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Farmer Feature: Shanti Rade of Whipstone Farm
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Farmer Feature: Shanti Rade of Whipstone Farm

Whipstone Farm blooms on 18 acres of high desert in the Chino Valley of Central Arizona, where seasoned farmers Shanti and Cory Rade grow vegetables and cut flowers for year-round farmers markets, CSA, restaurants and florists.


Just over ten years ago, Shanti began growing cut flowers to complement the farm’s vegetable crops. In time, she has slowly transitioned more and more of Whipstone Farm’s production and sales from veggies to flowers. Today, Shanti's mixed bouquets are Whipstone Farm's best-selling farmers market product. 

Shanti's artistic spirit shines through her bouquets and her personal style, both in real life and on the popular Whipstone Farm Instagram account. Hers is a level of cool that makes you wonder if you, too, look quite chic in your earth-stained work pants. Despite her command of aesthetics, Shanti isn't a surface level kind of person. Everything comes straight from the heart.

"My interest in farming really started with plants you can eat; it feels so existentially important," says Shanti. "While I never considered myself to have that same fuzzy feeling for flowers, once I started growing them I really liked it. When I'm into something, I go deep. I get obsessed. I always want to try new things, especially those that seem impossible in our climate."

Farming is challenging in the best of conditions, and that's not what 2023 had in store for central Arizona. Whipstone Farm experienced hail and flooding in May, followed by an atypical late June freeze. Grasshoppers descended in July and stayed for the rest of the growing season. “The grasshoppers were the most destructive of the three,” says Shanti. “The other things were setbacks, but grasshoppers were by far the worst. From what I read, grasshoppers were a major problem in grain crops across North America last year. And once they are in their adult stage, they are impossible to control; even chemical pesticides don’t do much. So, I don’t feel so bad that I couldn’t get rid of them. It is a biblical plague, after all.” 

Despite multiple plagues in 2023, Whipstone Farm increased sales by 5% over the previous year. This may not sound like much, but it is truly impressive that in such an atrocious growing season that their sales didn't dip. 

Whipstone Farm met their obligations for all CSA bouquets and veggie boxes, had mostly steady farmers market sales and fulfilled their wholesale customers.  “When I did an end-of-year financial assessment, we actually didn’t do too badly,” says Shanti. “It was shocking, because things seemed to be going so poorly, and yet it all evened out in the end.  Sometimes our perception can really differ from reality. I always look at the numbers to rein in my pessimistic nature.” 


Supporting local farmers in their success is a Whipstone Farm core value, with both Shanti and Cory serving in leadership roles in their Prescott community and beyond. Recently completing her term on the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers board, Shanti currently serves on her county’s Cooperative Extension advisory committee, teaches and speaks at many events and advocates for agriculture in numerous ways. Always striving to create a more sustainable farming system, she is currently working on collaborative grant projects in soil health, cover cropping, and farm profitability.  

Though neither she or Cory grew up on farms, a high school internship milking cows and planting vegetables at a CSA farm in Colorado first sparked Shanti’s interest in farming. She earned a degree in Agroecology from Prescott College, and met her future husband working at the farmers market.  

“For 20 years my mantra was always "we work really hard and that will get us through,” she says. “From there I was learning how to be a better manager, and empowering employees to do a good job. Now I feel like I’m figuring out how to keep this business moving as it ages, as our bodies age. Keeping it exciting, sustaining the good years and bad ones.  I want to continue loving this work, and sometimes that means changing things. I am more focused on profitability than I used to be. Analyzing the business and cutting out waste to make our future more stable so we don’t have to push so hard all the time. And learning how to go on vacation.”

Shanti's vision for the future of Whipstone Farm is grounded in her experience as a full-time farmer, small business owner and mother, running the farm alongside her husband. 

“What if I had to be the sole business owner and decision maker?” she asks. “That’s a little scary for me to think about, but I do worry about it. My partner is 20 years older than me… at some point he will slow down or phase out of the day to day operations and I will be the sole breadwinner, and financially responsible for my kids and my aging partner. I’m trying to prepare for that. And I hope to retire someday, too.”

Read on to learn more about Shanti’s flower farming journey, her favorite Farmer Bailey plugs, and why she plants many traditional ‘spring’ crops in the fall. 

What is your mix of flowers to vegetables at Whipstone Farm? 

