Madison County Farm to Table Dinner 2019

Farm to Table Style

Our 3rd annual Madison County Farm to Table Dinner was recently held at the farm and it was a tremendous success! For those of your who don’t know about this event, each year, we invite an intimate gathering of people to take a seat at our harvest table to experience an amazing night of gorgeous local flowers and feasting on delicious locally grown food.

All photos by: Rylee Mapes Photography

All photos by: Rylee Mapes Photography

We spent the evening enjoying amazing cuisine prepared by the lovely and incredibly talented duo, Brandy Lueders and John Cornish (and team), of The Grateful Chef

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Brandy and John have been featured on The Iowa Ingredient, The Des Moines Register, Cityview, and dsm Magazine for their vibrant and healthy meal options. The more colorful, the better!

We often snag their ‘grab and go’ meals from the cooler or freezer at the store location in Des Moines on SE 6th. Not gonna lie, this is usually how our kids are fed throughout our busy flower growing time during the summer. It’s our go-to for guilt free, healthy ‘fast food’. Our kids lovingly refer to it as “Brandy Food”. Ha!

We started the evening with a quick social hour, which gave people time to get to know one another, take a look at the farm, the gorgeous scenery, and of course, the amazing flowers. It was surprising to us that several people already knew a little bit about the farm. We weren’t expecting that! There were a handful of people that were already familiar with our new lavender field. It made us feel so good that people care and are excited about what we’re up to. Thank you!

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A 20’ branch from our nearby timberland was suspended and covered in gorgeous florals. Other florals were included around the space, bringing natural details from the outside, in, creating the illusion of being in a secret garden. The table was set with a program by K. Henri Design, which detailed out each of the courses. The table also adorned all of our best vintage china, and silverware, collected over time from family, friends and the not-so-occasional visits to local thrift stores. Flowers, candles, and small fall details flowed down the center of the table, giving the room a warm, inviting vibe, while Frank Sinatra crooned and romanced us the entire evening through our Spotify playlist. Magic. That’s the only way to describe the scene.

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The Grateful Chef served up five amazing dishes, all curated with local produce from local farms. Many of the dishes were inspired by the fall harvest: full of zesty, flavorful, and warming dishes that created a homey, but stunning culinary experience.

The dessert course

The dessert course

Our favorite was the sage, gouda, apple pie, with a dollop of hand whipped cream on top! You could really pick up the gouda’s tangy flavor in the crust, but the sugary, cinnamon flavor of the filling balanced the flavor perfectly for a mouth watering experience. Yum, yum!

Shown right is the pie being plated. Each piece was plated on a bed of caramel drizzle and topped with hand whipped cream and a sprig of sage.

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Understanding where our food comes from and how it’s grown is incredibly important. Not only is it important that we’re able to connect with our food source on this level, it’s also crucial to know and understand the people who all make it happen. At our farm to table dinner, we celebrate the local, hard working farmers who toil day in and day out to bring us the greatest gift: nourishment for our bodies. At this year’s dinner, we had three local farms take a seat at the table to talk with attendees about their farm, their families, and the product that they produce.

We want to recognize Decker 7- Jake and Ginnie Decker, Bridgewater Farm-Dale and Marcy, Rich and Scott from Buffalo Prairie and Hannah Davis and Austin Hill, our employees who attended and represented PepperHarrow. Having these hardworking folks sit and converse with attendees at the farm to table dinner added an authentic richness to the dinner that is almost impossible to put into words.

They are the heart of the farm to table and it was amazing to celebrate and recognize them for the amazing produce they provide each and every day!

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Thank you to everyone who came to the farm to table dinner and experienced this magical evening with us. It’s all about the amazing food, fellowship, and festive atmosphere. If you’re looking to attend next year, be on the lookout! We hold this dinner the first Saturday of October each year and will post tickets online early Summer 2020!

-Jenn and Adam

Floral bliss retreat

Well, we had our first Floral Bliss Retreat this weekend and I have to say that it was totally amazing. We gathered together with a small group of people for a day of play and design on the farm. It was a drizzly day on the farm and created a calmly wonderful ambiance.

Adam and Jenn O’Neal - PepperHarrow farm  Photo By:  Andraya Stender

Adam and Jenn O’Neal - PepperHarrow farm

Photo By: Andraya Stender

We started the day with introductions followed by a personal tour of our farm. We then let everyone head out to harvest and forage at their leisure. It was cool to see what everyone gathered for their designs from the lovely perennials throughout our gardens to branches of unripened fruit and cattails.

