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Inspiring Conversations with Joan Stevens of Mamabotanica Blooms

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joan Stevens.

Hi Joan, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Though plants have been part of my life for a long time, I never expected to fall in love with flowers. In graduate school, I studied botany and ethnobotany and worked at the Fullerton Arboretum. I went through the master gardener training and started my journey into permaculture. I believed that growing food was the most righteous thing one could do. I remember seeing rose gardens and feeling superior to anyone who would waste time and water on such frivolous pursuits. Later, shortly after I had my first son, I haphazardly planted some dahlia tubers in my backyard garden. I didn’t think much of it but when those flowers bloomed, I was entranced! Dahlias took over my life for a while. I couldn’t stop thinking about them and looking at pictures of the different forms and varieties. I had a deep need for their beauty. I think dahlias are the gateway flower for a lot of people. They certainly were for me!

After the dahlias, I got “Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden” book. The pictures of her truck overflowing with flowers and her story about her flower farming journey inspired me to start my own organic flower farm. I signed up for her online course, switched our garden beds from food to flowers, and opened my business shortly after. That was in 2018. For a few years, I had a sleepy little business selling flower arrangements. Then covid happened. When the LA Flower mart closed during the early days of the pandemic, I went from very little business to lots of demand. It was a great opportunity to meet wonderful floral designers. Since that time, I’ve expanded my business to include helping others grow flowers. I teach classes, sell a month-by-month flower growing guide for our climate, and sell plants, bulbs, and seeds. I continue to sell arrangements, occasional flower bundles through my Instagram, and host a Flower Bar several times a year where people take home a mason jar full of fresh flowers. To connect with other local growers, I started a group for small-scale flower farmers in Southern California. This group has been a great way to share resources and tips. Jacki Baschman from Old Town Flower Farm in Tehachapi, hosts the monthly zoom meeting. I’ve met many wonderful people through my business. It continues to be a source of inspiration and delight to me.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I admit that with my growing area being so small, I’ve had acreage envy. Many “small” farmers have just a couple of acres. I have 300 sq ft of flower beds. That means I have a small volume of flowers at any given time, so I’ve had to be creative about how to sell my flowers. Because I grow a large variety of flowers but not a lot of anyone kind, I can’t sell them the way most people are used to buying flowers. I don’t have a store front or a market stall. People need to come to me to see and buy my flowers. That isn’t always practical for my customers. The flux of supply and demand is tricky to navigate. Flowers need to be cut regularly and they last for a finite time. Some days, I have flowers and no time to sell them. I love giving bouquets to friends and neighbors but that’s not sustainable for my business. On flower intensive holidays, there is more demand for my flowers than supply. Being a one-person business requires creativity. I need to do all the planning, planting, procurement of supplies, harvesting, marketing, publicity, sales, and record-keeping for my business. All I really want to do is grow flowers! It’s been tricky to push myself into doing the things I’m not so fond of and to carve out time for my business from my teaching job and my family.

Another struggle, felt by all flower farmers in the U.S., is that our culture has people thinking of flowers at holidays. When we lived in Germany for two summers, I loved that people had fresh flowers in their homes all the time. I wish we had a more European approach to flowers as an everyday luxury.

As you know, we’re big fans of Mamabotanica Blooms. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
I’m proud that people associate me with exceptionally beautiful flowers. What might not be as obvious is that I grow using regenerative practices. I focus on building good quality soil and making my garden inviting for critters that do pest control for me. I build good quality habitat for birds and lizards and plant many flowers to feed beneficial insects. Because I grow on such a small scale, I know each plant that I put in the ground. I strive for reciprocity between the plants I grow and myself. They aren’t a crop to me so much as a marriage of my creative passion and the will of nature to thrive. Helping people connect to nature is important for the future of the planet. Learning how to work with nature to grow beauty is an incredible feeling. I’m excited to share that with other flower enthusiasts. As for the classes I offer, I’ve been teaching for most of my adult life. I’ve created programs for public gardens, taught high school science, and currently teach college students. I’ve given lectures on permaculture, gardening, foraging, edible weeds, and soil for several decades. When I teach a class about flowers, I bring a wealth of experience to what I offer my students. I also really love it!

What are your plans for the future?
I’m excited to teach people to grow beautiful flowers. More classes and consulting options are in the works. I have a vision of connecting lots of small-scale growers to be able to get more of our incredibly talented local floral designers using local blooms. Gatherflora is going to open a stall at the LA Flower Mart to offer flowers from local growers and I’m excited about that. I would love to grow on a bigger scale – an acre would be ideal. I don’t know where or how that will happen but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’m currently working on plants for a grow club to help people grow their own cutting gardens using plants I start for them. My dream is to inspire 1,000 new flower gardens in the Los Angeles area!

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Joan Stevens

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