I have been farming for about twenty years and flower farming specifically for about a decade. I love growing things. It’s a job you can really sink your teeth into. To farm — to constantly face different challenges, to sweat, to work, to thrive, to tire out, to share the earth’s bounty — feels like the most dynamic play between human, animals, earth and community. I obsess and strategize and toss and turn at night in a relationship with our planet that is the most dear thing to me.

I always liked growing food, especially herbs, edible flowers, baby bok choy and heirloom tomatoes. There is something about these plants that feels very feminine to me. They require care and attention, nurturing and timeliness. I love the intimacy of tricky things. I love the play of it and the tediousness required.

Years ago I would see other flower farmers and I think, “Wow that must be fun. I would love to do that.”

But somehow I felt unworthy, like they were all in a super cool feminist cult that I didn’t know the password to. Or, at more critical moments, I thought they were somehow fooling around, doing frivolous things, like growing flowers wasn’t that important. After all, you wouldn’t starve without them.

Eventually I married a fellow farmer. My new family needed help on their farm, specifically in their flower fields and I was happy to lend a hand. I was instantly hooked and filled with incredible enthusiasm for the new assignment. And yet, at times, I felt an underlying shame for doing something so feminine, so creative, so utterly enjoyable and fun. I felt like one day I would get caught and someone would say “The gig is up. We can’t actually pay you do this anymore.”

I learned to push aside that needless and harmful shame and pursue my calling, wholeheartedly doing what I love. I realized the best thing I could do for my ever-changing staff of young women was to acknowledge and encourage that calling within them as well. In my leadership role, I concentrated on sharing knowledge, non-judgment, authentic teamwork and the satisfaction of working hard together to bring beauty into the world.

When they released our kids from school because of the coronavirus, I thought it would only last a couple weeks (like everyone else did at first). I remember delivering flowers to Emily at Morrice the Florist and wondering if she would be able to sell the flowers during the pandemic and that I should give her a deep discount.

The second time I delivered flowers to Emily I asked her, “Do you think you might have to lay some people off? I think I might have to.”

The third time I delivered flowers to her, when the international flower industry shut down completely and they were burning whole warehouses full of boxed blooms, I remember Emily telling me, “I might have to close.”

The fourth time, Emily said, “I’ve been on the phone all morning with wedding and events planners. Brides are cancelling their summer weddings, couples are cancelling their anniversary parties. I don’t know what to do.”

We both felt like we were losing our minds and maybe our livelihoods; everything seemed to be slipping away.

The fifth time I delivered flowers to Emily, I asked her, “Should I even keep planting these seeds?”

The further we moved into the pandemic the harder it became to imagine the future. But no matter how scary things were, folks still encouraged me to keep planting, keep seeding, keep moving forward. But that little insecure voice started to rear its head again telling me that people didn’t need flowers, they needed food. Flowers aren’t essential. You should plow under your crops right now and plant the field with vegetables.

It was a dark time, with many sleepless nights and panic filled mornings.

Then, almost like magic, my phone started ringing along with a steady stream of texts and emails. I received calls at 6 a.m., texts at 10:55 p.m., emails at 3 a.m. They all started the same: “Robyn, do you have any flowers?”

The exact reasons people gave were different but the essence was the same.

“I can’t sleep.” “I feel anxious.” “I can’t stop crying.” “It’s raining again.” “I’m afraid.” “It’s my mom’s birthday.” “My husband lost his job.” “Summer is cancelled.” “I’m a terrible mother.”

To every request I eagerly replied “Yes, I do have flowers.”

It was comfort they were after and it was comforting to be able to assist them. I had something that fed people’s spirits, that embraced their weary souls. I also had a reason to act in a paralyzing situation that was restorative. I would walk through the greenhouses with tears streaming down my face saying over and over “Thank God for these flowers, thank God, thank God.”

When there is nothing else left to say and meaning is hard to find or define, flowers remain. And in my book that makes them absolutely essential.

Robyn Athearn is the flower manager at Morning Glory Farm.