It’s not visions of sugarplums dancing in the heads of Chris and Ashley Sylvester right now.
It’s visions of the flowers they will share with the public next spring when they open what they say will be Delaware’s first U-cut flower farm.
“This will be the first time that customers will actually be able to come to the farm for themselves,” Ashley said.
Many have asked to visit after seeing their flowers sold in area farmers markets, and she wants them to be able to come to relax and experience nature.
“Everything’s kind of getting eaten up around us as far as land and development,” she said. “So to have a 13-acre pocket of land, where people can come and really experience nature and tranquility is kind of the exciting part for us.”
The new offering will be the latest step in the evolution of Spectrum Farms, where Chris grew up.
The couple bought the 13-acre farm from his mom, with the idea of keeping the property in the family, being surrounded by family and enjoying a more rural lifestyle.
Chris’s brother lives across the street on their grandfather’s farm, and their mother lives nearby.
Ashley and Chris had full-time jobs, he in engineering and she in human resources, and had no intention of actually farming the property when they bought it.
Gradually, though, they began moving toward agritourism, a growing business sector that brings the public to farms and maker spaces for recreation, entertainment, education and products produced locally.
It’s not where either intended their careers and lives to go.
Both attended the University of Delaware, but not at the same time. Chris, who is six years older than Ashley, earned a degree in traffic engineering and worked for the state of Delaware.
Ashley grew up in Newark before going to UD.
Politics was their matchmaker.
Chris, who had been active at UD, decided to run for the state House of Representatives in 2012 in the Smyrna area. Ashley was working for a state Senate candidate whose district overlapped Chris’s.
The couple met briefly at a fundraising dinner that year at Cantwell Tavern in Odessa.
Chris lost. Her candidate lost.
Not too long after the campaign, they got in touch again and started chatting about their political experiences. They decided to meet and their romance took off.
“Once we started dating, I feel like we sort of put some of the political interest aside,” Chris said. “I think we both looked at it as, well, the good thing that came out of this is that we met each other.”
After moving to the farmette, as they call it, both began to realize the toll their commutes were taking on their vision of enjoying a country life
Even before the pandemic, hers was close to an hour and his was about 45 minutes.
“We didn’t really feel like we were being the outdoor family or the country living family that we thought would come with the property,” he said.
Both had been interested in the idea of creating their own business but Chris wasn’t interested in opening an engineering firm. They wanted something that had an element of creativity and that they would enjoy.
They hit on flowers and spent a summer taking flowers to farmers’ markets and talking to vendors there about what they did and how they did it.
Once they decided to dive in, they did a lot of research, attended classes and joined the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.
Ultimately, they decided to focus on long-lasting specialty flowers that aren’t commonly found in floral shops because they are hard to grow and ship.
“A lot of flowers are brought in from countries like Ecuador and Colombia, down in South America,” Ashley said. Many growers there don’t use safe or sustainable farming or labor practices, she said.
Spectrum’s crops will include dahlias, which they grew 1,000 of this year; eucalyptus, from seed; peonies; stock; cosmos; zinnias; bachelor buttons; and lisianthus, which is hard to grow from seed but special to them because they used them in their wedding.
They’re even experimenting with growing tulips here and there on the farm.
The Sylvesters grow some flowers in a high tunnel so they bloom earlier in the spring than traditionally grown flowers might.
Learning to time the flowers has been important to them. The lisianthus, for example, takes 165 days to grow, but has a two-week vase life. Some flowers have to be planted in summer to bloom the following spring.
To do all this, Chris quit his job to focus full-time on the farm. Ashley continues to work at ILC Dover, famed for making NASA’s moonwalker suit.
The U-cut flowers are only one of Spectrum’s offerings.
“When we took the leap to start the business, we knew that we wanted to have a multifaceted approach to what we were doing,” Chris said. “Flowers are the main thing, but we knew we wanted to do something that also celebrated the seasons and the holidays.”
Their flowers are sold at the Tidal Farmers’ Market in Frederica and the Rehoboth Beach Farmers Market.
They will make and sell custom centerpieces, and, online, they also offer artisan bread, artisan scones, porch pots, dried flower grapevine wreaths and subscriptions for spring flowers.
The breads include seasonally shaped and flavored ones, as well as sunflower focaccia, classic focaccia, sunflower boule, classic boule, baguettes and apricot pecan couronne. Buyers can make a custom order or follow their Daily Dough to see what’s available when.
Items bought from the farm are picked up at a small stand on the edge of the property.
Ashley also teaches classes and workshops about flower arranging and wreath making (one is coming up Dec. 13).
They hope to expand the number of markets and farm stands that sell their wares, and they’ve had florists reach out about wholesale possibilities.
U-cut customers will be charged a flat rate for as many flowers as they can fit into a jar they’re given.
It’s a decision they made after researching how other cut-flower farms handled fees.
They expect people to pack the jar with flowers they’ll then take home and arrange like they want.
“If that’s what brings them joy, that’s what brings them joy,” Chris said.
The Sylvesters consider themselves to be a part of a movement of young local farmers who want to give back to their community.
“We believe that flowers heal people,” Ashley said. “We believe that flowers can brighten your day and change your mood and help you when you’re having a rough day.
“We’re just trying to create a little pocket of beauty for the world and for our community.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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