Shanti Rade: It’s about 30 percent flowers, 70 percent vegetables. We started with just vegetables. Flowers came later and we shifted in that direction.  We are transitioning more and more acreage into rotational cover crops for soil health and increasing our plants for pollinator habitat. Our crop mix is constantly changing but we do have our mainstays.

What got you into growing flowers after being a vegetable farmer?

SR: It was a natural progression.  We were growing a variety of stuff to be appealing at the farmers market. I wanted to test out some flowers, so the first year I just grew a few sunflowers. My partner said “no one is going to buy those, they grow wild on the side of the road.”  And they all sold.  Next, I added some zinnias, sweet peas, cosmos, you know how it goes.

Do you have any essential crops for Whipstone?

SRIt isn’t any one thing.  We sell a lot through wholesale channels, but we still sell a lot of flowers retail between farmers market and CSA. Mixed bouquets are our number one best selling item, so I need enough variety to keep that program going strong for our 8-9 month growing season, And I need a diversity of products for our spring, summer, and fall csa shares.  Our most profitable flower crops are probably Dahlias, sunflowers, and Lisianthus, to name a few, along with a whole host of other crops we grow in smaller quantities.  Honestly I am still working on enterprise budgets for many of our crops, so it will be really interesting to see if that holds true once I get all the data to play with. We grow a lot of flowers to dry; celosia, poppy pods and gomphrena top the list of favorites in that category. 

While we care about profitability and try to keep most of our efforts  in that lane, it is always fun to dabble and we’ve earned the right to do some of that too. Some trials this year include growing sweet peas for seed, indigo for dye plants, chocolate comos, tweedia, loads of pansies (still working out the cut flower nature of them) and we are adding a large section of woodies for cuts.  We are doing a big lily trial including some tiger lilies, a personal fav. 

I hear you and your team are good at seed starting. Why do you grow from plugs?

SRI am pretty particular about what I buy in for plugs.  We like seed starting - honestly sowing seeds in trays and watching them grow is my ultimate happy place - and we do a good job of it.   We have a dedicated propagation greenhouse, which we are tripling the size of as we speak! Along with a germination chamber, heated bench system, and a vacuum seeder, all of these tools make it possible for us to start hundreds of thousands of seedlings per season.  I like the flexibility of producing my own plugs since there are more varieties to choose from when growing from seed. I can control the quality, timing, seeding density and cell size.  But I also take on the risks of heater failures, poor germination, venting mishaps; so much can and does go wrong.  But I think growing from seed is a skill farmers should learn; it's part of understanding and appreciating what it takes to grow plants and we need to be able to handle supply chain disruption.  At our volume, growing our plugs is much cheaper, especially for those easy to start seedling crops.  Shipping is expensive to get things to our neck of the woods and I don’t love all the packaging involved in shipping plugs.  

But, then there is the hard stuff, and that’s where I love the option of buying plugs. Hard to germinate perennials, tissue culture varieties, Lisianthus, and the fall-planted, cool season annuals are what are most useful for me to buy as plugs.  As I’m sure you know, Lisianthus is just a real diva for the first 12 weeks of life. I have grown my own from seed several times, and I know I can do it. But when it comes down to it, the amount of time and space it takes up in the greenhouse, pricking out time, their fussy, disease prone nature; it just isn’t worth it for me.  I love getting a pallet of lisianthus plugs from Farmer Bailey, it’s better than Christmas.  My other challenge is starting seeds that want a cool start for fall planting. In the middle of the summer it’s often 120 degrees F in the greenhouse and we're super busy. I can’t take care of them like I should, so I buy plugs for those crops.  Even though they are the same varieties that might be easy for me to grow in spring, I have learned that not having full flats looking great and ready to go in the ground at the exact right time in fall, can mean a huge money loss come spring. From experience I know that there are gaps in my capacity and I want an easy fix for that.  I try to order fall plugs as early in the spring as I can, when I have enough time and brain space to do it.  If I wait until midsummer, when I would normally sow them myself, I don’t even seem to have enough time to get my online orders completed.  

Do you have a favorite Farmer Bailey crop? 

SRDelphinium! We fall plant them, and they take some time to grow on and don't want to be started in a scorching hot greenhouse, as I mentioned above.  I absolutely love Cliveden Beauty - I guess I have a thing for blue flowers. My other fave is the Guardian series - lavender, blue and white are all gorgeous. Guardian Blue is the first Delphinium I ever grew and I fell in love with the variation of color within each flower.  Astolat is a new one we are trying this year.  I haven’t tried the Highlander series yet, but they look really interesting.  

