Latest Posts

The Booger on the Sheet

It was a spring day when I was changing my son’s sheets on his bed when I noticed the weird shape hanging off the side of his fitted sheet and on his bed skirt. I knew what it was before I actually knew what it was. I had done the same thing as a kid. Too lazy to get up to get a tissue, I’d wipe my nose contents on the side of my bed, hoping no one would notice, especially my mom. When I came downstairs to ask my son about it, he got a confused look on his face and said, “How did you know I did that?” My response: “I’m a mom, I know these things.”

The booger on the sheet.

The little tiny secret that doesn’t really hurt anyone, but also doesn’t tell the full story. We’ve also had a giant booger on our sheet. A figurative booger–please know I stopped doing that when I was 8. I’ve had a thing looming in the background that I’ve not talked about all summer because it has brought me shame, grief, relief, anxiety, and the unknown. ALL the emotions.

In May, I lost my full-time job of ten years. We never really talk on the blog, social media, or even in person about how both of us work full-time while running this farm. And I have only told a few wedding couples that I still worked full-time outside of the farm. I didn’t want a couple to ever think I wasn’t fully invested in them or their day. Regardless of how busy I am or how crazy our lives get, I take this responsibility of being a part of someone’s wedding day very seriously. When we started this farm four years ago, we knew one of us would need to commit to it full-time at some point. And that was always an awkward subject because I never wanted my employer to think I wasn’t fully invested in my job either.

And so, because of all this, for the past four years I’ve been living split lives. “Day Audra” was hunched over a laptop as a graphic designer cranking out ads for a corporate retirement community system. And “Moonlight Audra” was growing, designing, and running a business with whatever time was left over. The last two years have been much more stressful and filled with angst than my silly Instagram stories might suggest. Our side hustle has defined so much of our lives. I got really good at burning the candle at both ends and we could see there was not much wax left.

How do you keep all the pieces of yourself together when you are a wife, mom, full-time graphic designer, and full-time farmer? How do you eat healthy, have breathing room, read a book, have somewhat of a clean house, have friends, or even grocery shop when every square inch of your life is taken up? The things I have screamed, said, and done during this time are permanently burned in my brain and make me sick when I think about them.

Chris often teases me by repeating one of my favorite lines:  “I can’t keep living like this!” Another famous line I’d use is “I need just one job!” because it got to the point where I couldn’t keep all the plates spinning.

In May, Chris and I were sitting on the couch before bed, drinking a beer and discussing our life choices.  I think I even said “I can’t keep living like this” once or thirteen times. Together we decided that this might need to be our final growing season with us both working full-time. We would need to take a leap, have a super scary period in our lives where things are even more uncertain, and have me go full-time on the farm. We admitted this with a lot of trepidation, but we could see the numbers and knew the farm just couldn’t go where it needed to with us half assing it. At least one of us needed to whole ass it.Then the next day, I went in to work and the universe shoved me hard off a cliff and told me to take a leap.

I lost my job.

I always wanted to have this be our story: We lived in town, loved to garden, threw caution to the wind, bought a farm, became so successful we were able to quit our jobs, and now we live off the land and life is good.

I became really angry and full of shame that my narrative was changed without my permission. And I felt like a failure because had I worked harder and been more creative, could I have kept my job longer and been able to quit on my terms?

No. The answer to that question is most certainly no.

It didn’t matter because the company I worked for needed to make cuts, and I was simply one of those cuts. But the reality is, we knew this is where we were headed. Before I lost my job, we started outlining next year and pulling together budgets and we could see this was the clear and defined path we needed to take, but we kept shaking our heads no. No we weren’t ready. We needed to be smart and take calculated steps to do this. We have a family to consider, bills to pay, a farm to maintain financially and physically. But are we really fully 100% prepared for anything?

When I got the news I lost my job, our lives were so busy, so it took Chris and me three days to sit down and have the “now what the hell do we do?” talk. I knew in my heart, that I couldn’t fathom trying to go find a job off the farm because I had seen what we could do with the limited time we had on it. I knew what we could do if I was on it full-time. So when we sat down, three days later, I sad, “Now what?” And Chris said, “You work on the farm, obviously.” It’s what we came here to do. The moment we saw our house for the first time, the moment we put that first seed in the ground, the first wedding we booked, the first wholesale account we scored, we knew. We knew this is what we came to do and now it was time to do the damn thing.

