The central Illinois landscape is synonymous with farming. Drive in any direction from Champaign-Urbana, and you will be surrounded by rows and rows of corn and soybean crops. Dig a little deeper and you can also find a variety of small scale organic vegetable farms. What you don’t expect to find is a flower farm. But tucked away on the west side of Champaign you will find just that - Delight Flower Farm. A group of Common Ground staff was lucky enough to get a tour of the farm!
Delight Flower Farm is a small scale organic farm that grows and sells flowers to local businesses in central Illinois. Delight began almost 10 years ago when owner Maggie started a small backyard garden. Initially, the farm had a modest CSA with only 7 members, and Maggie would deliver the flowers herself on her bicycle. As her business began to grow, she worked with The Land Connection, a local organization that assists in agricultural education, to learn the ins and outs of running a farm. All of this was new to Maggie, as she explains “I was an art major in college, and so it is still like making art, the work that I do, but it’s also owning a business”. The work they do is incredibly precise, relying on calculations and spreadsheets to plan crop patterns and spacing, and remaining diligent to ensure the flowers are harvested at the right time. It is also very physically demanding labor - they are out in the field regardless of heat, rain, or hail as they have an obligation to their customers to produce a product.
Delight sits on a 5 acre plot of land, but only 1 acre of it is used for production. Despite its size, there are over 150 different crop varieties growing on the farm. For much of the year, a primary concern is having the diversity to sell mixed bouquets. These require focal flowers and accent flowers that change with the seasons, so having a large variety ensures that they can put forth their best possible bouquets. Due to their size and crop diversity on the farm, it is near impossible for them to get crop insurance. When a crop fails, “our insurance is diversity” says Maggie. They also sell to many different places, including CSAs, retail grocers, and wholesale to florists. Delight now has 65 CSA members, and also works with local farms Blue Moon and Sola Gratia to offer a combination vegetable/flower CSA. They sell to businesses such as Common Ground, Harvest Market, and Hopscotch bakery here in C-U, and also sell to businesses in Peoria and Bloomington-Normal, including their Co-op, Green Top Grocery. Delight also sells wholesale to local florists, and due to the rise of social events taking place after the Covid-19 shutdowns last year have seen an enormous increase in their number of wholesale orders.
The farms' 1 acre of production is divided between a number of distinct areas. In addition to the multiple beds that hold different flower varieties, they also have 2 high tunnel greenhouses. The first was purchased with assistence from a grant from the USDA and allows them to extend their growing season by a few months each year. The rows between flower beds are extremely tight as they work hard to maximize every square foot of land on the farm. They also have a greenhouse dedicated exclusively to dahlias. Dahlia's are fairly labor intensive to grow - they must be staked, and the blooms need to be covered with mesh bags to protect them from the grasshopers that hang around nearby. The greenhouse alleviates some of the labor and allows them to grow a beautiful and highly sought after flower.
As you make your way back around to the entrance of the farm, you are struck by two distinct and amazing sights. The first is a sunflower field, some of the stalks reaching dozens of feet into the sky. The second is a field full of what almost look like evergreen trees but are, in fact, cannabis plants. Delight sells hemp as well as processed CBD products including oils and joints. Maggie plans on growing CBD on the farm for as long as the trend remains. If it gets to the point where it makes sense to stop production, the fields are ready to go for a new crop. But for now, growing cannabis for hemp and CBD is in line with the vision of "growing things that are healing for the planet and for people".
Delight Flower Farm provides an opportunity for our community members to purchase local and ethically sourced flowers. 85% of flowers in the US are imported from overseas, and in many cases the farms they are coming from are not regulated, leading to demanding and unsafe working conditions for the farmers. When flowers are imported during the winter months, this means a preserving agent is needed to keep them fresh for transport, typically formaldehyde. Maggie explains that part of her goal as a flower farmer, in addition to livelihood and finding beauty and a connection to the earth through farming, is to provide an alternative to this system. “Flowers are something you give to someone to say I’m sorry, or I love you” she says. It is disheartening to have to associate this beautiful crop with hardship, exploitation, and harmful chemicals. Buying local from Delight eliminates these concerns as their small staff plants, harvests and packages every single bouquet right here in Champaign-Urbana, and you can feel the work, joy and appreciation that goes into every one of them.
You can find Delight's flowers and other products at the Champaign & Urbana Farmer's Market, as well as right here at Common Ground! You can also order from their website at www.delightflowerfarm.com