As I write this post and share these photos, I’m already growing thirsty for spring and summer’s appearance again. Just before the fall season swept in, with its toasty, golden hues and shorter days, I visited one of my favorite flower farms on the Western Slope, Pea & Posy, where I got to spend time with my friend and flower farmer, Calli Ferber.
As a fellow female farmer, I enjoy visiting other properties and chatting with women growers, getting a peek into their daily lives, and leaving with a little inspiration from observing their particular farming setup, learning about their environmental hurdles, and listening to their business ideas. I always leave feeling less isolated and am reminded that farming is so much more than planting seeds, dealing with weeds, or even growing incredible produce.
It’s about community and connection, both with the earth and with each other.
Calli graciously sent me home with some of her garden-fresh amethyst basil. She’d recently posted a basil gin smash on her Instagram Stories, made with amethyst basil leaves, and the cocktail’s bright, magenta-hued color caught my eye. I brought home that small bouquet of fragrant basil, grabbed a favorite gin, and immediately fashioned a version of my own.
I’ll share the recipe below. First, let’s get to know Calli a little further and dig deeper into her journey, her focused devotion to her family, her challenges that she faces farming in the high-desert, drought-prone mesa country of western Colorado, and her blossoming creative outlet, which is her flower farm.
And our shared love of gin-based cocktails, of course.
MEET CALLI FERBER, FLOWER FARMER
Walking into Calli’s backyard flower farm invokes my childhood obsession with The Secret Garden. Little pathways among the different varieties of flowers, shade-loving specimens thriving underneath broad-leafed trees, and sun-hoarding swaths of punchy dahlias all gorgeously dominate the stark, surrounding landscape, which is framed on the northern horizon by the majestic Mount Garfield. Rising over 2,000 feet above the valley floor, this mountain is a prominent feature, overlooking the fruit-growing and wine-making region there in Palisade, Colorado.
It’s truly an oasis in the desert.
ON BECOMING A FLOWER FARMER
Before Calli became a flower farmer on the Western Slope, she had been a perennial grower in retail and commercial greenhouses for over 15 years, where she honed her farming and gardening skills. After losing her job and having a daughter, she decided to forge a new path, where she could do something from home that enriched both her soul and family. Following her love of gardening was a logical and heartfelt next step.
Calli started small, growing enough food for her family and planting a just few flowers. Over the course of a few years, she expanded her farm’s reach to include a substantial vegetable plot and a lot more flowers. She’s prioritized finding a way to work from home, and she’s let her love of flowers and the creativity she fosters be the focal points of her farming project.
Owning and operating a flower farm has recently become quite the movement, one which supports the local economy, greatly reduces the large carbon footprint of the flower industry, and connects flower farmers with local florists, markets, and buyers. There is a strong and sustainable focus on sourcing seasonally-specific flowers and cultivating regenerative farming practices.
Calli’s best advice to those wanting to become a farmer of flowers?
As rewarding as farming can be, it can also be frustrating, disappointing, and stressful. For example, Calli’s biggest challenge is the constant onslaught of heat here on Colorado’s Western Slope. Farming is hard enough work, but when you couple it with relentless dry heat, one has to have a broader goal that outweighs any current annoyances, like intense weather.
Calli also suggests that aspiring farmers take the time to celebrate their successes and learn from failures. I completely agree. Perceived failures are opportunities to learn a new approach and let creativity take the lead. I seem to have my best personal growth spurts, when I take the time to truly analyze what didn’t go right. It’s not always the easiest pill to swallow, but it is often just the medicine I need.
Alright, let’s make the prettiest basil gin smash around.
If you’ve perused through my posts or made a cocktail recipe I’ve shared, fresh flowers and herbs are key ingredients in most of the drinks I create. Even with all of the diverse spirits and liqueurs available on the market, nothing quite beats the intensity of aromas and color that freshly picked botanicals provide.
I’m using amethyst basil in this aromatic, gin-based cocktail. It is vibrant, refreshing, herbaceous, and citrusy. What exactly is amethyst basil? It is a purple Genovese-type basil that has that sweet basil flavor and a gorgeous dark purple coloring. Calli loves to use it as much as possible – in cocktails, in pesto, in tomato salads, and in peachy desserts.
