On 12 acres in Bluemont, Virginia, Graves and her husband are running Bee’s Wings Farm where they grow scores of flower varieties that they sell wholesale, by subscription, for weddings and at farmer’s markets.
Although she’s back where she started, Graves did not map out her life that way – to be back on her home turf being what she calls “a joyful and hopeful farmer.” She went off to college, earned a degree in horticulture and civic agriculture at Virginia Tech and worked on farms growing mostly vegetables and some flowers before circling back home.
During her eight-plus years of working on farms, she learned two important things: She really liked flower growing and working for other farmers was not a viable career path.
“I loved working for these other families, but I knew if I ever wanted to have my own family, I wasn’t going to be able to sustain myself and others on 10 bucks an hour,” she said. “Farming is hard on your body, and I felt like if I was going to break my back, I was going to do it for myself, not someone else.”
After starting and working for an urban farming cooperative in Roanoke, Virginia, she felt the time was right to strike out on her own and return home. Her parents invited her back to the old homestead where they continue to live in a farmhouse built in 1819. Graves and her husband, Chris, live in a newly built cabin on the property with their baby boy who was born in June 2020.
In 2014, Bee’s Wings Farm was born. In deciding to grow flowers, Graves could see that a lot of other people in the area were growing vegetables and that there was a good demand for flowers. All that time working for other people gave her a foundation for her own farm.
Bee’s Wing Farm Map
“I worked for farmers who were willing to take big risks and I worked for farmers who were very conservative, very careful with their money and resources,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been able to look at their experiences, and through trial and error, take a middle road. We haven’t expanded our business at an exponential rate but we’ve haven’t played it too small either.”
Graves had the growing part down but the business component was something new. She’s relied on word of mouth and some social media to bring in customers.
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“My husband and I are both from the area and we are blessed with having a very supportive family and community,” she said. “And we’re really committed to growing and styling really high-quality products. I feel like oftentimes the flowers speak for themselves. And when we get them into the hands of some people, they really spread the good word.”
She has focused on doing weddings, selling at farmer’s markets, offering flower subscriptions, dropping bouquets at local shops and doing some wholesale. It’s all very time-consuming – growing, designing, selling. And with a new baby, she is looking at doing more wholesale, which would keep her closer to home. She’s excited about being part of a new co-op of 20 local flower growers who have banded together to sell their products wholesale.
“We’re trying to find ways of still making the same amount of money, but being able to be on the farm more, which means we can be with our son in a bigger way,” she said. And looking to the future, that means having time on weekends to attend Little League games or music recitals.
The timing, too, might be right, she said.
“I feel like we’re kind of in a transition phase,” she said. “And with the conversations that are going on around the floral wholesale market on a larger global scale, I think there’s an opportunity for us to jump in, in a bigger way.”
Stewardship of the land and organic practices are part of the fabric of the farm. In joining Certified American Grown, Graves sees those kinds of bigger issues she wants to support.
By supporting American growers, she’s also supporting land stewardship and social justice principles that aren’t necessarily followed in other countries whose imports dominate the flower trade in the U.S.
“I think American-grown has this awesome capacity to meet a lot of demand, and have some really big growth,” she said. “Obviously, we’re teeny tiny, and we aren’t going to be able to meet the demands of big accounts. But I still think it’s important that those big accounts are supporting American growers that are making the right choices for people and the environment. So, I’m excited to be a very teeny, little sliver of that conversation and part of that movement.”