I’m so grateful for my job and the time I had there. My job allowed us to build up this business. It taught me how to do sales, marketing, graphic design, and event planning. It taught me how to work and bring people’s visions to life in creative ways, develop relationships, and build a website. I obtained so many of the tools I needed to create our own business from my corporate job. I needed to work for other people and be a part of a team before I could ever understand how to be my own boss and run my own business.

And so I have been doing this thing for five months now and it has been so much different than I thought it would be. It’s fun, hard, good, hard, scary, and hard. Entrepreneurship has really high highs and really low lows. When there’s no safety net of a full-time job to catch you, those lows get even lower and those highs are freaking euphoric. And that just takes me to 10:00 a.m. on most days. Besides parenting, I feel like I have never worked this hard on anything in my entire life. All in all, we’ve had a good year and I feel I have come into the stride of being a full-time business owner. We’re farming much smarter instead of harder. We finally got our floral studio finished this spring. And just last week we paid off our line of credit so that our farm is currently completely debt-free. We’re learning that if we continue to want what we have, then we should always have what we need.

This leap we have taken is super scary, but it also feels amazing to do what I love. Instead of feeling like I’m living two different lives, I’m now fully living the one life I’ve been given. And I can’t really say that’s something I was doing before we started this farm or before we had our son. I’m taking risks, learning from both mistakes and successes, being challenged, and chasing a dream. And now you know the rest of the story.  It’s not nearly as glamorous as I’d like, but life rarely is.

Our final wedding of the season was out the door earlier today. We had our first frost last week, which annihilated most of our field flowers. Soon we will begin planning for next spring and plotting the next evolutions of our farm and business. The trees are starting to let go of their leaves, and we too must decide what to let go of, and what to desperately cling to with all our might.

And amidst all that, here I am, with clean sheets, free of boogers.

 

Dahlias (A Slap of Reality)

We haven’t posted at all this summer. We have had some major turns of events happen behind the scenes for us (more on that later). As we’ve become more established, have more businesses buying from us, have strangers approach us on the street to ask us if we are from Finding Eminence Farm because they’ve seen our Instagram (this has happened twice – we are by no means celebrities), it’s been really hard to be so open about what’s happening on our farm, like it was in the beginning. There were only a few eyes and now there are many. So when we fall and talk about it, it seems to hurt more on our end.

So with my teeth gritted against themselves, I share with you one of our biggest fails this season: dahlias.

“Chris we need to quadruple our dahlia production for 2018. It’ll be a cash cow. Let’s move them out of the hoop house and grow them in the field.” 2017 Audra told 2017 Chris in their annual “Come to Jesus” meeting where they map out the next year for Finding Eminence Farm. “I trust you. I love you. You’re beautiful.” 2017 Chris told 2017 Audra.

Fast forward to Fall 2018. Shit isn’t going at all how it’s supposed to be going.

In May 2018, almost 200 out of 600 dahlia tubers catch a tuber stem rot. We will go out one day, everything is fine. Go out the next day, half the tubers are wilted and black. We confirm this with the U of I Extension Plant Clinic. The only solution? Dig up the tubers, dispose of the rotted tubers, don’t plant them in the same spot next year, pretend this doesn’t feel like a punch in the gut, and move on with your life.

We chug along with summer and were able to hold our on-farm dahlia flower arranging class just fine. And then they just. stopped. blooming. Or you’d walk past a plant and brush the leaves and entire branches would melt off like butter. Then the corn root worm beetle showed up, because, well, they are assholes and have nothing better to do with themselves. And then I’ll spend the next month of my life diligently trying to place an organza bag on each delicate bloom that I’ll need. This is cute for about a day. Then I’m over it.

I lost count of how many florists I had to tell this story to and how many I had to turn away when all they wanted was a damned maroon dahlia. I talked ourselves up in the beginning of the year with “we’ll have dahlias and we are experienced growers and you can for sure count on us! Because local is better, we all know it!” I don’t want to think about how this affects our credibility for next year with florists. We didn’t technically do anything “wrong,” nature just doesn’t give a damn sometimes and you have to roll with the punches.

This time each year, we are normally swimming in cafe au lait dahlias. I have so many that I always make a photo of the deadheaded ones for our calendar that we sell at the end of each year. I have pulled out three total blooms this entire year. Three.

