in, and their daughter, Heather, began helping her mother out with the business as it grew.

Someone had given Folls a book called “The Flower Farmer” — which ironically was also written by Byczynski — for Christmas, and she said that planted the seed for what has become a successful business and an enjoyable hobby.

“That’s why I became a flower farmer,” she said of the book, adding she keeps tabs on the author and Benzakein. “She’s [Benzakein] an inspiration to me. She’s a great grower.”

Folls and her daughter started out bringing their goods to farmers markets, attending seven each week, and also began a flower community-supported agriculture program in which people receive by pickup or delivery one bouquet a week for 10 to 12 weeks.

Those customers come largely from Skaneateles and Auburn, Folls said, and make up much of her list of 25 delivery customers through the CSA.

Now, Folls said, weddings are “the biggest part of what I do,” as she designs floral arrangements and bouquets for brides who want fresh, locally grown flowers to be a part of their big day.

But, she noted, the offerings for a wedding depend on what time of year the wedding is and what has grown and how much up to that point. Folls said she is willing to work with any wedding, as long as the participants are flexible with the colors and types of their weddings.

Springs has bloomed, and soon the flowers will too. Folls noted that she was an art major in college, so with her flower farm she still gets to use the skills she learned there – creating one-of-a-kind works of art with each arrangement or bouquet that she makes for a customer.

“Flowers are my media now,” she said. “I really love growing flowers. I love what I do.”

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