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Labors of Love

A close look at Field Five Flowers

Bethany Stanbery and Tracy Potter-Fins put colorful blooms into the hands of their Montana neighbors, even in March when the ground was still blanketed with a late autumn snowfall. Spring, with all its variety, arrives at a relentless pace at Field Five Flowers where thousands of flowers grow on their 10-acre organic farm in Huson.

The idea for Field Five Flowers was first planted in 2018 when Tracy and Bethany met. Tracy had been running County Rail Farm since 2011, first on leased land in Dixon, then at the current location in Huson, which she purchased in 2016. Tracy had been focusing on vegetable production and every fall she sold decorative braids of garlic with dried flowers woven throughout. Bethany was in the restaurant industry, but farming interested her, and she was looking to transition into something more grounded and closer to the earth. Tracy asked Bethany if she would like to try her hand at growing the dried flowers for the braids and she jumped at the chance, despite having had very little experience.

“I had never grown anything in my life,” Bethany says. “But from there I got addicted to learning about all the new varieties of flowers. It just kind of happened organically.” Bethany and Tracy started Field Five Flowers in 2020 as an addition to County Rail Farm. This land is also where they make their home, spending their days farming in the fields, running the business, and raising their delightful daughter, Imogen. And let’s not forget Nibs the dog.

The women work the farm together, but Field Five Flowers is technically run by Bethany. Mainly self-taught in growing flowers, she credits Tracy with being the perfect teacher when it comes to farming. She also took a 6-week intensive online course through Floret Farming when she was first starting out.

“When I fall in love with something, I want to do it all,” says Bethany. “Tracy had to pull me back a bit. I’m this dreamer that wants to do and experience all these different things.”

Bethany and Tracy grow over 60 varieties of beautiful blooms including daffodils, delphiniums, ranunculus, snapdragons, poppies, anemones, violas, and roses. They were very excited to grow close to 40,000 tulips this winter and hope to continue doing that in the future, although it makes for more work.

“Having flowers and colors this time of year and bringing that into local homes is really exciting for us,” says Tracy. “I was reluctant at first because I didn’t want to give up anymore of our limited down time, but it has really brought us joy.”

This marks the fourth year that Bethany has been growing flowers and she says there is always something new to learn. “Flowers are little divas,” she says. “I’ve noticed every variety is so different and there’s all sorts of different variables like humidity, light, watering, bloom time, and harvest time.” Even Tracy with her years of farming experience was surprised. “I thought I could rely on my farming knowledge and background with veggies,” she says. “Before Bethany took that class I was like, 'We can grow things. You don’t need to pay money for this.' Turns out I knew nothing about flowers and she needed all that information.”

Bethany and Tracy face unique challenges growing flowers in Northwest Montana. One of the biggest is dealing with the weather and climate, and figuring out what flowers grow best in each season without the aid of any chemicals. Three plastic tunnels give their flowers some protection, but the tunnels are open to the elements. At night, the temperature inside is the same as the temperature outside so Bethany and Tracy can spend hours covering and uncovering the flowers with cloth as the temperature swings.

Planning is also a challenge. Bethany must purchase seeds, plugs, and bulbs a year in advance. Before being done with the current flower season, she is already planning the next. Tulips for 2024 were ordered three months ago and not expected to arrive until October. Often seeds for a September crop are started the previous November.

“Harvest can also be a challenge. All our flowers are harvested by hand and each variety can have a different harvest window,” says Bethany. Some flowers do best when harvested before sunrise. Others, when bees are most active. If selling to a wholesale market, they will harvest the flowers when they are relatively closed so they last longer. If they are harvesting flowers for a farmers’ market or a wedding, the flowers need to be open and ready to enjoy.

Being good neighbors and good stewards of the land are of the utmost importance to Tracy and Bethany. All the flowers, as well as all the veggies, are grown organically.

“Growing organically for us means that it is sustainable environmentally as much as possible. We’re not using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Only organically produced compost and other fertilizers,” says Tracy.

Sharing their beautiful flowers with their customers is the ultimate reason Bethany and Tracy work so hard. They sell many of their varieties through a wholesaler, Farm to Florist Montana. They also sell their flowers through a CSA program, or Community Supported Agriculture, where customers purchase a subscription to receive weekly bundles of tulips, peonies, and more based on what is in season.

Bethany also designs stunning floral arrangements for weddings and other special events. She has been designing jewelry for many years and feels this background has helped her with this side of the business. She has created some floral installations for local fundraisers and friends and hopes to do more large-scale installations in the future. “I’m always looking for ways to create this overwhelming experience of flowers,” she says.

A fun way for the community to share in Field Five Flowers’ bounty is through a “U-pick.” Two days a week during the summer you can visit the farm and pay $20.00 to pick and take home as many stems as you can fit in your hand. “I feel like flowers are such a powerful tool to change moods,” says Bethany.  “They’re nostalgic, they bring back memories, and feelings. I love that immersive feeling of being around flowers. That was one reason we wanted to do U-pick so that others could have those feelings and experiences.”

Bethany and Tracy grow over 60 varieties of beautiful blooms including daffodils, delphiniums, ranunculus, snapdragons, poppies, anemones, violas, and roses.

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