With everyone’s amazing finds, Jenn began a session on the ins and outs of flower crown design. I think that was a sesh that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Jenn guiding a student with her design  Photo By:  Andraya Stender

Jenn guiding a student with her design

Photo By: Andraya Stender

Donning beautiful floral crowns, we sat down to a wonderful catered lunch provided by Catering By Cyd. That was personally my favorite part because we got to sit with everyone and really get to know each other. And the lunch was amazing! Thumbs up to privately catered lunches. 👍 Catering in took a huge weight off of our shoulders with this event and enabled us to participate more!

Lovely catered lunch for the floral bliss retreat. Flowers And food forever!

Lovely catered lunch for the floral bliss retreat. Flowers And food forever!

After lunch we headed to the centerpiece design portion of the retreat. We loved seeing everyone dive into a full buffet of flowers and also how they incorporated their unique garden finds into their centerpieces. Apple branches and grape vines with little unripened fruits? Yes!

Attendees enjoying the flower bar  Photo By:  Andraya Stender

Attendees enjoying the flower bar

Photo By: Andraya Stender

Adam guiding the design portion of the workshop  Photo By:  Andraya Stender

Adam guiding the design portion of the workshop

Photo By: Andraya Stender

And if the day wasn’t already full enough, Jenn put together a lovely traditional English tea service for the retreat. We were inspired when we went to England and visited Chatsworth Gardens. While visiting, we sat down for a nice tea service in the café on the grounds. We had to bring that special experience with us back to PepperHarrow!

Teatime at PepperHarrow  Photo By:  Andraya Stender

Teatime at PepperHarrow

Photo By: Andraya Stender

This retreat turned out amazing and we can’t wait to bring it to you again. We’re also excited with all the new ideas we have to make this experience even more special. Looking forward to the next one!

Rainy Day Weather. What Does a Flower Farmer Do?

This early flower season has been incredibly rainy. It’s been tough to get out to the fields to plant, weed, and for the flowers to grow. In my most recent field check, I saw standing water in one of the dahlia fields and the corn cockle plants are melting into the ground. Boo! Please pray for some sunshine for the next few days. This rain is definitely rough!

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However, the one good thing about the rain…it sure gives us lots of extra time to work on other business activities and it feels pretty guilt free. When it’s sunny and amazing out, it’s hard to sit down and do some of these tasks, but when it’s raining, it’s like a mental bluebird.

So, what are some of the business things we do when it’s raining outside? Well, today we’ve been planning out adding some additional elements to our event space. Adam’s the construction king, so he gets the honors of working with the workers who will make it happen and he also does all of the ordering for the parts and supplies we need.

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I’ve been working on sourcing amazing house plants to have for the flower cottage, practicing floral design for fun (and pics), seeding more seeds for our second succession of flower planting, working on bridal and other event floral quotes, adding pages to Squarespace for additional services we’re offering on the farm, and working on scheduling some social media posts for the next few weeks. I could go on and on. It feels absolutely amazing!

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Incredible Allium

Allium often gets overlooked and doesn’t get the recognition or praise that it should in the garden. It’s a flower that people typically plant into their gardens and tend to forget, because it’s so low maintenance. Allium is one of those wonderful bulbs that you can plant into the ground and just walk away from. Can anything be better?!

Their perfectly formed little balls on top of their stem give them a whimsical and lollipop look. Shown below, the contrast of the purple of the allium with ninebark is unusual and stunning. The perfect contrast for true garden design.

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Here at PepperHarrow, we use allium for all kinds of things. In the spring, we use them in bouquets for market, weddings, and sell them as single stem flowers (artists love them!). Towards late spring, they dry on the stem and transition into lovely ‘fairy wands’ as Adam calls them. Once dried, they can be hung upside down and stored for fall/winter use in wreaths, or also spray painted in all sorts of gorgeous colors to make an interesting dried bouquet of colorful flowers.

All About Roses!

It’s been a crazy week, full of lots of rose pruning and TLC. There as sooo many roses here at PepperHarrow, because they’re one of my favorite flowers. They don’t make particularly good cut flowers, because they just don’t have a very long vase life, but they just look absolutely gorgeous in weddings. They also have such a divine fragrance!

Admittedly, I have a lot of David Austin garden roses, here at PepperHarrow. I love all the varieties of old fashion, English roses they have available. Also, the fragrance is remarkable. David Austin roses are know for their romance and whimsy. However, now that I’m getting mature with my rose growing, I see that there are other cultivars that perform better for us, here in zone 5B, Central Iowa.

