The Chester Housing Authority's community farm has found a second line of business – flower sales. And it has found a partner to help market the flowers – the Swarthmore Co-Op community food market. The first harvest of Sunflowers went on sale in late June.So why is CHA getting into the flower-growing business in addition to its produce farming?
In a word, Money."Flowers are the highest grossing crop per acre," according to CHA executive director Steven A. Fischer. "We already have our produce partnership with Fare & Square (grocery store in Chester) and now we're excited to be selling Chester-grown flowers to the Swarthmore Co-Op. These are the kinds of efforts that will help us reach our goal of a self-sustaining farm.""You can pack the same amount of flowers in the space that it takes for collards and get about triple the return for the same size bunch," added Natania Schaumburg, who manages the farm at CHA's Ruth L. Bennett Homes.In addition to the revenue, additional goals are to beautify the space and attract pollinators to the farm. (Bees are draw to the bright colors and scent of certain kinds of flowers.)
CHA is growing about 20 kinds of flowers, including: Sunflowers; Snapdragons; Strawflowers; Statice; Celosia; Amaranth; Bachelor's Buttons; Dahlias; Scabiosa and Black-eyed Susans.Schaumburg believes there's a growing interest in local flowers, noting that most flowers on sale in the region are imported from countries where toxic pesticides are used, which damage both the environment and workers.
"More awareness about local flowers is a great thing. People don't necessarily think about pesticides in flowers the way they do with food, but you can also be exposed to harmful chemicals if a bouquet is sitting on your table and wafting into the air," she said.The CHA farm does not use pesticides. It prevents pests by using a row cover or insect netting, a fabric that serves as a barrier between plants and insects."Working with local growers is what we're all about. We were also impressed with the Bennett farm's mission," said Swarthmore Co-Op produce manager Rose McDaniel. "Shoppers love the Bennett flowers and produce and have been buying them.
"Working on growing flowers will be the newest activity for children who participate in CHA's annual Summer Food program. Starting this week, they will be helping to grow and harvest produce that they can use in their lunches. Soon, they will also be learning about growing flowers and making their own bouquets.The co-op sells local seasonal products throughout the year.
At CHA the local season will now be virtually 12 months a year, thanks to the two-acre farm's new greenhouse, equipped with electricity to power heating, cooling and fans."This is where we'll grow seedlings over the winter," Schaumburg says. "We can grow greens and flowers in the hoop house.""The connection with Swarthmore is a natural one for us," Fischer said. "Our interns are from Swarthmore and the co-op is near the college campus. The store management has been very encouraging.