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Going Back to Our Roots

Grace Rose Farm

January 07, 2022

From the beginning

A year ago we set out to redefine Grace Rose Farm to better suit the diverse needs of our growing customer base while trying to find a path that feels healthy and whole for our family. For seven years we have been the largest grower of field grown garden roses in the United States. Our old-fashioned farming methods of heirloom garden roses and husband and wife founder story led us down the path of serving over 5,000 floral designers and 50,000 flower loving consumers. We have been extraordinarily blessed to find our niche in the floral industry and are so thankful for the people who love our garden roses.

I am a lifelong gardener and have tended to roses since I was toddling around like Seraphina is now. In 2015 I convinced Ryan to plant 500 roses with me in our half-acre backyard, and by accident, we started selling them to florists. At the time I was traveling extensively for my career in digital marketing and Ryan worked in the music industry. Neither of us ever expected to leave our careers, but that year we realized how much we loved working together and growing roses. We leased two acres of farmland nearby and took the plunge by officially calling ourselves Grace Rose Farm. We quickly outgrew our leased land and decided to buy our first farm in 2016. We purchased a 10-acre farm where we grew thousands of roses outdoors and started to feel the plights of farmers. With the extreme microclimate and remote location being pain-points we couldn’t change, after three years we decided to move and in December 2020 we purchased a 20-acre property where we now reside. Over the course of seven years we’ve grown 300+ varieties of garden roses, harvested more than 10 million stems, adapted to shifts in the wedding industry and survived the pandemic. It has been a whirlwind and we never would have guessed we'd be where we are when we met in New York City 11 years ago!

Expanding who we serve

While we have loved growing roses for floral designers, it was in 2019 that I felt we were close to maxing out our opportunities in the wedding industry. We didn’t see a lot of growth over 2018 and I longed to grow more varieties and colors than were traditional to weddings. That’s when we planned to offer retail garden rose bouquets via our website. Our garden roses were vastly different from anything people could order online and it felt like a direction where we could scale. For years we turned away countless requests from people who weren’t florists to sell our roses to them, which kept me reconsidering this decision constantly. It also never felt sustainable to have all our farm’s “eggs in one basket” so by the fall of 2019 I had almost everything in place to launch a retail business in the spring. When Covid arrived in early 2020 and the wedding industry was abruptly shut down for the entire year, I was so thankful for the foresight I had the year prior to split our business between retail and wholesale. We couldn't simply take a year off while the pandemic halted the wedding industry. We had thousands of plants to care for that would have otherwise died if we couldn't sustain our farm. We were a farm that was 100% reliant upon direct-to-florists sales, and once Covid arrived, our retail customers literally saved our farm. We are forever grateful to the thousands of people who not only kept us alive in 2020, but helped us grow GRF by 4x during the pandemic. Thankfully weddings were back in 2021 and it was wonderful to grow for floral designers again!

After a year in the retail business, we realized our garden roses weren’t exactly the right fit for our new audience. Our very perishable garden roses are unique in that if they don’t arrive on time the day after they leave the farm, they can die in the box, whereas cut roses bred for transportation can withstand much more time out of water. Our garden roses are so beautiful, but fragile, and the majority of retail customers want long-lasting flowers that are worry-free. I so wanted to bring joy to people with garden roses, as they are truly the most magical flowers and the diamonds of the garden. There was no one else offering garden rose exclusive arrangements, so that’s when we set out to grow garden roses that would be better suited for the retail customer. Roses that looked just like our outdoor roses, but had a great vase life with long, straight stems, fewer thorns and could be shipped with less incidences since they are bred to withstand several days of shipping.

I envisioned a hybrid business for our farm where we would grow garden roses that are “retail friendly” and our heirloom field grown roses for professional floral designers and established retail clients who understand the nature of our outdoor garden roses.

We made a plan

About a year ago Ryan and I set out to import European cut rose varietals and begin growing in greenhouses. At this time GRF had the second largest online following in the world for roses. We were getting to be well known and it was time that we began paying royalties and licensing to grow commercial roses. This excited us, as it would bring us into the international scene by working with Dutch, German, English and French rose breeders. I did so much research and I must have 5,000 photos and a dozen spreadsheets with every little detail of hundreds of varieties of roses. The determination I had for the project was intense. Rose breeders were eager to work with us and I was tickled that our little rose farm was going to be able to grow such incredible garden roses. We worked with an import broker and had beautiful cut rose plant material imported, but it was confiscated at LAX by the USDA. The shipment contained a minute amount of pests and the roses were destroyed. That was my first taste of what was to come and I all but gave up on finding our new roses.

Commercial cut roses need to be grown under cover as their light, humidity and other needs must be controlled. There are very few commercial cut garden roses that can be grown outdoors in a field like we grow so growing roses in a greenhouse is the primary way cut roses are grown around the world. Varieties suitable for shipping to consumers are grown on specific rootstock with practices in place to produce large blooms, straight stems and consistent colors and shapes. There are ideal growing conditions in greenhouses that give the roses an exceptional vase life. We knew that if we were to grow our farm and meet the expectations of the retail customer, we needed to begin growing commercial cut garden roses.

