Ham Lake couple trust God as they grow family flower farm business – The Catholic Spirit

Posted: August 10, 2020 at 9:47 pm

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Kristen, left, and Jonah with their three children: Chiara, left, John Paul and Lilly. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

It was evening at the end of July, and the lowering sun cast a golden hue over the quarter-acre flower field. Kristens three children played nearby, with her oldest, 7-year-old Lilly, carefully cutting a small bouquet; John Paul offering to water the blooms; and 2-year-old Chiara eyeing the blossoms. As she walked between the rows, her Birkenstocks softly crunching the dry grass paths, she pointed out other flowers Chocolate Lace, strawflowers, sweat peas which she lovingly grows, harvests and sells in her familys new cut flower business.

Kristen and her husband, Jonah, began Sparrow Farms this year, a project built on the dream of living and working at home together as a family, and leveraging the resources available to them. Neither Kristen nor Jonah grew up on a farm. High school sweethearts, the 30-year-olds met at the parish they still attend, St. Paul in Ham Lake. They went to college together at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and married in 2013. Six years ago, they rented a farmhouse near Ham Lake, on 20 acres with a field bordered by pines. After it sat fallow for a few seasons, they approached their landlord and arranged to begin farming it. This spring, they planted a plot with 50 different types of flowers. Kristen cuts, arranges and sells bouquets.

Kristen and Jonah are convinced that God has led them to begin this venture, but they wear no rose-colored glasses about the challenge theyve taken on. When asked July 30 what he sees when he looks over the field, Jonah chuckled and said, a lot of labor. In the spring, he and Kristen ordered mounds of compost to prepare the fields otherwise sandbox soil, spreading it over layers of salvaged cardboard to help retain moisture and quality. He built a fence to keep out deer, like the five he observed grazing across the road that evening, as well as an irrigation system.

Jonah holds a masters degree in counseling, but decided the career wasnt for him. He works as a house inspector, but is an entrepreneur at heart. The flower farm by far is the biggest risk he and Kristen have taken, he said. They hope that eventually it could become their full-time business.

When they began researching farming, they planned to grow organic food. They were inspired by the writings of Joel Salatin, a Christian farmer in Virginia who has become the godfather of a movement favoring small-scale, sustainable, family-based farming. The Carlstroms were thinking produce and chickens when, in the winter of 2019, Kristen came across a book titled The Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein, a florist farmer in Washington.

Basically, I just fell in love with it, Kristen said. It was kind of out of the blue for me.

She had always kept a small flower garden with sunflowers and zinnias, but nothing large-scale. But once she began to think about flowers, she became convinced that was the direction she wanted to move.

I knew we were going to take on something really big, she said. It was really important for me to be really passionate about it. And so, this was something that just really took a hold of me. And I had so much energy with thinking of doing really hard stuff to make it happen.

She and Jonah took Benzakeins online course on flower farming, and dove into researching what would grow well in Minnesotas climate. Before we knew it, were like, were really doing it.

Jonah gives Kristen all the credit for the flower focus. I never thought I would be a flower farmer I dont think many men do think of that, Jonah said, sitting near the field. He agreed to the online course, and I was just sort of open with the Lord; Wherever you lead us.

Ever since leaving school, I wanted to do something in nature. I love working outside. Ive been praying along the way for Gods guidance, he said. Basically, I want to come home and I want to work from home.

The Carlstroms dont know any other young farmers, but theyre not alone among Catholic millennials. Jim Ennis, executive director of St. Paul-based Catholic Rural Life, said there are like-minded young Catholics across the United States who are exploring and adopting a rural lifestyle, including small-scale farming. Many are drawn to a slower, family-focused pace of life away from the demands of city living and corporate work.

Like the Carlstroms, many dont have farming backgrounds, Ennis said, and its hard work without the guarantee of financial sustainability. But its rewarding, he said. Farming is creative work, where people can work in nature, with their hands, alongside family members, for the benefit of their own tables and their community. And even young children can see, understand and participate in their parents work, he said.

Theres something very innate in many peoples DNA to connect with Gods creation in a closer way, he said, and I think thats very Catholic and very Christian.

Kristen admits that sometimes shes thought the idea of turning stay-at-home mom to cut-flower florist is crazy. But, there was a lot of discouragement that came whenever I tried to let it (the idea) go, and a lot of joy that was there when we kept pursuing it, Kristen said, so they forged ahead.

