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Povy Bigbee and her husband, John, live in a big house surrounded by flowers in Anthony, New Mexico. The flowers extend almost as far as the eye can see because their three granddaughters – Lillian, Susannah and Emily – have taken control of part of the land and created a splash of color in the desert.
The Bigbees had twin daughters, one of whom, Diane, married Sam Calhoun and they had the three girls.
“My whole family has been in agriculture for generations,” Lillian Calhoun said. “In this valley, our family has done all sorts of things. Our older sister, Emily, got us into flowers 10 years ago and we’ve been in love with them ever since.”
Thus, the Calhoun Flower Farms grew in the Rio Grande Valley of southern New Mexico.
“We started with subscription services and went to events like weddings and now we are catering to local grocery stores,” Lillian said. “Our ultimate goal is to get fresh local flowers on every table.”
Recently, in late April, the farm played host to the American Iris Society’s national convention as they inspected the iris portion of the farm which sports a large variety of irises and is partially maintained by the Mesilla Valley Iris Society.
The iris section is named in honor of the sisters’ other grandmother, NaDeanne Calhoun.
“She was a fantastic gardener and irises were her favorite. She was an award-winning iris grower, irisarian, as they like to be called,” Lillian said. “When the iris project started, my dad and we (sisters) felt it was the perfect opportunity to honor her and have her be here with us.”
So, on the occasion of Mother’s Day, the farm has some special bouquets to offer, each one inspired by the sisters’ mother or one of their grandmothers. There is the Diane bouquet, the NaDeanne bouquet and the Povy bouquet. The growers are incorporating the one-of-a-kind irises in the Mother’s Day designs.
“It’s really special that we get to honor one grandmother on the property of another grandmother,” Lillian said. “It is a real full circle moment where we get to celebrate mothers, all mothers and celebrate our grandmother as well by sharing that beauty. Those bouquets are in our online shop and available for local delivery Friday and Saturday and pickup as well.”
Local markets with Calhoun Flower Farm products include FarmMesilla, Toucan Market in Las Cruces and Savage Goods and Whole Foods in El Paso.
The business also offers a weekly subscription service in Las Cruces and El Paso and anywhere in-between. They provide fresh floral delivery right to the door.
But the magic happens in the garden rows, a multitude of varieties growing in the desert -- from sprouts just coming up to tall snapdragons just ready to be harvested. The growing season goes from early spring to late summer.
“Spring is the best time because we get so excited to see our little baby sprouts,” Lillian said as one of the farm leaders, Lauren Smith, could be heard singing in the background out of joy as she spotted a new sprout of a flower variety they were not sure was going to survive. “They are here.”
Lillian credits her sister as the main designer for the floral arrangements. Not only do they use the flowers they grow but often incorporate area native plants and even some of the pecan foliage as seasons change. Their father, Sam, has his orchard on the same property.
Susannah said the farm changes every year as the market and mother nature flex. It has been a difficult journey getting the community to recognize the local flower growers. Flowers in the desert are a bit of a stretch for some to believe in.
“In the beginning, the education wasn’t here yet,” Susannah said. “Some people think we paint our flowers or buy them and arrange them and then sell them. The second anyone hears we are in the desert; they think nothing can grow here so it’s hard to convince someone.”
But times have changed since the endeavor started with the emphasis on growing local becoming a more accepted premise.
“The local vibe has really helped open the appeal even more,” she said. “When you introduce a new market to a new community, it’s really hard. We had to appeal because we also didn’t have brick and mortar, we had to do it visibly and also to people who did have brick and mortar – it takes time. I think this is the year we are going to be able to see what we have really invested.”
Lillian agrees. She said the shift in the community in supporting local goods and services has made the biggest difference in profitability.
“It’s the understanding that when you are buying local you are putting that money back into your community,” she said. “It may be a little more expensive, but you know that that money is going straight back into your community and you can get to know the people who are caring for and growing the flowers on your table.”
Visit www.calhounflowerfarms.com for more information.