Barbara Jefts: From Flower Farm to Blossoming Business

The upstate New York flower farmer is creating a farm and flower business that gives her the life she wants.

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Barbara Jefts, Native Farm Flowers

Barbara Jefts (BJ) SOT: When you pick, you follow it down…that’s how you know where to go. They’re beautiful.

BJ: Picking is the real gratifying thing. You, you go out to the field and we have a, a cart with buckets, and you just literally pick, strip leaves off and fill these buckets. And the cooler gets so full that it overflows to the outside.

CARD: Barbara Jefts – Owner – Native Farm Flowers – Greenfield Center – New York, U.S.

BJ: I have about two acres, and that's really a lot of flowers when you pack them in row to row.

CARD: Barbara grew up in Albany, N.Y.

CARD: In 1972 she began studying art at the Rochester Institute of Technology but dropped out to travel the world.

CARD: When she returned she worked as a groom at a racetrack and lived in a teepee.

CARD: She met and married a tree surgeon, Donald Jefts.

BJ: I was very attracted to farming and growing things. So I found a federal program that was for people just as us who had no money but wanted to have a small farm. So I did a lot of paperwork, did a lot of interviews, and we were finally able to purchase a little farm in Glenville, New York.

BJ: I was going to produce vegetables and sell them at the very new farmers’ markets but there was a, a glut of vegetables and I had a few flowers and those seemed to go. And it worked with me with the artistic part of me that really needed to be filled. And flowers just won over vegetables completely. [LAUGH]

CARD: In 2006 Barbara left her husband and moved off the farm she helped build.

BJ: I took a job at a florist that I had previously worked for and I still maintained my flowers at the farm and did the farmers’ markets. A little rough going back to the old territory, but I had too much invested there. One of my customers here in Saratoga learned of my plight, and she told me that she had bought a piece of property in Greenfield Center so she invited me to use this piece of land for nothing.

BJ: The field was scattered with trees, and the first thing was to take them down. I went to my old farm, I moved all my perennials. I knew I needed things in rows that were easy to take care of. And then planting 50, another week 50, another week 50, so, having the, um, the flow of the flowers happen better. I learned very quickly to use the land in a much better fashion.

CARD: After 3 years, Barbara bought this piece of land. And she built a home on the property.

BJ: My biggest challenge is funding improvements on the farm. My flowers are ten dollars a bunch, so, you know, 50 bouquets is only $500. So last year I went and advertised in a wedding magazine. Weddings and events bring in a lot more money. And I got a lot of work this year. So in the past two years, my income has increased drastically.

CARD: Barbara now has three part-time employees.

BJ: I could become bigger. And grow more flowers and sell across the state or, you know, wholesale, but I wanna keep it large enough to support myself and small enough to oversee.

BJ SOT: Um, so fresh — these are already dried. Yep.
-Well, that looks good.
-Yep.
-These you just cut?
-Yep.

BJ: I'm not doing it to make a lot of money. I'm doing it to be able to be in the lifestyle that I choose to be. And I'm slowly working towards converting my field into things like hydrangeas, unusual lilacs — greens and shrubs that produce flowers that would be a lot easier for me to tend. Forward planning for flower farmers. Aging flower farmers. I fully intend to stay here. I'm not leaving. This is my — I have — I've worked too hard to be here.

CREDITS

Producers – Victoria Wang & Sue Williams
Director – Sue Williams
Editor – Cheree Dillon
Director of Photography – Sam Shinn
Production Assistant – Michelle Ciotta
Assistant Editor – Adam Finchler
Music – Killer Tracks

Posted: April 20, 2016

Nusha Balyan at The Story ExchangeBarbara Jefts: From Flower Farm to Blossoming Business