The new Ag in CA

If you’re not familiar, agriculture is the largest industry in California. In Ventura County where we live, agriculture is the backbone of our community. There are hundreds of vast open fields that go beyond what your eyes can see containing berries, vegetables and nursery stock. There are tens of thousands of citrus and avocado trees in orchards throughout the area. Our farms rely heavily upon a skilled workforce and without the dedication of those hard-working people, there would be no Ag in our county or the state of California. Plentiful and fertile farmland, a year-round mild climate and a strong workforce make our area ideal for growing bountiful crops.

For a year we knocked on every door and turned over every stone in our quest to become greenhouse growers. Little did we know when we began traveling up and down California, most of the greenhouses in our state had stopped growing flowers/produce or significantly reduced their production to grow cannabis. If you have ever driven on US 101 through Carpinteria where the hundreds of greenhouses are you know the smell I am referring to that has permeated the air for the past few years. We met with respected, multi-generation flower growing families that migrated to the US from Europe and they told us to forget it, flowers wouldn’t pay the bills. They had switched to growing cannabis - and we were gutted. Close to our farm is a 125 acre (over 5,000,000 SF) state-of-the-art greenhouse farm. The greenhouses were occupied by the largest hydroponic tomato grower in the state. This greenhouse complex is so large that it lights up the sky at night and you can see it from miles away. We recently learned the greenhouse was sold to the state’s biggest indoor cannabis grower and 500 farm workers were laid off. Five hundred! This is what is happening in California. Cannabis is the new Ag.

Cannabis has also made finding and keeping employees more difficult than it already was. We have lost numerous great employees to cannabis farms. They can make substantially more working for cannabis growers since their profits are higher. We start our employees at very generous wages, far more than the minimum, give them paid time off, bonuses and more - and we still struggle to retain employees who are enticed by working in the cannabis industry. Thankfully, we have a few wonderful employees who would never dream of leaving our beautifully fragrant roses for the stinky crop.

With the legalization of cannabis in California, it is an enormous draw for growers to switch to the highly profitable crop that has more than 1000x the return of an average crop. We looked at every possibility from leasing greenhouses, buying land and building our own brand new and fixing up 50-year-old dilapidated greenhouses that were zoned too close to a school for cannabis. Every option was a 15-20M investment and as a self-funded business, there was no way we could afford that. Simply put, cannabis has monopolized California and there was no way we could move towards commercial cut garden roses without greenhouses. We could not compete for space against cannabis growers because their crop is so much more lucrative, thus driving up the price per square foot of greenhouses whether leased or building from the ground up. That door was closed and I was deeply worried for our future. We had built a business and a huge demand for these unique, exquisite flowers, but could not grow them to ensure the continued success of our farm.

Opening my mind to creative solutions

Soon our rose season began and we put finding our new roses on the back-burner. The USDA had destroyed the plant material we sought to grow and greenhouses were out of the question, so I tried to move on as best I could. We had just moved to our new farm and 2021 was our busiest year to date. We harvested, processed and shipped tens of thousands of garden roses all season. Weddings were happening again and it was a gorgeous year of garden roses! After another year of difficulties with our retail business though, we knew we needed to find a solution for 2022. 

This is when I started to open my mind to working with other farms, both domestic and international. If I couldn't grow the roses myself, maybe I could work with other farms that grow the exact roses I want to offer my customers. I have always known the majority of cut roses are grown in Colombia and Ecuador where the temperate year round climate and high elevation is ideal. Partnering with South American farms to bring garden roses to my customers, instead of us trying to compete in a market that we would never be able to sustain, seemed like an option - if the quality, growing ethics and labor practices aligned with ours. Please read by clicking here.

Our customers have been asking for longer lasting garden roses, and specifically David Austin Roses, so I needed to fulfill their wishes. If we tried to grow them ourselves, it would cost 10x more to grow the same garden roses in California, and we still would not have the best or largest blooms because our conditions are not as perfect, even in a sophisticated greenhouse. Our daughter is half Colombian, so I kept feeling a nudge inside to look south for my answer.

Giving our customers the roses they’ve been asking for: Luxury Cut Garden Roses

Our top priority is to provide our customers with beautiful garden roses that exceed all expectations. We don’t want shipping or vase life to compromise anyone’s experiences with our product, and so, we have partnered with growers to bring our wonderful customers the very finest garden roses, including David Austin Luxury Cut Garden Roses and Wabara Japanese Garden Roses. This means more accessibility, better selection, and year round availability. Due to large wedding orders we would often sell out a week to 10 days in advance, which meant retail customers would not be able to get roses delivered quickly for a friend’s birthday or anniversary. Having relationships with partner farms means we can fulfill your orders faster and get your gifts to your loved ones in time for their celebrations. We’ve also lowered our shipping rates significantly!

