Vermontville gardener switches from selling vegetables to bouquets
By Betsy Kepes
The soil at Ellen Beberman’s one-acre farm in Vermontville is thin and rocky. It’s taken a few years to find her agricultural niche, but now on this small farm with a big view Beberman grows a crop as beautiful as the landscape around it.
“I was getting closed out of the vegetable market,” Beberman tells me. We’re sitting in her sunny kitchen, looking out at the terraced beds of her farm. Ten years ago when she started selling vegetables, the Adirondacks had few vegetable farmers and Beberman saw an opportunity. Soon though, new farmers in the Champlain Valley brought their vegetables to farmers markets in the Tri-Lakes region. With their better soil and longer growing season these growers could ripen crops earlier and sell them for less.
Beberman did have one crop that thrived on her high-altitude acre — flowers. They didn’t take up much space and she could grow them in her large hoop house. She joined the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers and got tips on which flowers do well in cool climates. Her Sunwarm Gardens cut flower CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) now has twenty members. These households receive a bouquet every week, colorful beauty delivered to their door. Beeberman also sells bouquets at Saranac Lake’s Saturday farmers market.
“There’s a lot to learn, but I definitely get more joy out of selling flowers than selling vegetables.”— Ellen Beberman, Sunwarm Gardens
When we tour the hoop house I stop to admire the many shapes and colors of the flowers. Beberman plants 50-60 varieties and is always testing out new cultivars. When I ask about a particularly lovely flower she admits it’s pretty but says she won’t plant it next year because the blossoms wilt too quickly after they’re picked. I’m a vegetable gardener and I’ve never considered the difficulties in growing cut flowers. Germination can be tricky, Beberman tells me. For varieties that need a very early start or don’t germinate well she buys “plugs,” small tubes of soil, each with a seedling inside.
Selling homegrown bouquets to summer people isn’t a new idea. Starting in the 1960’s, Ruth Tucker of Gabriels sold her vegetables and flowers to vacationers in the area. And the dining room tables in the elegant Adirondack hotels needed fresh flowers to accent their linen tablecloths and fine china.
But now it’s the 21st century and Beberman has new ideas on how to sell flowers. She’s considered signing up local businesses to pay to have fresh bouquets in their offices every week during the growing season. And her northern garden can supply florists further south with blooms that have gone by in their area. She says she can get a good price when she mails out her peonies and lilacs, and she once sold a fragrant box of balsam boughs.
When I head back to my car, Beberman goes to her workspace behind her garage. From a walk-in cooler she takes out flowers to trim their stems. Behind her are two buckets of bouquets that didn’t sell that week at the farmers market. “I’m going to deliver them to shut-ins,” Beberman says, smiling. Even the leftovers at Sunwarm Gardens will brighten a day.