Do you know what we can do about this quandary? Nothing. Why? Because mother nature is in control, she ultimately calls the shots, not us. But here’s what we can do. We’re planning on what we will do next year instead. We know we have to invest in a bigger hoop house if we want to be a part of the dahlia game. We know where not to plant the dahlias. And we know that this is part of the farming game. Learning hard from lessons and doing it better next time. When we first started this farm four years ago, we welcomed our mistakes because we knew that we could and would learn from them, and we knew that not matter what they wouldn’t be THAT serious.  We’re in a different place now. Mistakes hurt more. And we feel like we should be smart enough to know better. No matter how long we do this and how much we learn, this will never be the case. Mistakes are part of the game. In September, though, as our season starts to slowly wind down, we find ourselves wanting to scrap everything and have a do-over. But the reality is, we always feel like this at this point every year.

Next year our dahlias will be amazing. But inevitably Mother Nature will throw a wrench at us in some other area, like she always does, every year.

We know you’re coming, girl. And we’re ready.

2 Months Go By

How have two months flown by since our last farm update?

In May we had our first peony flower arranging class. It’s hard to think of a time that existed when the days and nights were cool and you didn’t sweat in places you didn’t know you had.

Some other awesome local businesses that have bought our flowers and microgreens are Forget Me Not Flowers, Hy-Vee, Growing Grounds, Kemp’s Upper Tap, Nightshop, Sugar Mama Bakery, Daffodil Lane, Chesterbrook Academy, and Green Top Grocery.

We are extending those feelers and developing those relationships to get people on board with the good ass stuff that we grow.

This year, it feels like we finally have a weed management plan down. And by weed management plan, I mean I wear gross overall bibs, a dorky hat, and force myself to go through each plant and weed everything by hand and with a colinear hoe. Chris keeps us on top of our spraying schedule. We utilize organic pesticides and fungicides to control insects, powdery mildew, and various disease issues that always seem to hit us here in Central Illinois.

Our BCS has proven time and time again to be the most excellent resource we have. Chris is able to melt through plants, turn beds over, and get another crop in. He just planted popcorn, so if you’re a close family or friend and have had our caramel popcorn last year – we will have more this fall/winter.

Our next project this week will be to build a stoop outside the flower workshop. So it will go from this:

To hopefully something like this:

When I showed Chris the sketch, he sighed loudly and walked away from me. Which pretty much sums up our marriage. 🙂

We have gotten better, but are still working on knowing when to stop working for the day. It seems as if we do a lot of our outdoor work during the day and then we’re catching up on invoicing, book keeping, inquiries, and email until 10 at night most nights.

It’s still worth it though. The blood, the sweat, the tears. This whole farm is still worth it and our passion hasn’t burnt out (don’t get me wrong, there are weeks where we wonder why the hell we started this thing). While weeding last week, I was thinking about how I wouldn’t be doing a job like this for anyone else and that weeding is probably the number one thing I hate to do on the farm. It’s awful and hot and kills my back. My hands hurt for days afterwards. But you only do something like that when you genuinely love and believe in something.

I love this farm and I believe in this farm.

 

 

 

Spring Farm Update

It’s hard to believe we are starting our fourth summer here at the farm. Yet, here we are.

Chris has become a seed starting and micro green badass. We still order in a fair share of plugs of the varieties we’ve figured out we are just not great at growing. Almost all of the seeds Chris has started looks as if they were grown in a professional, heated greenhouse.

We decided last fall to stop growing a lot of things okay and drill down and grow a few things really well. Chris has been growing and delivering micro greens each week to Green Top Grocery.

We saw a need with other florists last fall for dahlias, so we kicked off a lot of varieties we were kind of crappy at growing and went full blast with dahlias. We definitely scratched our heads when 3/4 of them went in and took up most of our growing space. “Um, oops,” I said to Chris as he gave me the buggy-eyed “WTF” look that I know all too well.

Our classes for the year are filling up nicely. If you’d like to come to the farm and pick flowers and learn to arrange them and listen to my awful jokes and watch Chris roll his eyes at said awful jokes, then sign up!

We are currently swimming in double bloom tulips. Keep your eyes peeled for where they’ll be sold soon.

Once again we have a lot of awesome things going on for Mother’s Day:
Pop-up at Retrofit Culture on Saturday, May 12th | 10:00 a.m.
Flower Arranging Class at Green Top Grocery on May 12th | 3:00 p.m.
Custom Flower arrangements for mom
Classes to take with mom

And, per usual, we try to juggle this farm with parenting, being married, living a fulfilled life, and general wondering “what the hell we’re doing”.

We’re grateful for all the people who have supported this crazy dream.

Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

Need something special for Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13th? Because let’s be real, Mother’s Day isn’t just about Moms, it’s about all the special women in your life who have put up with all of your shennanigans for years. Here are some great gift ideas:

Pop-up Shop at Retrofit

Join us at a pop-up shop at Retrofit Culture
Saturday, May 12th | 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Retrofit Culture | 104 W. Washington, Bloomington, IL
We will be making custom flower arrangements, with your input, and selling bagged and living microgreens.