I have heard from other hot weather growers that many crops we think of as spring-planted are better off being transplanted in the fall. What are you fall planting other than Delphs? 

SRThere’s no real spring in between winter and hot weather here in the high desert, that’s why we plant the majority of our cool season flowers in fall to overwinter and bloom in spring.  I have two main categories of fall planting: unheated tunnels and open field. 

In the unheated tunnels we exclusively transplant the following flowers: Delphinium, Foxgloves, Campanula, Icelandic poppies, Ranunculus, Anemones, Sweet Peas, Scabiosa, Snapdragons, and Pansies. I have planted Lisianthus in the fall but I’m on the fence about whether that’s actually worth it.  I think next year I may only plant lisis in early spring. Still trying to dial things in after all these years.

In the field, we direct seed some crops and transplant others.  Our favorites are: Bells of Ireland, Bupleurum, Nigella, Larkspur, Breadseed Poppies, cool season grasses, Flax, Cress, Orlaya, Ammi, Calendula and Feverfew.

Every crop wants something a little different, and you have to tweak your crop plan to fit your climate and specific growing situation. People on the internet may tout that they have all the answers, and you might find good advice from someone close to your climatic conditions, but everything takes trial and error, whether its timing, variety, spacing, you name it.  I love experimenting widely to learn what I can do.  

Did anyone mentor you? Did you get good advice from anyone on flowers? 

SRI had some early mentors in farming, as far back as my high school days. That’s where I learned the basic tenets of organic farming and my love for starting seeds. I read so many books. Once I got into flowers, I took a few in-person workshops and joined the ASCFG.  The best thing for me was getting into these educational settings and making friends; people with a shared interest who became far more than colleagues.  The tight knit friendships with other flower farmers meant we could talk/text/video chat every day and bounce ideas off each other.  Having close friends doing the same work, being as geeky as I am about flowers and supporting one another through all the highs and lows is what gets me through. 

Nothing exists in the vegetable world like the ASCFG.  There's no all-in-one inclusive group with the same educational caliber and camaraderie that I am aware of.  So I feel so lucky to have the ASCFG. 

Why did you want to serve on the ASCFG Board?  

SRKind of like what I was just saying. I got so much out of the ASCFG, it made me realize it was a really worthwhile organization. I have served on other boards before.  I like being a part of bigger things that help farmers succeed, because farming is really hard to make a living from.  I guess I was also building a name for myself, so it’s a little self-serving too, but mostly it was more about giving back and spreading the gospel of how great the organization is.  And keeping it great and relevant even for seasoned growers. I didn’t realize I was going to build those tight knit relationships among board members, that was a total perk. 

What is your vision or goal for Whipstone Farm, 20-plus years in?

SRWe are horrible long term planners.  We’ve never had a business plan or a loan for anything other than land and one tractor.  But at the same time, we have always been in growth mode; we are enthusiastic workaholics, entrepreneurially-minded and love to experiment with new crops, analyze financials, drill down on efficiencies and dream up marketing schemes.

My partner is 20 years older than me, and has just reached Social Security age.  I get a little anxious because he doesn’t want to stop working or even talk about a plan for retirement. But at some point I’m going to be the sole breadwinner with a long working life ahead of me, and be financially responsible for our kids and him as he ages. I want to be able to keep farming, but enjoy traveling and have other components to my life.  I want to be able to retire at some point too and it hasn’t been easy to prioritize that goal while farming.  But I am growing up, starting a retirement account, learning how to invest money.  It’s new for me, but I’m adulting.

Farming is never boring and I don’t think I will ever want to give it up. But some elements can feel exhausting after a while. Finding inspiration in new areas of farming is really what keeps me going.  I want to research, trial, improve and succeed all the time. For the last several years we have dipped our toes into contract seed growing.  Growing flowers as a seed crop is totally different from growing a vegetable crop or cut flower crop.  I feel like a brand new farmer trying to learn the ropes again. Selection, plant spacing, roguing, disease control, harvest stage, seed cleaning techniques; it’s a new and exciting frontier for me.  Maybe I will dabble in some variety breeding next. It’s new, it’s exciting. I will try to keep these new things coming so I can be as excited in the second half of my career as I have been in the first. 

Keep up with Shanti on Instagram @whipstonefarm for bouquet and farmers market inspiration, and sign up for her refreshing ‘behind the scenes’ email newsletter

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