I came across Moon Flower Design and 3 Porch Farm while admiring their floral arrangements and instantly felt a connection. Upon reaching out to them for an interview I was kindly met with warmth and sincerity. Please enjoy the following correspondence I am lucky to share.
a v a j a n e : Yours is a business model I would like to emulate some day. How did you come to choose this way of life?
Steve: I’d have to say it was an evolution over decades, to the point that it felt less like a choice and more like a given. Our way of life is a culmination of all of our ideals and ethics fused with our desire to be in touch with nature and to work together and just be together. We wanted our life and livelihood to be as much of a contribution to a healthier world as we possibly can achieve with whatever skills and resources we have at our disposal.
a v a j a n e : In starting your flower farm what were some of the greatest challenges?
Steve: I’ll be honest with you, it’s all a great challenge. Coming up with the finances, finding the land, finding your market(s), purchasing equipment, building healthy soil, dealing with pests and disease, enduring extreme heat and 90 hour weeks, building necessary infrastructure, attracting customers, finding your niche, allowing yourself to utilize help, finding good help, keeping good help, learning how to be not just a farmer, but a business owner with bookkeeping, foresight, ingenuity, navigating rules and regulations, and just basically keeping a relatively good attitude when any one of the many variables that are out of your control results in failure of your intended goals. Nature does not abide by your plans. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a rewarding way of life, but you have to be the right fit for it. Success does not come easy and success doesn’t mean lot’s of money in this line of work. It means you are happy with your life and can sleep easy knowing that your minutes and hours are all devoted to a positive contribution to a community that extends beyond just you and yours.
a v a j a n e : Would you recommend this way of life for others?
Steve: If they were the right fit, sure. I think everybody should spend a bit of time working or volunteering on a farm at some point in their life. It might stoke up a desire to spend your life on the land, scratching out a living from the dirt. It might very well do the opposite. If nothing else, it’ll give you a sense of what is required for the production of this country’s agricultural products. It’ll build appreciation for your food. I would definitely recommend working a year or two on someone else’s farm before attempting to start your own though. The learning curve is too steep to dive in headlong with no prior experience. In that scenario, you don’t even know what you don’t know.
a v a j a n e : What qualities in a person does it take to pursue running a successful farm?
Steve: To run a successful small organic farm, you need to be highly self-motivated. You need to be self-sufficient. You need to be at peace with foregoing a social life pretty much completely, yet it helps if you are outgoing and friendly if you intend to make your income at a farmers market. You need to be very adaptable and capable of accepting the loss of 6 months of work and investment due to a last minute hail storm, without it taking the wind out of your sails, because you’ve got 30 other things that need your immediate attention and energy, so you can’t afford to feel defeated for more than a few minutes. You need to be very passionate about plants, or veggies, or flowers, or sustainability, because the money is not enough to stimulate the hustle that you need to have in order to be solvent. You need to be always thinking of how to be more efficient with your processes. You need to be a jack of all trades, or married to one, or have enough money to be able to pay people to build your structures and maintain your machines. You need to have an adaptable and fluid mind, because farming is nothing but curve-balls and change. Every year you get a little better, but every year the many variables change dramatically. Adapt and flow. You need to be good at asking for help and using the hell out of Google and You-tube. You need to be physically fit and willing to work in inclement weather in all four seasons. It really really helps to have a good partner.
a v a j a n e : How do you measure success?
Steve: Well, I guess I alluded to that earlier a bit, but I’ll elaborate. Success means we are living a life of integrity, limiting our negative impact on the world and attempting to magnify our positive contributions. Success means we are constantly improving our efficiency, so that we can achieve more with less. It means an increase in quality of life instead of quantity of money. It means we get to work together and to build and enjoy our relationship as we build and enjoy our farm. Success means being able to reinvest in the farm every year and to be able to support a few employees in a fair manner. Success means being a valued part of a community that we value. Success means we feel good about the way we are living our lives and that those good feelings touch the lives of those who work with us and purchase from us. By those measures, we feel pretty successful.
A little more about Mandy and Steve O’Shea from their websites
Mandy O’Shea is a Georgia native. She graduated from UGA with a degree in Horticulture. During that time, she began working with a local sustainable farmer and selling their goods at the Big City Bread farmers market and other local venues. She has been hooked ever since. Her love for the farm life took her to California via the WWOOF’s program where she learned to combine her love for horses and farming. While in Ca., she also worked at the prestigious organic olive oil company McEvoy Ranch for multiple years helping to manage their 7 acre vegetable and cut flower gardens as well as doing daily flower arrangements to beautify the ranch, the S.F. Ferry building store and for frequent events. After missing her home state for too long, she and Steve packed up their dogs…and bee hives… and headed east bound and down to begin their new farming endeavor. She is excited to be back and to help bring beauty, blooms, and good food to the local folks.
Steve O’Shea came to Georgia from northern California to try and make this farm dream a reality. With a varied background from biology to building he has spent a few years on a sustainable farm as a mechanic on veggie oil vehicles (tractors, generators, etc), on construction of an eco village (strawbale, cob, lime plasters), and as a floater on a variety of other supporting farm tasks from harvesting to CSA management. He’s also spent years working in renewable fuels as a mechanic and tour driver, prior to becoming a timber framer for close to 5 years. He is heading up farm construction and sustainability projects and helping his farm mentor (Mandy) in the fields.
Steve has long struggled to try and find a profession that provided a living wage in a way that respects and nourishes the natural surroundings and the community at large and still appeals on a personal creative level. 3 Porch Farm is now the setting in which he is working to create that profession instead of seeking it out elsewhere.
Photos from Moonflower Design and 3 Porch Farm. ~Thank you!