Friday, April 29, 2016

WEDDINGS PART III: the evolution of the saipua wedding

The best thing we do at Saipua is make gorgeous flowers. We do other things -- my mom makes really good soap and we are pretty good at designing events. Some of our team is great at building large installations; hanging heavy things from the ceiling of large spaces with airplane cables, and sometimes setting those things on fire. Strategically. On purpose. We are slowly getting better at farming. And for the record we are decent cooks, all of us. 

But at the core of all of our efforts seems to be the ability to put together beautiful things; and to share those things. We do this with flowers, obviously most of all. And specifically in the last 10 years, have built quite a business by doing this for weddings.

The first wedding we ever did was at Ici restaurant in Brooklyn. It was maybe 80 people. The couple came to us through Renato who owns Baked a coffee/bake shop across the street from our first little studio. He was making their cake and they needed a florist. She wanted purple flowers.

The total budget was $700. I probably spent $800 on the flowers; so it goes in the beginning. You just want it to be SO GOOD. And you do whatever it takes. For us (and for most starting florists) I think that means subsidizing a lot of weddings as you get your bearings. 

From there it was a lot more small weddings in Brooklyn. It was a lot of antique ball jars. I found a 'supplier' of old mason jars and bought hundreds every season. I was learning constantly how to get better flowers, make better flowers. 10 years later we had scaled up to working with budgets of $25,000 to $150,000. My parents still get a kick out of the fact that people spend that kind of money on weddings. But I love it because it makes beautiful things happen. Great art happens this way, and a lot of people are supported in that process -- from our growers, our farm, our employees, our freelancers, etc. 

But I miss the ball jars in the back of my pickup truck days...

When you expand a business it can feel like a supernova sometimes. Layers rapidly expanding out around you at the speed of light; ephemerally linked to what was once a neatly organized core which went about it's business converting hydrogen into helium at easily measurable rates with predictable outcomes. There are a lot of stars out there, doing this. As I write this -- a post that is supposed to be about weddings -- the core of our business -- I realize that drawing a metaphor between Saipua and a dying star is not a brilliant sales tactic but fuck if we've ever been slick with marketing.
(And if you like outer space metaphors, I have an arsenal of them...)

All is to say that I've been reeling a little this year as Saipua grows up and also as I reach my limit as to how much wedding industry stuff I can/want to handle. You got a taste of that in my last post about weddings. I just want to make flowers. A lot of them. And make people happy with those flowers. And connect with people who have the same sort of values that we have here. 

So we're changing our rules about what we can offer brides and grooms...

We'll continue to design and realize the grand weddings and events that allows us to really flex all the muscles we've refined in this industry for the last 10 years. The soup to nuts of weddings; offering clients access to our vault of wisdom on everything needed to throw the most memorable feast for the senses. These events are our crown jewels; and for these we can provide everything from paper suites to furniture rentals and customized animal masks. And for these we plan and create insane flowers and invite our clients deep into the saipua world. 

And then we're going back to the other side of the coin -- our beloved Frankies backyard mason jar weddings. (Do they even host weddings anymore, I hope so.)

Making flowers you need for a simple brooklyn backyard wedding or a quick trip to city hall. One where a couple might only need the bouquet, a boutonniere and perhaps a dozen small arrangements. The sort of flowers that my parents would have had at their wedding. Which I'd never see anyway, because there are no photos. 

These weddings are really a treat for me as they are flowers that I can do by myself. Alone in the studio really early in the morning or really late. Listening to Kate Bush on the loudest setting. Knitting myself back into the core of our business. The most thoughtfully sourced and arranged seasonally oriented flowers. On a small scale.

Our hydrogen to helium. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

perpetual winter

It's been unseasonably cold. We're in the middle of lambing at Worlds End. Coming up to my office to write this, I check the calendar because I have no idea what day it is. April 10.
The stream is frozen slightly, a crust breaks on the stones when I cross it to check lambs at 3:30 and 6:30am. The dogs don't come with me because they are lazy; one eye on me as I prep in the dark; a memo received: not in my job description.

At dinner last night we all discussed naming genres for this year's lambs; suggestions welcome. One of my sheep mentors named all of her lambs after Russian authors one season which I thought was so smart. I like the idea of Russian literature because it seems so serious, laced with pain and vodka.

I'm reading about the big bang again. And the idea of the Ekpyrotic Universe.
Which I like because it rhymes with 'erotic.'  Minus a syllable.
In the Ekpyrotic model you might imagine the universe as a rubber mat with lots of people sitting on it, stretching out infinitely - everyone becomes the center of their own universe on this rubber matt; there is no middle. When you reverse it, you are traveling in time back to the singularity, everyone gets closer together. It gets hotter. Then everyone is right up against each other. Then everyone's atoms are inside everyone else's atoms. At that moment the universe has nearly infinite density and temperature. I read this line and it makes me feel a rush; my chest feels physically full for a minute. I realize I am very exhausted and feeling all the things more than usual.

Next day.

3:30 I find a baby white ram lamb standing next to Dotty in the light of my headlamp. After a lot of commotion I've got them inside the barn in a lambing jug, Eric is on the way up and a second lamb is presenting really perfectly thank god; last year Dotty had a lamb stuck in her and both of us were elbow deep inside this ewe before we could get it out.

