Samantha Young said she has always been drawn to creativity and beauty, so it’s not surprising that when she and her husband Matthew got into farming that she would be drawn to growing flowers and selling them as cut flowers and as arrangements.
It’s also not surprising that Young, who said she’s always been a person who “jumps in with both feet,” has become a full-time grower, even though she’d never grown anything previously.
In fact, it was Matt who had experience growing vegetables with his family. “They had an acre garden every summer, and they’d grow all kinds of things and his love of it came from that as a child,” she said.
When they married nearly six years ago, Matt told her he really wanted to be a farmer someday.
“I thought he was crazy at the time,” she laughs.
Samantha, who grew up in Cullman, had spent five years as a missionary in India, Thailand and the Dominican Republic before returning home and studying cosmetology at Wallace State Community College. Although she enjoyed doing makeup, she said the hair side didn’t much appeal to her, and she ended up working in a chiropractic office. Then she met Matt; they married and moved to Texas for a year where they built up a business creating custom-built planters. When they moved back to Cullman, they sold the business and Matt revisited the farming idea.
He talked her into starting a garden three years ago. “We did the regular stuff that year,” said Samantha. “I enjoyed it, and, honestly, I was starting to get the bug.”
They didn’t do a garden the next year, but last January she began watching “Roots and Refuge Farm” videos on YouTube. “She does an incredible job teaching about how to grow a good garden, and your garden doesn’t have to perfect,” said Samantha.
The Youngs decided to jump in with both feet and get into community supported agriculture (CSA). Matthew is able to take summers off from his job and Samantha works full time on their farm, Young Family Flower Farm.
They leased two acres of land from a family friend and began working out how much they could plant, transferring seedlings grown in their greenhouse to the acreage.
“My two favorite mottos are ‘do what you can with what you have’ and ‘just go for it,” said Samantha. “You don’t know what will happen until you try. So we just went for it. We did a summer CSA.”
From “Roots and Refuge Farm” videos, Samantha said she realized she didn’t have to grow the usual produce. “She was growing all this weird stuff that I had never seen before,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, you don’t have to just grow what everybody else grows.’ You can actually branch out and figure out what you like to grow.”
Samantha bought the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds “Whole Seed Catalog” and circled the seeds that interested her. “Last year we grew these little things called cucamelons, they’re little, bitty tiny quarter-sized cucumbers that look like a baby watermelon and taste like lemon and they’re delicious,” she said. That was just one of several different melon varieties the couple grew, along with other heirloom plants.
“We grew 17 varieties of tomatoes last year,” she said. “We really got bit by the bug of growing last year because we had all these cool things we could grow. And Matt told me, ‘why don’t you just throw in some flowers for your CSA to make the boxes look pretty?’”
She grew sunflowers, zinnas and celosias to add color to the produce boxes, and discovered a new love. “I fell in love with the flowers more than I did the food items,” she said.
At the end of season, she and Matt had a debriefing and she told him she really wanted to concentrate on growing flowers, although the couple still grows some different melon varieties.
Again, it was watching a show that inspired Samantha. Erin Benzakein, who is featured on Joanna and Chip Gaines’ Magnolia Network, is a farmer-florist who showed Samantha a way to combine her love of growing with her creative side. “I’m building my business as a farmer-florist, growing the flowers and then using them for weddings and events,” said Samantha.
Over the winter, she took Benzakein’s six-week course on being a farmer-florist and Lisa Mason Ziegler’s course on the same subject. “As I was taking these classes, I would really fall in love with it more and more,” she said.
The couple starts their seeds in a grow room and then transfers them to an 8x8 greenhouse before planting them in rows prepared by Matt. The couple utilizes all-natural growing techniques and only does an initial tilling of undisturbed soil. With help from a couple friends, they weed the rows by hand.
It’s labor-intensive, but Samantha said growing flowers has helped her deal with infertility issues the couple has struggled with. “I was in a really in hard place,” she said. “All of my friends were having babies, and I would celebrate with them, but I so much wanted to be a part of that. I was really heartbroken that we weren’t able to have kids, and when we started doing this, it became the thing I could pour myself into. I know it sounds silly but it really blessed me.”
She found the flowers also provided a connection to people. “One of the things I love so much about flowers is a lot of people have stories about their grandmother who grew snapdragons or they’ll say that zinnias are their favorite flower and ask ‘what’s yours?’ People connect with flowers and it’s a really easy way to connect with other people,” said Samantha. “Also, it’s hard to stay sad when you’re surrounded by beauty all the time.”
Samantha gets up at 3 a.m. and is out in the field by 4 a.m., harvesting flowers, which usually takes about six hours. They transplant 1,000-2,000 sunflowers each week, a chore that takes about an hour and a half. She and Matt turn the cut flowers into arrangements, which they sell at the Festhalle Farmers Market in Cullman, at the Farmers Market in Decatur and as arrangements for weddings and events.
For weddings, they have a la carte orders - so brides can select only a few arrangements - or full service. Samantha said if they don’t have a particular color flower the bride is looking for, Young Family Flower Farm works with other area growers to get the flowers needed.
The advantage of buying local flowers is the longevity of the blooms. Samantha noted that 80% of flowers sold at grocery stores in the United States come from outside the country. Locally grown flowers don’t have to travel as far, and the blooms last longer. “When you purchase from us, they were cut yesterday,” said Samantha. “You’re getting six extra days from your bouquets.”
In September, the Youngs will close on their “forever farm,” 26 acres of land near their current Vinemont location. There, the long-term plan is to have a wedding chapel and the facilities to host wedding, said Samantha.
Despite their busy growing schedule, providing arrangements for weddings and events and weekly flower subscribers, along with selling at the farmers’ markets, the Youngs maintain Sundays as days of rest.
“You have to decide what your priority is, and everything else just has to be on hold,” she said. “We have a pretty big dream so we have to focus on the flower farm. Our priorities are the farm and our family. On Sundays, we intentionally take time to rest.”
You can find Young Family Flower Farm at youngfamilyflowerfarmstead.com, on Instagram at youngfamilyflowerfarm and on Facebook at @youngfamilyflowerfarm.