Let’s take a journey into Calli’s backyard farm and make a colorful riff on the modern classic cocktail, the basil gin smash.
AMETHYST BASIL GIN SMASH
- 3 sprigs amethyst basil leaves
- 2 ounces gin (I used Waterloo Gin No. 9)
- 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3/4 ounce simple syrup
- bronze fennel flower, for garnish
- amethyst basil leaf, for garnish
- In a mixing tin, gently muddle the basil leaves.
- Add the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup, along with a generous portion of ice.
- Add a large ice cube into a chilled double old-fashioned glass.
- Shake the ingredients well and double-strain into prepped glass.
- Garnish with an amethyst basil leaf and a bronze fennel flower.
- This recipe yields one drink.
- For the photo shoot, I forwent the double-straining, simply because I forgot to bring it outside with me. The resulting small bits of basil were actually pleasant.
- The edible bronze fennel flowers were a perfect flavor-match for this cocktail. The fennel notes went perfectly alongside the anise-like basil and juniper-forward gin.
- This cocktail can optionally be double-strained into a coupe glass for clarity and served up, and it easily batches for a crowd.
ON SUSTAINING A LOCAL ECONOMY
Calli has gorgeously structured her farm to include rows of herbs, culinary flowers, and cut flowers, and she sells many of her edible blossoms to local, noteworthy restaurants, such as Grand Junction’s Bin 707 Foodbar, Palisade’s Pêche, and Edwards’ Hovey and Harrison. She also makes a concerted effort to work with others, who share her work ethic, her sense of community, and her focus on collaboration within the industry.
The past two years have left so many of us in places, where we are learning new skills or pivoting into new roles. I recall a few times this past year, where a local Colorado flower designer, Kelly Mendenhall of 3 Leaf Floral, was unable to timely secure flower deliveries for her events. Moments like this, where we perceive failure or have doors shut upon us, is where relationships and new concepts can bloom.
Kelly and Calli began to work together, and they were able to supply brides, families, and loved ones with gorgeous floral arrangements, all made with locally grown flowers. Together, they supported each other’s business, provided clients with flowers grown within a few miles’ distance, and even expanded their collective vision. Follow this link, this one, and this one for examples of their collaboration.
Calli is working directly with Kelly by growing flowers according to the trends and desires of Kelly’s wedding clients. While Calli loves growing an explosive rainbow of color at her flower farm, she is also making sure she has a local offering of in-demand flower colors, palettes, and styles for the ever-evolving wedding industry.
I just love stories like this – ones of connection and innovation.
ON FINDING INSPIRATION AND COMMUNITY
With her flower farm’s vibrant palette, Calli has vivid colors and textures at her fingertips, which has allowed her to foster her creativity. She has recently delved into creating beautiful floral bouquets of her own. She draws her inspiration directly from the blooms she grows and nurtures. Walking around the garden and cutting stalks from what’s in season kickstarts her creative process.
Calli doesn’t mass-produce her bouquets, so each one is truly one-of-a-kind.
As gardeners, we all have our favorite plants to grow, which inspires us to create a new dish, gather a colorful bouquet, or learn a new preservation technique. For me, it’s tomatoes, new varieties of basil, and edible flowers. I find those easy to grow in my climate, and they all feed my creative spirit. For Calli, she loves growing asparagus. It gets her so excited about spring’s arrival, since it is the first thing to pop up and be harvested in her garden. Here in Colorado, we have such a short growing season, so getting a jumpstart on the season extends it, so to speak.
Like so many of us do these days, I first met Calli on Instagram. I immediately resonated with her candid nature and her documentation of her garden’s growth. Instagram is a place, where Calli enjoys sharing what she is growing, therefore spreading beauty with her followers. While she isn’t quite sure it has changed her business model in any way, she mentions that it is so rewarding and heartwarming to be able to connect with people all over the world, within those little squares.
I couldn’t agree more.
As winter has officially set in, with our first arrival of snow yesterday, I’m already thumbing through the pages of seed catalogs and envisioning what my garden will be this next season. I’m also doing my best to slow down, take notes from this past year, and appreciate the darker, quieter season at hand. And I’m doing my best to make more meaningful connections, both online and in real life.
Sometimes, the most intense growth occurs during the dormant seasons.