1818 Farms Spreads Cheer with Flowers
Words by Jennifer Stewart Kornegay
“Flowers make people happy, and I want to help make people happy.” Squinting against the bright mid-morning light, Natasha McCrary explains what she hopes her work at 1818 Farms is yielding. The small patch of land behind her is a living rainbow quilt, teeming with the diverse colors and textures of thousands of late-summer flowers: showy zinnias in vibrant orange and Pepto pink; fuzzy, fuchsia, and intensely violet Gomphrena; smiley and sunny yellow sunflowers; and Natasha’s favorite—delicate lisianthus in pale shades of lavender, apricot, and snow-white. “People really resonate with flowers,” she continues. “They are a material thing, but when given, they become more; they’re then an act of kindness and thoughtfulness, even if you’re giving them to yourself.”
But Gamble didn’t just want pets; the budding entrepreneur had big plans: sell the wool, invite others to visit his sheep, and charge them to have their photo taken with the animals. Natasha’s vision grew alongside her son’s, and the McCrarys turned the venture into a family project. The goal was to build a profitable farm that would teach their three kids about sustainability as well as the ins and outs of business.
They erected a barn and fences and got Gamble’s sheep. (The first one, named Static, is still on the farm and wags his little nub tail wildly in response to head scratches.) Then came laying chickens, and next a produce plot, and then a small flower garden. “We sold the eggs and our veggies at farmers markets, and our business was growing quickly,” Natasha says, “but doing the business that way was really tough.” The farm was offering flowers at its market booths back then, and Natasha noticed how much people liked them. In 2017, they began to shift their emphasis, and by 2018, the farm had completely transitioned from selling produce to peddling petals.
The farm’s menagerie has now expanded to include 17 rare babydoll sheep, chickens, two mini pigs, one goat, a few cats, and Justice the guard dog. The animals are mainly pets and cute attractions for farm visitors, but the McCrarys do pull wool from the sheep to use in ornaments and a few other items and are also actively preserving the sheep’s genetic line, becoming certified breeders. They make and sell a line of handmade bath and beauty products too, inspired by Natasha’s own needs, such as rich cuticle cream for her cracked hands and soothing goat’s milk bath tea for her sore back muscles.
But flowers remain the core of the business. They’re sold to individuals across a good part of north central Alabama who order and get home delivery of bouquets arranged with Natasha’s artful eye; some folks even choose a flower subscription and get a delivery once a month from May through October. The farm sells flowers by the bucket for those who want to create their own arrangements. Before the pandemic (and again after), the farm sold a lot of its flowers wholesale, and they were then used to embellish all kinds of events. A sky blue vintage Ford pickup serves as 1818 Farms’ flower truck that travels weekly to nearby Huntsville, Athens, Madison, and Decatur to sell blossoms from its bed. Achieving zero waste has always been a goal at 1818 Farms, so dried flowers are also on offer.
Despite the short downturn at the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, 1818 Farms’ business has held steady. “Flowers are a luxury item for sure, but even during the pandemic, we did well,” Natasha says. “I think a lot of people were sending flowers to loved ones they couldn't visit and just as a comfort during such uncertain times.” Sales have stayed robust, and the farm itself is flourishing, thanks in part to its location. Mooresville enjoys almost year-round growing conditions, and that leads to more than 70 varieties planted and harvested across the seasons, with approximately 11,000 flower plants in the ground at any given time.
That’s a bunch of blossoms, yet every flower that pops up at 1818 Farms eventually passes. Preserving the seeds, particularly of hardy heirloom varieties, to ensure they carry on, has become a passion for Natasha and led to the farm’s “seed to vase” initiative, which she shares with others through workshops, classes, and the farm’s Bloom Stroll events. “We take small groups around the farm and teach them the value of seed saving, how to grow their own flowers, the basics of arranging, and how to dry them,” she says. The events provide plenty of practical education but serve a broader purpose too. “I really want people to understand the importance of connecting with the land and respecting it,” she says.
While 1818 Farms is cultivating cheer, Natasha freely admits she’s received gifts from her work too. “It’s rewarding and provides me a sense of accomplishment,” she says. “It proves the point my husband and I wanted to impress on our kids when we first started all this, that dreams do come true, but not by chance. It requires a plan and hard work.”
Natasha has help with the work. Her husband handles the financial side of the farm’s business, and she has a team of employees she praises as “incredible and loyal” to aid her with the day-to-day farming, but she’s still a part of every aspect, digging into the dirt, planting thousands of seeds (using a butter knife), hand-gathering, and arranging. She even handwrites a personal note to go out with every bouquet delivered.
It all takes an abundance of time and energy, but Natasha has no regrets about planting both into the farm. “You have to love it, this kind of work, or you wouldn’t do it, but I do love it,” she says. “We love it. And I like showing to others, especially our children, that you can succeed at something you love.”