Step inside the handbuilt cooler at North Fork Flower Farm in Orient, where all flowers are stored for at least 24 hours immediately after harvesting, and you’ll be amazed at what you find. In a world full of supermarket flowers, the overwhelming majority of which are imported from huge agro-industrial plantations in South America, the flowers you’ll see here, on the easternmost edge of the North Fork, are something else entirely. Their colors are as shockingly beautiful as their aromas are intoxicating.
“Something we hear a lot is: ‘I’ve never seen such a flower,’” says Drianne Benner, one of North Fork Flower Farm’s founding partners. “‘I’ve never seen such colors,’ is another popular one.”
It is easy to understand why. North Fork Flower Farm grows around 300 varieties of flowers, plus herbs and grasses—all of which are a far cry from what you’d typically find in New York’s Flower District or your local grocery store. This, of course, is intentional.
In 2015, the year before North Fork Flower Farm’s founding, Drianne Benner was asking herself this question: Can I grow flowers? Charles Sherman, another of North Fork Flower Farm’s founding partners, was asking himself the same question.
“Approximately 10 or 15 years ago, the ‘Slow Flower’ movement grew out of the ‘Slow Food’ movement, and it was very inspirational to me,” says Sherman. “The consequence of huge production, where flowers are concerned, is that the flowers completely lose the charm of flowers—their fragrance, their freshness, their variation. So that’s the pitch for fresh, slow and locally grown flowers. In almost all cases, they have a lot of individuality that you just can’t get overwise.”
Sherman and Benner teamed up, along with four additional partners, and North Fork Flower Farm was formally established in 2016—on a 10’ by 20’ plot at the Peconic Land Trust’s Charnews Farm in Southold.
Their growth has been exponential ever since. North Fork Flower Farm now operates a 25-acre farm in Orient.
“The bees are so happy with our flowers here that they don’t sting us when we walk through the field,” says Alfonso Martinez-Fonts, another of the farm’s partners.
The bees have a lot of company in their happiness here. Elated, too, are all of the farm’s CSA members, who during the growing season receive stunning bouquets of farm-grown, freshly cut flowers each weekend. North Fork Flower farm also offers artisanal flower arrangements and bouquets for purchase at the farm from May through mid-November, and hosts workshops all throughout the year putting both their fresh and dried flowers to the most beautiful, creative use.
To kick off the holiday season on Sunday, December 3, North Fork Flower Farm will host a wreath-making workshop at Rose Hill Vineyards in Mattituck. During the 90-minute workshop, guests will sip red wine from Rose Hill Vineyards while learning how to make their own seasonal wreaths using dried flowers, ornamental herbs and grasses from North Fork Flower Farm.
“Our clients are very interested in experiences,” says Benner. “And it is a real joy for us, too, to help them interact with the flowers in a personal way, learn about them, and then take them home with them.”
The secret to wreath-making, says Benner, is to focus on the textures, colors and the dimensionality of the different elements you’re using to decorate the wreath.
“Grasses give wreaths a really beautiful depth, whereas berries lend a sort of roundness,” says Benner. “The flowers give you that circularity, as they travel in a circle around the wreath itself, and then the greens give you that beautiful, holiday fragrance.”
Benner’s enthusiasm is as infectious as her and her partners’ knowledge is awe-inspiring.
“It all started out with one small thing,” says Benner. “I asked myself: Can we grow flowers? ‘Can we grow flowers?’ became ‘Can we sell flowers?’ And now, the question is: Can we manage a business? There’s so much to learn and it’s so incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. I just find that, in providing people flowers, there’s just so much joy. People always smile when you give them flowers.”