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One of these varieties is Kordes. KOR-anything, as a general rule, are welcome here on our farm. They are extremely disease resistant and do really well with our extreme weather—really, really hot and really, really. cold. One of my favorite Kordes varieties are Madam Annisette and First Crush. Not only do they produce a prolific amount of blooms, but I can also enjoy their gorgeous foliage. Also, the blooms feel thicker and less likely to shatter after they’ve been cut.



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Another favorite rose cultivar is anything from J Griffith Buck. These roses are known for their hardiness here in the midwest and perform amazingly! Quietness is one that I have growing at the flower farm. I have her front stage and center, outside of my house, in the cottage garden. Such a magnificent fragrance, fragile beauty, and great performer!

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Special Flower Additions for 2019

Adam and I just got back from a needed trip away from the farm and met up with our dearest flower friends.. It was an incredible weekend of full of collaboration, best practice sharing, and lots of time was spent geeking out with other flower lovers over new plant varieties we’re growing this year. It’s funny to me that others obsess over flowers like I do, but I guess it’s not all that surprising. #plantaddictsunite

As a part of our meet-up, we held an Instagram live feed with ‘ask the flower farmer anything’. It was great to hear some of the thoughtful questions fellow plant enthusiasts have out there and I was thrilled to have an opportunity to respond to them. One of the questions that stuck with me in particular was a question about the new/special flowers that are being added to the flower farm this year. I told you that I ‘geek out’ and get excited about flowers, so I wanted to take an opportunity to address this in more detail and share some of the new things we’re trying this year.

Lavender

I’m not sure I need to write anything more about this flower. It’s just one of the loveliest, most fragrant flowers ever! The smell of these lovely plants is enough for me, but the added bonus of their gorgeous blooms just sends me over the edge. Can you imagine what a mass-planting of thousands of lavender plants is going to look like at maturity?

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Pansies

These are not your momma’s pansies! We’re growing a variety specifically for cut flower cultivation, so the stems are long enough to go into a bouquet. These adorable blooms are going to grace early spring bouquets we will be selling on the farm and at farmer’s market. If all goes well, we’ll add them to the line-up and will continue to provide them in spring bouquets. Why spring only? Pansies are a cool weather loving flower, so as soon as the heat sets in, they fizzle out a bit.

Smilax

Such a crazy name for a pretty simple vine. This is one of the vines that florists use for weddings. It hold up pretty well out of water and looks absolutely gorgeous. I’ll admit, I’m a little intimidated by this one (starting from seed), because many other flower farmers told me the seedlings are pretty moody. Say a little prayer for me, that I can keep them alive. I’d love to have this available to share locally with other event florists and designers.

Bush Clematis

Where do I start with clematis? Oh.my.gosh. It’s so delicate and beautiful and floral design work. There are little things that differentiate a design and this is one of them. I sourced plugs in on this one instead of starting from seed, because they take a lot of time to grow. I’ll be trellising them, allowing them some support for their 5’ max height. They grow as a bush, so the plant will also have itself for a bit of support as it grows. Be on the lookout for pictures of this one, because I’m pretty sure it’ll be one of the first things I cut!

Pimpinella

Okay, so maybe not the best name ever, but trust me, GOOGLE it! Admittedly, I just had to go grab the seed packet, because I couldn’t remember its other name. It’s also know as: Greater Burnet Saxifrage. This looks like it’s related to one of my favorite filler flowers, Ammi. I’m growing ‘Rosea’, which I soured from Select Seeds and I can’t wait to use them to add a little airiness to my bouquets. It’s going to add that perfect touch of that wildflower look everyone is craving.

Every year we add a few things that are different and interesting. It’s fun to experiment to see what does well, or what doesn’t. We always grow more of the things that thrive and are easy to grow on our flower farm. For those things that don’t, we don’t ever keep them in the line up for the following year. As they say, variety is the spice of life, right?!

What are you growing this year that you’re excited about? Anything different and exciting, or maybe just something new to you that you haven’t grown before? Leave your comments below. We love flowers and can’t wait to hear from you!

-Jenn

Flower Farmer Winter Activities

People have been asking us, what does a flower farmer do during the winter on the farm? Most think we’re just relaxing, resting and preparing for the coming year, which does have a little truth to it. It’s been a little nice to get some extra sleep and not have to bust our tails from early morning to late at night. It’s certainly a welcome reprieve from the craziness of the typical growing season in all its bountiful glory.

Seed and Dahlia Ordering

It’s so invigorating and magical to sit down and look through seed catalogs and dream about the amazing flowers your’re going to grow the following growing season. I compare it to reading a great book, which I may also be doing a bit of at the moment. It takes me away from reality and let’s me have a little slice of the dream. This is a little part of my bliss during the winter, sitting back and picking out the most interesting, beautiful flowers that I want to grow. There are so many different ones to choose from and they’re all so wonderful in their own way. Many times I have to have Adam come in behind me and take some out, because admittedly, I get a little out of control. I want them all!

