When Paula Rice read The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byzinski several years ago, she had what she called “an alleluia moment.” In that instant, she said that after 36 years, she finally knew what she was supposed to be doing.
Imagine a quaint, two-story, white farm house surrounded by nearly two acres of flowering plants lined up row upon row, all in various stages of the bloom cycle exploding with a profusion of intense colors: scarlet roses, vibrant orange daylilies, deep royal purple velvet clematis climbing to the eaves of a small building, lemon yellow sunflowers, luscious bubble gum pink Asiatic lilies and as many different hues of green as plants can think of to produce. Hummingbirds dive bomb the Bee Balm, butterflies float on tissue-like wings and, yes, bees find a haven in and among the thousands and thousands of blooms.
That is Bee Haven Specialty Cut Flower Farm in July.
“Flower Farmer” Paula and her family are in the midst of their third season providing fresh blooms to Boundary County and beyond. As far as Paula knows, Bee Haven Farm is the only farm dedicated exclusively to fresh cut flowers in all of North Idaho.
Calling her flower farm “a work in progress,” Paula is justifiably proud of her raised beds, flowers, vegetables, berries and foliage plants prospering and thriving in the fertile soil aided by careful farming techniques, an extensive drip irrigation system and a tremendous amount of mulch.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I really love to feed my soil,” she continued.
Everyone in the Rice family pitches in to help. Paula credits her husband, Bill, and her children Eden, Charlie, Laken, Genoah, Wade, Seth and Ivy with making significant contributions to the success of Bee Haven Farm. Calling what the kids do, “combat flower gardening,” all the Rice kids pitch in as bucket washers, bundlers, bouquet makers, weeders, mowers and whatever else needs to be done around the farm. Even the family dog, has the job of keeping the deer out of the gardens.
“My biggest fear is deer and weeds,” she laughed.
Offering a huge assortment of cut perennials, biennials and annuals including literally thousands of sunflowers, Paula takes supreme care of the blossoms she harvests from her garden. She explained that the flowers with their stems are cut from the plants in the early morning and are stored in big buckets of water in her cool garage. She and her children separate the flowers with an eye toward providing only superior cut flowers, bundle them for sale and transport them to individual clients, commercial florists, the Bonners Ferry Farmers’ Market and the Sandpoint Farmers’ Market.
“On a flower farm, it never looks very beautiful because you try to pick things before they bloom,” Paula laughed. “You have to be a visionary in the flower world. A vegetable farmer can go out and plant a seed and get a crop that year but I have to think two or three years in advance. There is a lot of up-front expense purchasing bulbs. Just one row of lilies can cost up to $600 and they may not be up to our quality standards for a year or more. I can’t compete with roses coming out of Ecuador, but what I can do is offer a larger variety of fresh, local flowers that last longer and are different than what many people grow in their gardens.”
In a rural community like Boundary County where many people grow their own flowers, how can Paula make a living of her cut flower business?
“My market niche is being able to provide a nicer, fresher product that doesn’t have to be shipped,” she explained. “That gives the flowers a longer bloom time. Fresh flowers stay fresh longer and have a longer vase life. I wanted to sell flowers more like the Europeans. I like the “grab and go” concept. My customers can purchase a quantity of fresh, local flowers for every special occasion. I grow a greater variety of flowers than the usual. People are tired of carnations, roses or mums with a fern leaf. The market is starting to turn toward unique, different flowers and the fact that they last longer because they’re fresh is a bonus. And you know what? Flowers make you feel beautiful. Resurrect the art of putting flowers in your home. People can call me any time from May to September and enjoy seasonal cut flowers all summer long.”
Paula said that owning and operating a flower farm is similar to any other agricultural endeavor.
“Flower farming is typical farming: you have to deal with the elements, heat and wind, but that’s just part of it,” she said. “Before I opened this business, I decided on my product, did my market research and tested my product. This is the time of year that I have to sell my product. That’s the hard part: I have to cultivate, market and harvest all at the same time. If I didn’t have my husband and my kids, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Paula is offering what she calls “Flower Subscriptions.”
Customers in the Bonners Ferry area can order weekly, bi-weekly or monthly deliveries of Paula’s flowers. She said that she makes seasonal bouquets, which are, in her words, “way cool” because the customer receives a big variety of flowers from May through September. Customers can order either a straight flower bunch or mixed flowers to be delivered at whatever interval they choose for as low as $12 per week. This way, there are always fresh flowers enlivening a business or a home.
“Bringing flowers into the house is a lost art,” said Paula. “In Victorian days, they used to bring flowers inside a lot. Flowers brighten a room. There has been a lot of research on the emotional effects of flowers. They change the whole atmosphere of a room and are a great way to stay connected to the natural world in this computer age.”
Paula said that she is experimenting with the idea of opening a “Pick your Own” section on her flower farm where customers can call and make arrangements to come to Bee Haven Farm to pick their own flowers.
“The world is such an abundant place,” Paula smiled. “I always think, ‘I’ll be somewhere in five years – I don’t know where I’ll be, but I’ll definitely be somewhere. I open every door. I’ve done things you normally would do when you open a new business. When my flower market went down, I just went into restaurants and tried to sell to them. I’ll do anything to sell my flowers and by next year, I should be able to help anyone with nearly any kind of flower they want.”
Bee Haven Specialty Cut Flower Farm is located at 2431 Moon Shadow Road. More information can be obtained from Paula at 267-1160, 290-2443 or firstname.lastname@example.org