by Aliya Hall
Originally, Dena Lieberman bought the property for Sunblossom Farm in Portland, OR, as a way to combine her profession as a preschool teacher with her love of flowers, farming and supporting local pollinators. As the farm evolved and COVID-19 hit, however, the farm went on a different journey.
“It has taken on a totally different path from the beginning,” Lieberman said, “but I have to be open to what the universe is saying and what people are wishing for in the flower world.”
Sunblossom Farm is a sustainable, urban, bee-friendly micro-farm that started in 2013. The farm offers a community supported agriculture (CSA) program and U-pick as well as workshops, wedding design and private events.
When Lieberman started Sunblossom Farm, she envisioned running a preschool and having a bouquet CSA on the side. This worked for two years, but eventually her customers expressed that they wished they could be at the farm picking their flowers.
“That was a huge point when I had to be like, ‘Okay. Do I trust having people coming out to the farm?’” she said. “Because I like creating community and having that for people but also having trust issues of will people respect the farm?”
Lieberman decided to give it a try and started incorporating bouquet-making workshops as well as supplementing their income with floral design for weddings.
When the pandemic hit, Sunblossom Farm became a refuge for many Portlanders who were looking for a place to be in nature and feel safe. Lieberman said they began offering private “date nights at the farm” for couples looking for a safe place to go out and bring a picnic. They are continuing to host this service, along with adding back weddings. “Now we’re trying to manage it all and not take too much on,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges for Lieberman was learning how to juggle all the aspects of the business.
“I really enjoy having a little bit of everything,” she said, adding that having the U-pick and private events helps financially without more physical output. “In that way it’s been great – the ability to enjoy that and have it feed us without being there all the time.”
The other challenge for Lieberman was overcoming the “naivety that everyone will sign up for all these CSAs” and learning how to market the farm. She said her calling is being out in the farm over the business-side of the operation, and she had to realize those strengths and weaknesses to then hire someone to help her. Now, she approaches each challenge with flexibility and innovation.
“I just want to get these bouquets to people and this is how I imagine it would be, and when it’s not working or not what people want at that time, being able to pivot and go, ‘Okay, well that’s what people are asking for,’” she said.
Unlike some flower farms, Sunblossom Farm isn’t trying to maximize the space in the garden with rows of flowers categorized by variety and color. It has a feel of “a lot of this, a lot of that,” she said.
“It’s sort of like a bouquet planted in the garden, so it’s a different experience than walking through rows of rows of one type of flower,” she explained.
Lieberman grows a lot of perennials, dahlias, herbs, bushes and shrubs. She said the mix includes things her customers like and things pollinators like, and every year she mixes it up to include new, fun varieties. “It’s definitely eclectic,” she said.
The pollinators also play a huge role on the farm. Lieberman said it was important for her to create a haven for bees after she read about how many pollinators were dying and what people could do to help them.
“I wanted to be able to offer that to our neighborhood space and our pollinators’ space,” she said. “It’s sort of a magical place.”
Along with growing things for the pollinators, Lieberman also has water features for the bees to come and drink. The farm has held classes about honey and native bees, and has been told that her farm is “thriving.” “That felt really good,” she said.
The most rewarding aspect of the farm is the personal healing she gets from being out in the flowers, but also watching customers experience the garden and leave feeling the same way. “The amount of different people coming and seeing the same thing of how it feeds my soul, and they’re getting to have that experience,” she said. “Seeing people be happy and grateful to be there creating things. It’s rewarding for me to watch people be here and inspired.”
Even though she can still get nervous about hosting workshops, she said getting to work with people and that trade in learning is an “amazing kind of experience.”
Going forward, every year Lieberman wants the farm to evolve, and the goal is to eventually offer honey from the garden’s bees and collaborate more with other female-owned businesses. They are also currently in the process of building a studio on the farm for workshops and events. Lieberman wants a space that can be used as the “wedding area” of the garden as well as host more private events. As COVID restrictions loosen, Lieberman is also looking to host more workshops and events soon too.
“What has been the calling is people want to be here experiencing things,” she said. “Kind of creating more from that space I was in the beginning of ‘I’m going to quietly do my flowers’ to we’re really building a community space.”