The second is born, black with white spots.
Dotty cleans her second baby off and then oddly rejects it - headbutting it around the stall like a football. Watching this is horrific. All this cold, confused newborn lamb wants is to be next to its mother. In her inexplicable hormonally charged rage against her second lamb, Dotty pinns my wrist at one point between her horns and the sidewall. Eric asks me if it's broken because I'm crying and being dramatic. Part of why I'm crying is because I'm tired and feeling sorry for myself and wanting to be tougher but just not being very tough right now.

When you are in the middle of learning a lesson, you don't realize it until after it's over...

During the daytime, I take walks in the woods in between lamb pen checks.
I'm reading about the ancient greeks and stoicism.

Stoicism: nature as divine consciousness. The order (and 'disorder') of the universe is behind the mystery of fate. Stoics taught that people could be free of suffering and achieve peace of mind through true objectivism. By bearing witness to nature we can see the equanimity in it's highs and lows.
That in passion lies the root of suffering.

I am reading this stuff and I'm not sure I like it.

Spring will be here soon enough. All lambs will be born and either live or die, everywhere. Mud and snow will dissipate; perennial weeds appearing first, almost impossibly through water logged beds where nothing should be able to grow. City girls will toss their tights and start ordering rose wine in restaurants with greater frequency. Ramps and rhubarb clouding every epicures brain. People will think to start biking again. Dopamine and melatonin levels rise and statistically more people will be falling in love.

I find some semblance of rest in the cycle of it all. Or in my ability to calm down, watch this baby lamb, help it the best I can and then walk away without the emotional anthropomorphized baggage of the story of what's happening to it.

Zooming out slightly, to see the whole scene. Springtime. All the millions of times it's happened here.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Ceramics Part II; launching the new SAIPUA DELIVERY PROGRAM

People call our studio all the time to have flowers delivered. As if we were a normal flower shop with normal people, normal hours and predictable rhythms. On some days we may look like a flower palace; other days it feels like a scene from Little Shop of Horrors. The last few weeks have looked like a dust covered bombed-out set from an episode of Homeland, as we prepare to open our ceramics studio  and storefront officially May 7th (hail mary, full of grace).

So when people call we send them elsewhere... To Emily Thompson, to Brrch, Fox Fodder Farm, or Putnam & Putnam. But suddenly with more space, more staff, more ceramics and more farm flowers we saw an opportunity to reinvent the delivery program … and fund the new educational initiative which aims to bring people to the farm to learn about nature and work creatively in it. A big piece of this is another giant barn renovation to create places for people to stay and make art and make sheep's milk cheese... 

I feel the most important thing we can do at Saipua is to inspire and promote a creative relationship to nature through really beautiful things.  I like that someone can have a beautiful piece of what we do even if they are not planning a wedding or throwing a big party. I like that we can share our flowers from the farm with people all over New York City - and I like that we might, for the first time, be able to figure out how to run a delivery program efficiently and profitably…

The first challenge to deliveries is finding an inspiring and suitable vase. For us it was so important to avoid another throw-away import. We wanted a beautiful object that could become just as important as the flowers. The ceramic studio and partnership with Object and Totem solves this challenge; and opens up a new world of potential collaborations with ceramic artists. The vases will change seasonally with the flowers; encouraging a collect-all-four mindset. I love collections.

The second challenge was to design and actualize packaging that serves to both protect the vessel and flowers in transit and also be exquisitely beautiful (and reusable!). For months we've been designing and figuring out the fabrication of a perfect box. I love it and I love that it's beautiful enough to use on your desk or in your closet after you take the flowers out of it.

I also wanted a card that felt and acted like a small piece of art; something you may want to keep on your bulletin board above your desk for a while. Something with a SNAKE ON IT.

The third, arguably most important challenge was to restrict ourselves to flowers durable enough to withstand the conditions of delivery -- imagine the jostling on the delivery truck, the doormen with little regard for your fragile masterpiece, the hot air blown directly onto a precious sweet pea-laden masterpiece while it sits in a large apartment building vestibule waiting for someone to come home in the evening to receive it. Avoiding certain flowers, knowing the behavior of others -- our 10 years of experience gives us thorough knowledge of this. We know not to use hellebores (unless I cut them myself from the farm in late April once they've hardened off) we know not to use sweet peas - just too sensitive to heat in clients homesunless we invest in the Japanese grown ones, which are bred to have a 14 day vase life. But without the sweet fragrance of the locally grown varieties or the Italian ones. There's a whole other post in that sentence right there...

I know better to use flowers that show themselves off over time and continue change and delight people in the vase over the course of a week -- tulips for example. But regular tulips don't provide much thrill which is why we've got 1500 La Belle Epochs just poking up in the field here at the farm

All the work and effort that goes into launching something like this is extraordinary. Jennell, Eric and I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon covering up all our bulb crops here at the farm in preparation for some highly unusual low temperatures predicted for the next few nights. The synergy of what is happening between the farm and the city can be evidenced in all these new programs we're starting -- deliveries, ceramics, educational programs…I'm laughing as I write this because I try to make everything look easy (Leo) but it has been SO MUCH WORK. But it's also so incredibly rewarding. And I'm taking my first few buckets of daffodils down to the city today, which will tuck into our new beautiful vases tomorrow morning along with a smattering of other spring blooms and could find their way to you Tuesday morning.