I look at ordering flower seeds and dahlias a differently than most (I think, anyway). I tend to look at the type of flower seeds would add a little sparkle or something unique to a bridal bouquet or in massive floral installation. Typically, I know the event work that I already have planned for 2019, so I start growing special little floral details that will enhance what I have planned to put together.

Who do we order seeds from? Retail seeds places I order from include: Renee’s Garden, Swallow Tail Gardens, Botanical Interests, Select Seeds (love their heirloom varieties), Johnny’s Select Seeds, Seed Saver’s Exchange and Baker Creek.

Who do I order dahlias from? Well, we have our own stock and sell tubers online, but for new ones I look to add, I generally to to: K Connell’s, Kelly Flower Farm, Little Farm House Flowers, Summer Dreams Farm, Swan Island Dahlias, SkyFall Flowers, Hidden Hive Flowers, and so many more. Someone needs to stop me! If Adam only knew how much money I’ve dropped on adding new, beautiful varieties to our farm…

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Dahlia, Chrysanthemum, and Scented Geranium Cuttings

I have a little secret. Is it okay that I tell you this? I couldn’t completely let go and relax too much over the winter. I had to have some green plant goodness in my life to get through the winter. It just gets too brown and gray here and I need something to keep myself occupied and also something to keep my spirits uplifted. It works!

Every year we dig up our dahlias and I always keep a few back to put up and keep inside under grow lights. Same thing holds true with our heirloom chrysanthemums (mums), and scented geranium. I just dig them up, stick them in pots and put them under grow lights. They keep growing their little hearts out, while I trim them back and take a little cuttings off, sticking them in soil and keeping the soil moist. I have hundreds of little babies growing and it just makes me so darn happy!

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Planning and Setting Goals for the Growing Season

This is the time we take to re-align and re-set ourselves on what priorities will be for the next year and how we want to grow our business and focus our time for 2019. Unfortunately, this is tied heavily to the business side of the farm, including the dreaded taxes. One of my least favorite, but necessary tasks.

The garden bed mapping and seed schedule is setup and planned out during this time. This helps keep us on task with the plants that need to be started and when. Harder than you would think during the height of our growing season, especially as we get into the June seed sowing.

We also use this time to meet with other creatives to stir up new ideas and work on possible collaborations, set our class schedule for the year, speak with a lot of prospective brides and hold several consultations, and participate in speaking engagements at area garden clubs. These activities are some of my favorite, because I love classes and I love speaking with others about things I’m passionate about.

Floral Design and Photography

Winter time is when I really have some great opportunity to play with flowers. Even though I’m not growing them at this time, I indulge myself by buying them from our local florist and put together beautiful designs, bouquets, flay lays, etc. This gives me a great opportunity to be creative and to also play with my camera as I’m taking photos of the things I make.

I use this time to brush up on my photography skills, playing with my ‘good’ camera. Adam and I shoot with a Cannon Digital Rebel. We love it, but we get a little rusty during the summer and often are busy, so we just use our iPhones for quick pics.

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Farm Clean-up and Organization

Occasionally we get a very warm day in the middle of winter. It’s always a fluke and we never know when it’s going to happen, but it always does. A few weeks ago, over holiday break, we had a warm, 50 degree day. We used it as an opportunity to clean-up our seed starting area, pick up tools that were left around the farm before the first snow hit, and also tidy up the event space. Not gonna lie, it was a mess, but from what I hear, we’re not alone.

It’s crazy how little things laying around in a disorganized manner can make you mentally feel untidy. Such a great feeling to get it all neatly arranged and little bits of things picked up. We also use this as a ‘family day’ and get the kids in on the action too. Not saying the kids like it, but lots of hands make the the work light and it actually turned out to be a great way to spend time together. Who knew!?

XX Jenn

Classes on the farm

One of the things that Jenn and I really enjoy on the farm is teaching classes and getting people out to the farm. When we started this journey, teaching wasn’t even in our realm of thought but when we saw the inspiration that homesteading and farming brought to people… well, it inspired US! I kind of feel like the farm runs on cyclical inspiration. People’s love of the farm is what inspires us to do what we do. And we want our passion to inspire you.

We’re excited about 2019’s class offerings. This year, we asked ourselves what we kind of experiences would we enjoy doing? And what would WE enjoy leading? This year’s classes reflect that. It’s going to be an amazing year!

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