On a Wednesday morning in early May, Kellan MacKay rolls out of bed at 5 a.m., a full hour before sunrise. She confesses she’s not a morning person. But her love of flowers is big enough to overcome her biological inclination to sleep in. And this is an important day.
It is the seasonal opener for the new Sonoma Flower Mart, a marketplace for a growing little niche of farmers in Sonoma County who cultivate flowers as a specialty crop.
“I grabbed the cash box and got in the van with my coffee and drove here,” said the 32-year-old grower, part of the team at Oak Hill Farm in Glen Ellen,
She is one of a small group of farmers, most of them young women in their 30es, who by 7 a.m. had unloaded their trucks and filled a warehouse behind Taylor Maid Cafe at The Barlow in Sebastopol with buckets of peonies, roses, cornflowers, digitalis, sweetpeas and columbine. The customers filter in early, a discriminating group of floral designers, wedding and event planners and others for whom fresh flowers are an essential stock-in-trade.
The Mart was started by Nichole Skalski and Kathrin Green of The California Sister, a floral design and supply store at The Barlow marketplace, Sebastopol’s agri-hip neighborhood.
Skalski started the market in a small way in 2013 when she launched her floral design business. Last year she teamed up with Green to open a retail shop and began buying flowers directly from farmers and reselling them out of the back of the shop.
But this year they’re experimenting with a true farmer’s market model, where the farmers themselves set up stalls and sell directly to buyers. Most of their clients work in some manner in the professional floral or event trade and are buying at wholesale prices. But the general public may also come and shop for farm fresh flowers grown close to home at a slightly higher retail price.
Market days are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will run through December, with farmers changing up their wares almost by the week depending on what is in bloom.
This is not where you’ll find your common supermarket bunches.
“We’ll have market flowers too, like zinnias, sunflowers and cosmos. But this is more high-end specialty cut flowers like peonies and clematis and foxglove. Things that don’t last as long and that fetch a higher price. It’s all super fresh,” said Hedda Brorstrom, who cultivates an acre of fresh flowers in Graton called Full Bloom Farm.
Looking fresh as a milkmaid in short overalls, Brorstrom was up at 5 a.m., harvesting mock orange for designer Jaclyn Nesbitt of Santa Rosa, who was among the early bird shoppers with her baby Penelope in a carrier on her front.
“The first year I moved up here I was driving to each farm individually picking up flowers. Seeing what they had on the farm is really important and it’s powerful to make that connection between the product you’re designing and where it comes from, and the people who go to such great lengths to grow it. But I would also go to the San Francisco Flower Mart. That is a lot of time in the car driving around. This is a huge victory for us,” Nesbitt said of the new market.