Purchase a Custom Arrangement

Purchase a custom arrangement that can be picked up on the farm or delivered just in time for Mother’s Day. Arrangements start at $45 and our anemones and ranunculus are mixed in with other beautiful spring blooms in a ceramic keepsake pot that can be reused to plant summer flowers in. It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Arrangements can be purchased here. 

Take a Class

Bring your favorite bottle of wine and create a farm fresh flower centerpiece at Finding Eminence Farm. Even if you’ve never arranged flowers before, you will leave the class with the confidence to do it again on your own. Classes are still available in June and August – but seats are selling fast! Class tickets can be purchased here.

Three Years Old

It’s official. Finding Eminence Farm is three years old and we’re about to enter our fourth growing season. We are not the same people we were when we moved in. This business and land have changed us.

In 2015, we had a handful of seed packets, an 18 month old baby, a freshly bought farm, and a crazy idea that left our family and friends wondering what the hell we were thinking.

Fast forward three years and we have established peonies we will cut on in a few months (see past blog post about how I didn’t believe we’d ever be able to cut on them), a hoop house full of growing ranunculus and tulips, a 4 1/2 year old, an assload of seeds and plants, classes filling up, weddings booked, and our family and friends still wondering what the hell we’re doing.

Somehow we’re still here, somehow our marriage is still intact, and somehow we have a resilient kid who LOVES this farm.

The most baffling thing about our farm is the things that were textbook and should have worked did not. The things that were pipe dreams, weird, and should NOT have worked did. Here’s a list of things we’ve learned the past three years:

There is no manual on how to start a business in Illinois. There’s some pretty crummy and very vague advice online. But no one sits you down and tells you about 1099 forms, or how quickbooks works, or if you should be a DBA or LLC. We’ve paid out the nose to figure this garbage out.

Information on how to grow on our farm, with our soil, in our zone does not exist. And we have no desire to write that manual, but if you ask us a question, we’ll answer it as honestly as we possibly can.

Reach out to people, build relationships. Knock on doors virtually and physically. It’s been super surprising who is willing to open the door and who isn’t going to answer even though you know they can hear you knocking.

Visit other farms. We have learned SO MUCH VALUABLE INFORMATION about how a small farm should run by getting off our farm. And when you get to visit a farm – never show up empty handed, a small thank you gift needs to be in your hands.

We have no business acting there are “secrets to farming” or hiding growing information. The only secret we have (and it’s not a secret) is that we work hard, we work consistently, and we get back up when we’ve been knocked down or told “no”. We can tell you all about our drip irrigation, the thickness of landscape fabric we have, the types of organic pesticides we utilize, the size of our raised beds, or where we bought our BCS Tractor…we aren’t able to teach work ethic or determination. Successful farms run on a lot of sweaty ass, back breaking work by people who are blindly in love with what they are doing.

Opening up your life to strangers online is terrifying and requires stupid amounts of vulnerability. Doing close ups of my face with no makeup on in Instagram stories is not my favorite, but that’s how I look most days and I’m not going to sugar coat it when showing the behind the scenes of our business.

We have to take breaks from the farm. Spending time as a family off the farm, having dates as a married couple, and having fun are necessary in making sure we don’t lose ourselves. It’s easy to get sucked into the black hole of entrepreneurship. We have to be the best versions of ourselves to be good parents and a good team. Having a love-hate relationship with our business and farm is natural. Not all of life is rainbows and unicorns and nether is running a business. It’s also taken us awhile to learn that when winter comes, we hibernate and we rest. No exceptions. Period.

We have worked like dogs, made millions of mistakes, scored amazing clients, lost really big accounts, felt like failures, royally messed up our books, spent hours fixing our books, met other  kick-ass business owners, sobbed uncontrollably, and have laughed so hard until our sides hurt.  But most importantly, Chris and I get to work together. And Chris is the driver behind why we’re hard working and he pushes us to be better people and challenges me to always choose kindness. We will never do this farm perfectly, but damn it it’s an honor to try.

In a few weeks, we will replace the roof over the back half of our home and the front porch. It’s not really how we want to spend our money, but we knew what we were getting into when we bought a 100 year old farm house. The peony class we will teach in May only has one seat left. Spots are still available for our other two classes. Chris will be teaching a microgreen class at Green Top Grocery with his sister in a few weeks.