We are implementing technology that notifies your gift recipient when they receive roses so their perishable gift can be opened and the roses put in water sooner. This will give your loved one the opportunity to give their roses the care and handling they need to look pretty for many days.

I am most excited about the custom gifts you will be able to create! The vast majority of our customers purchase our roses as gifts so I put much thought into how we could help you give the most meaningful gift. When you shop for roses on our website, you will be be able to build a custom bouquet by mixing different colored roses of your choice. The options are unlimited! You can include a vase, add rose-inspired companion products to the gift and even choose a custom card. Our one-of-a-kind bouquets will debut this spring and I think this will be such a special way to give someone the perfect flowers or treat yourself!

Our customers want romantic, full-petaled, fragrant, timeless blooms that will stay beautiful for a week or more, so I’ve curated a collection of bouquets that fulfills our customer’s wishes - and then some! They’re available on our website now! It is a great honor to be able to select the world's finest garden roses and bring them to you - a gift I will always treasure and is never forgotten. We plan to take you along virtually to Holland and South America this year to meet the breeders and growers behind the garden roses!

So what about all of our rose bushes?

You must be wondering, “What about your outdoor garden roses?” Nothing about our partnerships with other farms changes how we feel about growing garden roses. Our garden roses will always be with us and we are now farming on more land than ever! Last year we purchased our 20-acre farm in Somis, CA and we recently acquired 30 acres nearby.

Our Estate Grown Garden Roses will be available to professional floral designers and established retail clients who love our roses. We will ship our garden roses to clients across the country, however, it is our hope to supply the majority of our Estate Grown Garden Roses within Southern California. We are working on a potential partnership with a local farm to have our roses at the farmers markets they attend. Local is always best when it comes to field grown garden roses and we have so many LA-based customers who would love to get our roses while shopping farmers markets. We are excited to introduce 30 new varietals and know you will love the roses we’ve been trialing and selected for growing this year.

We know this is a lot of change. We approached these changes by surrendering control and looking beyond our fences to make each customer happy. From the very moment I started pursuing better roses for our retail customers, it has always been with the goal of bringing people something they can't get anywhere else and surpassing their expectations - because these are the people who have lovingly supported us. Our farm is at a point where we are no longer going to fight Mother Nature or be crippled by shipping carriers to do everything ourselves. (I will note that our UPS team is incredible and we are so thankful for the amazing job they do for our farm.) Time and again we are reminded that in order to grow sustainably, we need to focus on what we do best - farming outdoor roseson a seasonal basis with focus on our local market and select established clients. We’ve learned this the hard way. In January 2021 we lost 3 acres of poly tunnels and hundreds of rose bushes to a wind and hail storm. And again this fall we had 5 acres of tunnels professionally installed and Santa Ana winds destroyed them on Thanksgiving Day. We've sustained seven figure losses due to a previous shipping carrier's negligence and we're still seeking resolution nearly two years later. Partners are essential for delivering quality garden roses to customers and we feel so fortunate to be in a place where we can work alongside others to bring the best garden roses in the world to you all.

So what’s next for GRF?

50 acres of farmland! We have dream-come-true level plans for our new acreage. This year opened huge doors for us that we had just about given up on a year ago when the USDA destroyed the plant material we imported. I felt so alone in the industry until I met a grower I’m so pleased to be working alongside for the future of our farm and the rose industry. The majority of our physical and financial resources are going into this exciting project. While we may be growing less cut garden roses, we will be offering more roses than ever before. We are headed back to our roots where nearly a decade ago Ryan and I enjoyed our quiet time bonding over rose gardening. We stunned ourselves by what we could grow in our half-acre backyard with a little TLC and a dream. Our hope is to inspire people to fall in love with roses and gardening, just like we did. We will show you our first roses - rose bushes that have never been available in the US (!!!) - and let you know when our rose bush collection will be available for you to grow in your gardens! When our rose bushes are ready for your gardens, we want you to know about the people with the passion for growing that made your plants possible. This is a long process of trialing varietals, selection, and then propagating so we have enough plants for you all. I think you will love seeing the journey from farm to your garden! 

Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the years. Whether you’ve sent encouraging messages or purchased our garden roses, we are so grateful for you. The choices we’ve made for our farm are so that we can bring each of our customers the garden roses best suited for them - both cut roses and plants! The question we receive most often is when we will offer rose bushes and in my typical fashion, I didn’t want to offer rose plants that you can purchase other places. I wanted to do this slowly and thoughtfully to bring you new garden roses that we can all grow together for the first time. I know you will LOVE them! We have so much to show you in 2022 and can’t wait for our garden roses to bloom in April!

Oh, I almost forgot! My rose gardening book is coming soon...


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