Indiana Flower Farm works with NRCS to build high tunnel, extend growing season
Floral Compass Flower Farm worked with Indiana NRCS to build a high tunnel in time for the 2020 through EQIP.
By Brandon O'Connor, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA-NRCS, Indianapolis
Walking through the doorway into the high tunnel at Floral Compass Flower Farm is akin to stepping through a portal and being transported away from the world outside. The hay barn and farm shop bracketing the tunnel and the acres of corn and soybean stretching to the horizon disappear as soon as you cross the threshold.
In their place, all that remains is a sea of color, the smell of fresh flowers and the buzz of pollinators darting from blossom to blossom. Sunflowers in a myriad of hues ranging from yellow so pale as to be almost white to the classic bright yellow crowd the back right corner. Eucalyptus fills the rest of the row, adding its scent to the mix. Snapdragons in colors across the spectrum including white, peach and pink occupy more of the space. Cosmos and strawflowers add additional pops of color throughout growing space protected beneath the roof of the high tunnel. They all combine to create a world apart from the row crop operation occurring outside walls of the high tunnel.
More flowers grow in the small field next to the high tunnel, but the roughly 2,000 square feet of growing space within the high tunnel is the center of Carrie Kleiman’s growing business located in Fountaintown, Indiana. And, after an unseasonably wet summer and fall in 2021, the high tunnel is one of the main reasons she still has a business at all.
“Last year, the only flowers that looked good were the flowers in the (high tunnel). It was just so wet and icky that the flowers in the field were not very happy,” Carrie said. “I would not have had the flowers to sell (without the high tunnel).”
Her foray into farming started in 2015 out of a desire to try something new. Her 40th birthday was on the horizon, she’d had the same job for a decade and was ready to make a change.
The idea to channel that desire for a change into starting a flower farm was born on Instagram. She’d started following a flower farmer who also sold seeds, before buying some and falling in love.
She started small, growing flowers just for family and friends in a few raised beds in her backyard before realizing she could turn her hobby into a business. In 2017, the operation relocated to her husband Nick’s family farm where they transformed an old sorting pen that was no longer in use into Floral Compass Flower Farm. Nick, who helps run Floral Compass in his self-proclaimed official role of “cheap labor” is a fifth-generation farmer who grew up working the corn and soybean acres that surround the flower farm.
Pulling a page from her original inspiration, Carrie set up accounts on Instagram and Facebook and began building a client base. They also have a flower subscription service people can enroll in and sell at local farmers’ markets.
“When I have flowers, I'll post that I have flowers available. I have a lot of people just reach out to me that have been clients in the past or follow me and ask for flowers for special occasions,” Carrie said. “Last year I was selling out a lot. This year, we were trying to grow more because I had to say no a lot last year. That was hard. I don't like to have to tell people no.”
The Kleimans still grow tulips at their house, but the rest of the operation has fully moved to the old sorting pen over the last few years. While Nick had farming experience from working on his family’s land, growing flowers has been a learning curve for both of them. Carrie said she had leaned heavily on the internet to learn about growing flowers and she also turned to other flower farms for advice on setting up beds, building the farm and growing the best flowers possible.
It was one of those mentors who mentioned they should talk to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) about building a high tunnel on the farm. While Nick was familiar with NRCS from his family’s operation, they hadn’t previously thought about reaching out for help with the budding flower farm business.
They reached out in 2019 and applied for assistance through NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Under EQIP, NRCS pays eligible landowners a portion of the cost to build a high tunnel on a farm with the requirement that plants are grown directly in the soil profile and not in pots or on shelves.
The high tunnel was built in time for the 2020 growing season and in just three years has already had a major impact on the farm. Along with keeping it viable during the turbulent 2021 growing season, the tunnel has added four months of additional growing time to each season and improved the overall quality of the flowers Carrie has for sale. The impact of the viability of her business has been, “Huge,” Carrie said.
“I'm not usually having flowers till the end of June or July. With this, I was cutting snaps in May or even earlier,” she said. “I'm able to buy more seeds, it brings in more money and makes it more profitable. And it just keeps me in people's minds longer. I'm not dormant for as long in the winter and people kind of want to forget about it. I think it just keeps me on the top of people's minds for longer too, which is helpful.”
The assistance from NRCS made the project possible, Carrie said. While the high tunnel still cost them some out-of-pocket money to construct, the EQIP funding turned it into a feasible project they could afford while continuing to grow the business.
In the six years since she started growing seeds, the few beds have turned into more than she could have ever imagined. Along with providing Carrie a creative outlet and a new career, the flower farm has reconnected Nick with the land and given him hope that the farm will continue to stay viable for future generations as they adapt and diversify.
“I love being in the dirt,” Nick said. “I feel really connected to the soil and to this farm again. I think my grandfather would be really proud to see us making the most of the space here and trying something different and diversifying our farm a little bit.”
Their goal with both the flower farm and the corn/soybean operation that surrounds it is to be good stewards of the land. The high tunnel plays a role in that as do the cover crops they plant in the row crop fields. They also have plans to potentially work with NRCS to build a second high tunnel and explore ways to use rainwater to water the flowers.
“(Being a good steward of the land is) what farming is in my book. That's how I was raised. That you're a steward of the land,” Nick said. “I'm all for trying to keep this a farm. It might not always be a corn and soybeans farm. Our area is changing rapidly and growing and if you want to be able to keep up you have to be able to adapt. I think that anything we can do to diversify this farm and make it more sustainable.”
To learn more about the assistance available to small and specialty crop farmers visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/indiana/smallurban-farming.
Small/Urban Farming - Indiana
NRCS serves all agriculture – large to small, conventional to organic, rural to urban. As American agriculture continues to grow in new directions, NRCS conservation assistance is growing along with it.Learn More
Environmental Quality Incentives Program - Indiana
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers and non-industrial forest managers to conserve natural resources while strengthening their operations.Learn More
INDIANA NRCS HOMEPAGE
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