I leave this post with the most important thing I have learned: chase your damn dream. Life is too short not to. If you fail, who cares. It will be messy. But you tried and now you know. Time will still barrel forward. Wouldn’t you rather say “why not” than “what if”?

Images by Finding Eminence Farm,  Studio Fuze Photography, and Sara Gardner Photography

 

The Biggest Bang for Your Buck

Ah, the joys of planning a wedding, right? You have found a photographer, you’ve found a venue, you are thinking about what the wedding party will wear and now you’re down to the flowers. Before you reach out to any florist, here are some things to think about. Typically flowers account for 8-10% of your total wedding budget. So let’s get really honest about some things to consider to help stretch those flower dollars:

Have a smaller bridal party. 12 bridesmaids and 12 groomsmen? We know you love your squad, but that also means a bouquet and a boutonnière for each of those wonderful people, which increases your floral budget significantly. Reuse ceremony flowers. Skip the aisle markers
and go with a large alter arrangement or arbor that can be moved and reused at the reception.

Reuse bridesmaids’ bouquets. Don’t pay for additional arrangements for the head table. Get
beautiful vases, place the bridesmaids bouquets in them, call them centerpieces, and go dance the night away.

Reuse cocktail arrangements. Purchase small arrangements to go on the highboy tables at
the cocktail hour and have someone move the arrangements to the gift table, place card table, or
restrooms after the cocktails are over.

Sell your vases! When you purchase centerpieces from Finding Eminence Farm, you purchase the vase. Why? We don’t have a storefront, so we aren’t able to store these items or re-sell them in other avenues like most florists can. Also, styles and tastes are unique to each bride and we don’t believe you should be stuck with someone else’s vision. Sell your vases on Craig’s list, weddingrecycle.com, or tradesy.com to score extra cash to spend on your honeymoon! Win. win.

Don’t have a centerpiece on every table. This is especially important if you have a lot of wedding guests. 350 guests translates into about 35 tables and having a centerpiece on every table instantly makes your flower budget explode. Put a low, lush centerpiece on every other table and fill in the rest with groupings of bud vases or candles.

Pinterest can be misleading. We know, sweeping, lush greenery is beautiful; however, it’s
really expensive because you have to use a lot to make an impact.

Use Color. Big, impactful blooms like dahlias only require a few stems to make a statement. If your ceremony or reception is outside, garlands of greenery get lost against the greenery of grass and trees and that’s wasted money. Punch some color into it to get your money’s worth!

Photograph by Rachael Schirano Photography.

Microgreens are not Sprouts

It was announced yesterday that a salmonella outbreak has been linked to sprouts that were sold on sandwiches at Jimmy John’s.

Some consumers use the terms “sprouts” and “microgreens” interchangeably, but they are actually very different crops that are grown in very different ways.  At Finding Eminence Farm, we grow only micro greens, not sprouts. Since they are often so easily confused, we thought it was important to highlight the differences.  Even the Center for Disease Control posted on their facebook about this breaking news story about sprouts with an image of micro greens. Here are the main differences between micro greens and sprouts.

Sprouts:

  1. Sprouts are germinated in water. To prevent mold growth, they are rinsed one to two times per day
  2. Very little light and nutrition is needed for sprouts to grow
  3. They require high humidity to grow
  4. To ensure their safety, it is recommended that sprouts are cooked to prevent food borne illness since they are grown in dark, humid, and wet conditions (a perfect situation for icky stuff to grow)

Alfalfa sprouts from Johnny’s Seeds

Micro greens:

  1. Seeds germinate in peat moss or soil
  2. Plants require light and good air circulation, just like any other plants that are grown in- or outdoors
  3. The leaves and stems are eaten, but the seeds are not since they are in the soil

Three different varieties of microgreens grown at Finding Eminence Farm

On our farm, we compost our potting soil after each crop and then wash and sterilize our trays every week.  Seeds that are prone to fungal issues are soaked in a mixture of vinegar and food-grade hydrogen peroxide to prevent any possible issues before the seeds are sown.

If you really like sprouts, there are lots of countertop sprouting kits that you can purchase that would allow you to sprout seeds yourself and avoid buying from these mega producers.  We certainly wouldn’t recommend eating store-bought sprouts for the time being.  We’re jaded, but we think microgreens are better anyway.  We’ll just keep eating those on everything, and we’d encourage you to do the same.

You can purchase our microgreens at Green Top Grocery. Keep your eyes peeled for an announcement about Chris teaching a class at Green Top Grocery about microgreens too.