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Farmer-Florist Profile: Colin Stark of Stark Blooms
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Farmer-Florist Profile: Colin Stark of Stark Blooms

 

In 2018, flower farmer and professional videographer Colin Stark traded his New York City fashion career for growing specialty cut flowers in the small town of Red Hook in New York's Hudson Valley. Formalized in 2021, Stark Blooms sources Farmer Bailey plugs for their Lisianthus, Café au Lait Dahlias, snapdragons, tissue culture Limonium, Scoop Scabiosa, Delphinium, heirloom Chrysanthemums and more.

"When I started doing this and ordering through you guys it was a game changer for me as a one-man operation," says Colin. "I was able to do things that I couldn't do by myself, so in terms of leveling up in your business–you have my sincere thanks. It has been such a valuable resource. I've heard of other plug brokers, but the approachability of the Farmer Bailey brand and the ease of the online experience had a very direct effect of my business and my life." 

We caught up with Colin to learn more about why he ditched bespoke suits for muck boots, what he treasures most about his farmer lifestyle, and his favorite Farmer Bailey crops.

 

You used to be a columnist for GQ Magazine. How did you transition from media to farming? 

I had my video production company, and after leaving the City and all of that, I still do video production. It's interesting there's a cross point between ramping up to full time farming, and how that sits with video production.  We do lots of advertising, product marketing, and some editorial.  We have been up at our place now for about 6 years. I find farming and video production complimentary; I can do things that are video focused that help my flower business. It helped out to show what we are doing to our customers. I'm a one man show with farming, so being as handy as you can is the name of the game.

What inspired you to begin gardening?

Farming was always in me.  My dad built me a greenhouse when I was a little kid.  I was doing trays of petunias and ketchup and mustard colored flowers. When I moved to NYC after college, even in NYC I had a rooftop garden. As time goes on, my partner and I were kind of ready to move to the country.  We built a studio in one of the back bedrooms of the house, to keep up doing video production and we had a fair piece of land.  Kinda been building infrastructure on there slowly.  It's always felt very natural to me, and for me to turn to that was just kind of innate. Farming is in my blood.  Vegetables are first, then "hey, why not add on some flowers?" Then before you know it, it's 100% flowers.  We very quickly turned to flowers... but my partner still asks, "Can we grow tomatoes this year, though?"

How did you learn floral design?

I don't have formal training in it, it was really a challenge two years ago in terms of when I was growing a lot of flowers, and that felt like the gap for me. I knew I I needed to learn this, I knew I don't know a lot, but I'm interested.  In the past two years, I did a video series, and I come up with some sort of flower assignment and had to make something.  The best way to learn is to keep your hands in flowers, and constantly work with them.  My floral skills are nothing amazing, but I've been able to see some improvement just continuing to do it, and just give myself some parameters.  Just trying this style and that.  Growing really beautiful flowers, and now I'm putting more into designing as opposed to wholesale. 

What are your favorite Farmer Bailey crops and why? 

1) Lisianthus was my gateway drug to you guys! It's the first thing I bought. Growing Lisianthus from seed was just something I couldn't do.  To me it was a level up; it just changed what I was able to do with my business and grow it in a different way.

2) Snapdragons: I've grown my own and everything, and I really coddled the seedlings, but I cringe to say it–they just come out better from plugs.  Side by side, I can see the stem length and the thickness and sturdiness of the stems are such a big difference over seed grown.

3)  Ilex and Symphoricarpos are the new things I'm excited about. We have seven undeveloped acres, and this spring we are developing all of that.  So that's another part: looking forward with woodies and perennials. I'm seeing so many holiday sales and excitement for Ilex... it goes for a pretty penny. On my property there is kind of a wet marshy area, a really perfect spot for willow and Ilex. After October, it's like "now what?" So this opens up sales in the months when we are winding down.


Let's talk Café au Lait. Dahlias are known to be fussy; what are your best tips and approaches for Dahlia growers?

That was a total test on my end.  For price and in terms of scaling up, seeing CAL plugs at that price seemed too good to be true.  I know the genetics can be unstable so you might get blatant pinks, but I had total uniformity across the board–100% Champagne blooms!  I was selling a good 2-3 weeks of these before anyone else in our area.  I never had certified virus free dahlias before.  They grew faster, stronger, and did not quit 'til frost.  The bed I put them in was questionable at best!  And even in a bed with okay soil, they completely exceeded expectations.  I would say I averaged 5 tubers off each one. For a cutting, they still produced tubers pretty well. A friend in Cape Cod is the president of the Provincetown Dahlia Society.  She said you've got to try CAL about five years ago.  She gave me some pointers and rooted me on.  It felt very like it clicked with me, just figuring out the interesting intricacies.  It felt normal to me.  I bought every Dahlia book I could possibly read, and joined Dahlia grower groups. I'm obsessed and my love for the flower drove me on. In January and February my living room is strewn with reading material.

Who do you sell to?  Who are your customers?


This past year, my mantra was to Get More Specific With Sales. I was kind of doing wholesale, direct to florist, retail direct to customers, I was doing event sales, I even dabbled in three restaurants for flowers.  I've been taking a ton of notes, seeing what the financials are, what I liked and didn't like, and a lot of other metrics. After the season, for this coming year: I'm looking to be 90% direct to customers.  I'm currently looking for some real estate to have a direct to customer location.  I loved that, working with people. I'm trying to be more specific and targeted.

What vision or goal do you have for your business?

Right now I'm in the scaling phase.  I've been around for awhile, I have the knowledge under my belt, and am looking to amp up sales.  For me, I'm looking for infrastructure. We have low tunnels, but we are looking into greenhouses, and solidifying a more solid sales structure in terms of business.  My head is now all numbers, numbers.  I've been in business for myself for awhile, but I'm getting to a new point in terms of looking at flower farming from a business perspective.  Looking at certain crops, and projecting how much revenue each can bring in, instead of just saying "Oh, I like this flower!"  Drilling down more on the business side of things.  Red Hook, NY is the coolest little town.  It's a big farming community here in the Hudson Valley, and I just love our little town so much.  My partner and I are getting more involved and there's so many cool people up here.

Tell us something we wouldn't know about you unless you told us.

In early August, the rows in the fields get so tall with flowers. In the evening when the bugs are sizzling, work is done and the sun is going down, I love to go lay in the rows in between my flowers.  I will do that until it gets completely dark, and the dogs will come up and lick my face.  In terms of the lifestyle of being a farmer, that is something I treasure so much.  The sensory thing and just go close your eyes, (maybe I take a martini down there with me) and you feel super close to the land, and it's total therapy.  I treasure the experience, it's the happiest thing.

Follow Stark Blooms on Instagram for beautiful photos, videos and growing tips! You can also shop Colin's bulb planters and tubers in his Etsy store

2 comments on Farmer-Florist Profile: Colin Stark of Stark Blooms

  • Nicole
    NicoleJanuary 22, 2024

    I have been following Colin for a bit and love his work! His dahlias are beautiful. He is spot on regarding the community of flower farmers in the Hudson Valley and the advantage your plugs offer those of us with a short growing season!

  • Linda Doan
    Linda DoanJanuary 18, 2024

    Great read! Love his IG!

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