The field is easily accessible from the Carlstroms house through a path in the woods. Kristen spends patches of time throughout the day tending its 20, 100-foot rows as she learns to orchestrate timing their harvesting with their longevity once cut to meet the needs of their clients. Already shes prepared flowers to mark significant events, such as weddings and funerals. She also sells a bouquet subscription, where clients receive a fresh bouquet every one to two weeks, and regularly sells small bouquets at a local farmers market.

Theres a real time crunch because as soon as a flower blooms, I need to sell it, she said. Now that were getting our feet under us with the rhythm of harvesting and processing the flowers and all that, were branching out into some more things.

Sue Klejeski, director of family catechesis at St. Paul in Ham Lake, receives a Sparrow Farms arrangement every two weeks through its bouquet subscription. She learned about it on Kristens Instagram feed, and was inspired to receive her flowers.

I think we can all use an extra dose of beauty in our lives especially now, said Klejeski, 59. Im mostly working from home, and having one of Sparrow Farms bouquets in my workspace is a source of peace and beauty in the midst of all the current craziness. Honestly, having a subscription allowed me to simply say yes to flowers once instead of needing to justify it every time. I also appreciate the serendipity of seeing what is waiting for me each time. Kristen does a beautiful job arranging the bouquets and a subscription takes the Should I? Which ones? decisions out of my life.

Klejeski said she also backs the Carlstroms vision for a family-centered business in support of a simpler lifestyle.

Their pride and joy in the venture shines through every encounter Ive had with them, she said.

Among the farms new offerings is Feast Day Flowers, bouquets prepared specifically for celebrating the Churchs liturgical year through a selection of saints feast days. Theyre delivered with a hand-lettered tag invoking the saints intercession. August offerings include the Assumption of Mary (Aug. 15), the Queenship of Mary (Aug. 22), and the feasts of mother-son pair St. Monica and St. Augustine (Aug. 27 and 28).

Even as the Carlstroms labor in the first year of the flower farm, theyre thinking bigger. We call this the front door of the farm, because I feel like theres going to be more that will come. And I hope one day well be able to do this full time, where my husband will be here all the time and this will be what supports our family, Kristen said.

She said her dream is for the farm to be a place that fosters community and respite, a place they share with others. Thats already happening at Sparrow Farms Mason Jar Mondays, where guests cut and arrange their own bouquets. They envision adding live music and food in the future.

Just as healthy food nourishes the body, flowers nourish the soul, Kristen said. There is a healing aspect to beauty, she said.

Jonah chose Sparrow Farms name in reference to Jesus Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, where he tells his followers not to be anxious about their lives: Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? and Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: They neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Its just like this call of trusting and being abandoned (of ones own desires to God), and knowing hell provide for us; we dont have to worry, Kristen explained. Thats been such a constant theme for us of the Lord showing us that.

Jonah added that in creating the farm, it was like starting from scratch, to the point of importing the composted soil.

Where Ive seen the hand of God is, its like an analogy to my spiritual life, our familys life: There was nothing here, and we followed the Lord, and now theres something. And I think theres something very biblical about that, he said. Its like the birds of the air, God provides a home for them, he makes the flowers beautiful, and we dont even know how. And I think thats where the trust is, how we want to be with the Lord.

Launching the business in the midst of COVID-19 feels providential to the Carlstroms. As Minnesotas shutdown began in late March, the Carlstroms were waiting on a vital order of compost. They thought their timeline had been foiled, but despite the odds, they received the soil when they needed it. Even planting a seed takes an act of faith, Kristen said.

At one point in the spring, Jonah joined Kristen in the field one evening after putting their kids to bed. She recalls telling him that even if the farm doesnt succeed, she feels blessed by the experience because theyd learned so much from it. Like, even if its a total failure and we just fall on our faces and laugh about that time we spent way too much money on this stupid, crazy idea it would still be worth it, she said. I still feel like the Lord led us here and hed have something for us. And Id do it over again.

As she said that, flocks of birds started swooping gracefully up and down, circling the couple. Kristen got chills, and she took it as a sign.

I was like, OK, I think this is going to be OK. I think Gods got something for this, she said. Hes just been using that Scripture for us and just confirmed it again and again. We dont have to worry. We are laboring over these flowers, but they dont labor over themselves and they turn out perfectly. And so thats how it is for the Lord: Hes laboring over us, hes gardening us.

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Tags: Black-eyed Susans, Carlstrom, Flower farm, flower farm business, Ham Lake, St. Paul

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Ham Lake couple trust God as they grow family flower farm business - The Catholic Spirit

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