By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Surrounded by canola, wheat, corn, and sugar beets, micro flower farmer Jen Mulder of “Jen’s Backyard Blooms” is capitalizing on an ornamental cash crop through a successful subscription-based floral service.
Mulder lives and works on a small one-acre parcel of land in Lethbridge County. Although Mulder sells a limited amount of product for wholesale, Jen’s Backyard Blooms primarily grows specialty flowers for sale through a subscription model. Customers who subscribe receive multiple, seasonal, and curated bouquets for a flat rate if they opt in at the beginning of the season. Mulder launched the business during the height of COVID-19 and has since amassed a social media following of nearly 2,000 people.
“My business started in 2020. Basically, we moved to an acreage a few years before that, and we started with a vegetable garden. I quickly realized I loved growing things but not so much taking care of all the vegetables afterwards and processing them all. So I started growing a few cut flowers for myself and then followed the Instagram trend of becoming a flower farmer,” Mulder shared.
Mulder’s operation is considered a micro flower farm, with 1/4 of an acre in production.
Although she said she has some family ties to agriculture, Mulder said she doesn’t have a strong agricultural background herself. She said the venture has been extremely rewarding so far.
“The most rewarding part is delivering the flowers to people who have received them as gifts. Many people buy my subscriptions as gifts for their mom, friend, or sister, or somebody they know is going through a tough time. So every week, I get to deliver flowers to them, and it’s by far the most rewarding part. Nobody hates getting flowers,” Mulder said.
Like other types of farmers, Mulder agrees that the biggest challenge for flower farmers is often the weather.
“You can’t control the weather, and there’s nothing you can do about it; all you can do is learn to work with it.”
“It’s a new challenge every year, and it is different set of challenges every year. Last year, my crop was hailed out in July, so it was really tough to continue with the season. This year, the weather has been challenging with the excessive heat in the month of May. Consequently, all the cool flowers that are typically in bloom in May and June are not producing as much or for as long as they normally would.”
Mulder added that flower farming presents other challenges as well, particularly in a pesticide-free growing environment. While pests such as grasshoppers are known for eating holes in flower petals, Mulder said, “my biggest pest here is thrips, which are not a big problem when it comes to vegetable growing or other forms of agriculture, but for my flowers, it is. Thrips can actually damage the flower buds and leave black spots on them, making them unsellable.”
While there are plenty of people who avidly support local products, Mulder explained some people are simply unaware of the methods used to preserve and transport imported flowers.
“I think people choose to support local flowers mostly because they want to support local businesses and keep their dollars in the local economy, but I think there’s also a real aspect that a lot of people don’t know about, which is that a lot of local flowers are grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and all of that.”
Commercially-available flowers are often imported from various countries in South America with potentially less ethical production standards, but the longer growing seasons and lower wages allow cut flowers to be available all year round for customers in cold climates. However, to keep imported product fresh, Mulder said it is common practice to use more pesticides and chemical sprays, which serve to maintain the appearance of the flowers for a longer period of time.
“Imported flowers are grown with a lot of pesticides. Something like roses are sprayed and sprayed and sprayed so that they’re perfect by the time they get here from South America, and then they’re kept alive in chemicals on their trip while they’re being shipped here,” she added, emphasizing that local flowers are fresh and field-to-bouquet.
In addition to flower farms serving an important role as a site for pollinators, the principle selling points for buying local also apply to the floral industry.
“If you purchase local flowers, you get something that’s grown here and cut from the field the week you receive it into your home,” she explained.
To showcase her vibrant harvests, Mulder regularly shares photos on her Instagram account, @JensBackyardBlooms.