Nancy Murphy of Catharpin Produce runs the flower stand at the Wellness Connection Farmer’s Market in Aldie, VA. I was visiting the market, when I was seduced into her booth by her gorgeous fresh flower display. We got to talking about how you just can’t find good fresh flowers around where we live. I got so excited about the bouquet that I was buying that I stopped to take a picture of it, and totally forgot to pay. I discovered the mistake a few days later, contacted Nancy via email, and remedied the situation the following weekend. So my first meeting with Nancy was me stealing her flowers. Embarrassing. Being the gracious person that she is, after all of that, she was kind enough to allow me to interview her and to share her story on the blog.
For 20 plus years, Nancy describes her professional life as literally feeling like she drove to jail every day. (She can openly say that since she was working for her husband as his business manager. LOL.) “Don’t’ get me wrong. We had a great life,” she defends. “We were able to build this amazing house on this acreage that we stumbled on. We were looking for an old house in the country to fix up, but we couldn’t find anything. This was vacant forestland.” But when Nancy turned 50, she decided that she didn’t want to go to her “jail cell” every day any more. She says, “I’d given myself six months to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. And then I still couldn’t figure it out.”
As a result of her relationship with another local farm stand, she was eased into selling produce. Nancy noticed they weren’t offering any potatoes, so she asked if they wanted any of her potatoes to sell. At the time she was growing produce just for her family, but found she always grew too many potatoes. She gave them some to try, they loved them and wanted as much as she could give them. She says, “That’s when I decided I was going to try to be a grower.”
Nancy considers her work very enjoyable and truly loves what she does. She explains, “I use sustainable growing practices, so I grow chemical free. The whole part of the sustainability that I’m not quite good at yet is the making money part of it.” She admits that she’s learning every day; every season is different.
Nancy started growing both produce and flowers six years ago; heavier on the produce. The flowers were just something on the side to have something pretty on her market stand. She says, “I found that I enjoyed the flowers more and made more money from them, but I was still growing and selling both.” Nancy had to take one season off from the market stand that she was working with at the time, when her father became ill, as she was going back and forth to South Carolina to be with him. When she came back last year, to start fresh with The Wellness Connection, she applied to sell both produce and flowers. They got back to her, and explained that they didn’t need another produce vendor, so she asked if they needed a flower vendor. She explains, “Last season was my first season selling just flowers, but this season is my first season of actually planning to sell just flowers. It is a whole new learning curve. I know how much space it took to grow the produce, but found that I drastically undercut myself. I have a whole lot more room that I could have used, so next year I plan to have a lot more flowers.”
Nancy says, “The flowers inspire me. I experiment with something new each year.” Once she started focusing on flowers, she found that she has so much fun putting the flowers together for the market. She’s a sucker for their beauty and adds, “I have so much fun growing them and playing with them.”
Nancy’s big push right now is trying to get a grant from the USDA for a High tunnel, which is an unheated, plastic greenhouse. She has a charming greenhouse on her property that her husband built, but one of her biggest problems is that she can’t put anything in the ground here in Virginia until April. That means all of May and half of June, she doesn’t really have anything substantial to sell. With the High Tunnel, she would be able to extend her season and grow more.
Long-term, her biggest goal is to fix her soil. She explains, “The soil around here is horrible, so I do a lot of research to try to fix the soil naturally. The Prince William County Soil and Water Conservation folks are fantastic. They will come out once a year and do soil tests for free for farmers. I’m working with them to try to fix the soil…before I die.” (Lol!)
The reality of being a “grower” is that it’s a lot of work. She shares, “Weeks when the heat index is 105… I don’t like heat in the first place… That part of the reality, and the amount of work, is hard. But after doing this so long, I just can’t imagine doing anything else.” She explains that you learn to go with the seasons. She plants seeds in December in the greenhouse, and in November (her “off month”), she works on field clean up and plants her tulips. The dead of winter is when she works in the greenhouse and that’s when she is her happiest. She says, “I like cold weather, and you go into the greenhouse and it’s a little piece of heaven where little things are growing.”
She earns more joy when she’s standing at her market stand, interacting with the people and other vendors. She shares, “I just love the good feeling of shoppers smiling at the flowers.” But personally, she says, “As any good mother would say, I am most proud of my children. They are fantastic.” “And my grandchildren! Who are all brilliant and beautiful.” (Don’t forget the grandbabies!!) When asked what she would most like to convey to my readers she said, “Don’t be afraid to try something and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s worth it.”