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Flower farming blooms with promise for Ohio couple

 
By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
Ohio Correspondent

MANCHESTER, Ohio — When they got married, things were expensive, so Shelly and Brad Brubaker decided they could grow flowers for their garden from seed. They liked it. Later, looking for a niche crop that would be the sole support of their family, they began producing cut flowers on a half-acre of land in 2011.
Then they moved to a bigger place. Now, Little Creek Valley flower farm, north of Eaton, has about 10-acres of flowers. The Brubakers lease the surrounding ground as a spray buffer. 
“Per square foot cut flowers are a high revenue crop,” Brad said. “It’s very labor-intensive but also very profitable. We have our flowers spread out now, but a half-acre of flowers goes a long way.”
Rather than have rows of flowers, they have four-foot beds with a two-foot walkway between them. The family plants about 50,000 annual seedlings in a year, only using plugs for varieties where seeds are not available, or in the case of a crop failure. They also have perennial beds, approximately 4,000 tulip bulbs plus other types of bulbs.
“We have tens of thousands of sunflowers,” Brubaker said. “We plant several thousand sunflowers every week in season.”
Irrigation is key for flower production, he explained.  When they moved to the bigger farm, the first step was to get ample water lines going out to each area of the farm. They can irrigate each field, hoop, or greenhouse.
“We have a very good well,” Shelley said.
Although flower farming is seasonal, the Brubakers have extended that with hoop houses. That was key for them to be able to make it their sole livelihood.
“We’re harvesting and selling flowers from March up until November.” Brubaker said. “We grow flowers year-round; they’re not necessarily blooming, but growing. There are not many months of the year that we’re without income, and we’re certainly not without work! The off-season is a time to catch up on maintenance, and book work.”
The Brubaker family, besides mom and dad, includes Nichole, age 15, Hannah, 11, Aden, 13, Zachary 8, and Thad, 7. The children help out full time on the farm except for time spent swimming in the creek. In addition, three or four “flower girls” come to who help out four days a week during the mid-summer busy season.
Their most significant outlet is the florist industry, Shelley said. They harvest on Monday, taking a route to the florist shops in Dayton, and again on Wednesday when they deliver into Cincinnati. They have about 50 clients but do not visit all 50 each week.  On Friday, they prepare flowers for farmers’ markets. 
“Those farmers market fit well for us; we can use the product we didn’t sell that week,” Brubaker said. “That way, we don’t have to worry about holding product.”
This year COVID has affected everything, including the flower business. Most flowers are for weddings and other events, but there aren’t many of them, compared to a typical year. 
COVID has also put a halt to their flower workshops, a recent innovation. The Brubakers do them in conjunction with a florist. Participants come to the farm, have a tour, Brad and Shelly talk to them about growing the flowers, they pick some flowers that the florist helps them arrange, and have a meal. 
“With this farm being so picturesque, we wanted to share it with other people,” Shelley said. “We all enjoy the workshops. The children get involved, and the people look forward to it. We have had repeat customers.”

8/4/2020