In Charleston, the local food movement is well established in the restaurant scene, farmer’s markets and beyond.
“There are a lot of school gardens here, a lot of community gardens,” she said. “I think flowers are just trying to find their place in that. I feel like maybe we’re not quite there yet. But I’m hopeful. We just need to keep plugging along, the few of us that there are, to keep getting our message out there as best as we can.”
Trudell started her One Wild Acre flower farm in 2017 on the property surrounding the home she and her husband had just bought. The property and farm are something of an anomaly in the area. Such large parcels are unusual within the city limits and flower growers are few and far between in the Lowcountry region where Charleston is located.
Since then, the couple have worked “to untangle, nurture and enhance the soil and land, which is an ongoing process,” according to her website. Her husband, an architect, pitches in and “gardens hard” in the evenings and on weekends, she said.
They’ve cleared the property of overgrowth and invasive species, so much so that houses not previously visible have come into view. They’re replanting with a focus on native plants and increasing biodiversity of their property. And all of it chemical-free.
Trudell planted her first flowers in the fall of 2017 and began selling the following spring. She sells bouquets at a handful of local businesses that share her slower-approach-to-living ethos. She also offers DIY wedding flowers and does pop-up bouquet-making events for big holidays like Mother’s Day. She does some wholesale but that’s not her primary focus.
“I think about texture and shape a lot, but I definitely am not someone who’s growing a lot of blush,” she said. “I do have a lot of color variety, which is good for when I make a retail bouquet. I can make it bright and fun.”
Typically, her bouquets will include about a quarter native flowers. She prefers growing a variety of blooms for retail bouquets rather “than trying to grow 200 stems of one color” for the wholesale market, she said.
Trudell came to flower farming in an indirect way. She has a master’s degree in early childhood education and was a teacher for six years. After her maternity leave for her second child, she decided not to return to teaching.
That’s where her path to flower farming began. She recalls trying to buy a bouquet of local flowers for a friend and not being able to find any. Google searches in her quest for locally grown flowers led her to the slow-flower movement and its founder Debra Prinzing.
“It kind of snowballed from there with me researching and learning more,” she said.
What followed was a crash course in flower growing. She enrolled in a Growing New Farmers program put on by Lowcountry Local First, a nonprofit that promotes local independent businesses. During the six-month program, she was paired with a mentor and worked on a farm as well as spending time in the classroom. She earned a certificate in sustainable agriculture.
Around the same time, she also earned a certificate in floral design and spent time working in the back of a florist shop. It was there that she gauged interest from florists in buying from new local flower farms. Some were interested, some not so much.
“Some were very straightforward: ‘Why would I buy that when I can get anything I want anytime during the year.’ But it was good to get that feedback.”
It’s that reliance on big wholesalers that can deliver flowers grown all over the country and world that Trudell has found is a barrier to a broader embrace of local flowers. It’s one of the reasons she added the Certified American Grown label to her business. She wants people to know her flowers were grown locally in Charleston.
“I’m someone who supports transparency when it comes to the origin of things,” she said. “When you’re at the grocery store, you can see whether you’re buying strawberries that have been imported from Florida. That kind of knowledge is something I use all the time when I make decisions about buying food.”
Labeling such as “fresh-cut flowers” can be deceiving because the flowers can be from anywhere, she said. She sees some greenwashing going on, an effort to put on an environmentally friendly façade.
That’s something that can get her up on her soapbox.
“Having the certification and being able to tie that into my brand means I don’t have to get on a soapbox all the time,” she said. “Especially since moving forward, I really want to have a lot of grab-and-go bundles available in different places and I’m not there to personally say, ‘Yes, I live in the city of Charleston, I grew all of these and none of them are imported.’ Just having that sticker on the rack will provide that knowledge in the same way saying the strawberries are grown in Florida.”
To further that message, Trudell has trademarked a motto for her business: “Flower your life with local.” She also is a co-founder of the Lowcountry Flower Growers Association, a group of about 10 growers.
For the future, Trudell will continue to develop her One Wild Acre. She is working with a landscape architect and wants to create an inviting place where people can come to learn about flowers. She sees cut flowers as her bread and butter. But she will continue to pursue things like a floral oil she has made for a local perfume-maker and perhaps growing edible blooms for a local baker.
“I’d like to be the person who can grow those things, with a quality that is top notch, and provide them to other people in my community to create with them,” she said.