Carly Jenkins is a self-proclaimed “child of the forest” and life-long forager from the Montana woods, constantly scavenging in search of wild flowers, berries, and greenery to use in floral designs and to sell through her wholesale hub, Westside Flower Market, near Missoula.
“Growing up in rural Montana, our entertainment was in the forest,” Carly says. “I feel lucky that this was a normal lifestyle for me. It isn’t even a conscious desire, it’s just part of my existence.”
Carly pays for a $20 annual permit to forage in her local forests and bring the natural product to Westside Flower Market. She practices transparency when discussing where her product comes from and why it is helpful and environmentally conscious to forage responsibly. Five years ago, Carly and her husband Jamie also started growing and foraging from their own 14-acre property, harvesting microgreens, vegetables, and flowers. Ideally, Carly says that they wanted to get to a point where they could run and manage their own floral wholesaler, and in the meantime, they decided to make a living in floral design.
Using foraged and home-grown products, they sold their seasonal designs to event planners and brides through Killing Frost Farm. Her aesthetic is straight from the forest, using mosses, pinecones, and more to create whimsical and naturalistic products such as her “Game of Thrones Holiday Wreath” featured in the Slow Flowers Journal.
Carly is also the creator of the gorgeous woodland-themed American Flowers Week gown, featured in the 2018 campaign. She designed a botanical garment using 100 percent foraged-from-the-forest moss, lichen and cones.
A year ago, Carly was able to downsize her design work and focus her efforts on Westside Flower Market in Montana’s Potomac Valley. Now, the market is on its fourth season and comprises the cut flowers and foraged material of three local farms. Carly says that thanks to guests featured on the Slow Flowers Podcast, she was able to model her wholesaler after larger ones such as the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market and Twin Cities Flower Exchange. At this year’s Slow Flowers Summit, Carly will share her experiences in the wholesale world, educating attendees about ethical and responsible foraging as a way for floral designers and wholesalers to resourcefully and creatively expand their market.
Here's an excerpt of my recent conversation with Carly Jenkins of Killing Frost Farm, as we discuss her experience and what Summit attendees can expect from The Art & Ethics of Foraging, copresented with Louesa Roebuck.
Q. How has the Slow Flowers message impacted you personally?
A. At first I was very alone in my endeavors [starting the wholesaler], and finding the Slow Flowers podcast was a huge source of encouragement; it's one of the biggest things the Slow Flowers community has done for me. The podcast introduced me to a community that I didn’t know existed. The Seattle Wholesale Growers Market inspired me to have one in my own community. The podcast has been huge for me personally and for the farms that I work with.
Q. What will be your role at the 2019 Slow Flowers Summit?
A. Louesa Roebuck and I are putting together some tangible resources comparing foraging ethics in various states such as Washington and Oregon, talking about what is available for commercial use versus local use, etc. In terms of the wholesale world, I want to talk about what we have to offer and how foraging is incorporated as part of our business. I want to talk about how to help midscale farms provide for wholesalers and how to help them break into the next phase of the market.
Q. What have you learned about foraging over time and why is it important?
A. Foraging has a place in the wholesale market. Here in Montana, until we started Westside Flower Market we didn’t have a wholesale market where customers could find larger scale material. Customers are looking for branches, boughs and moss-covered logs, but products are difficult and expensive to ship. Local foraging makes sense in terms of farms providing another level of service at a cost that makes sense. The more people that know about it, the better. I want more transparency and conversation about it, I want people to use it responsibly.
Q. What advice would you give to those interested in developing their careers in farming, arranging, foraging and horticulture in general?
A. I would say that a wholesale hub doesn’t have to be huge or fancy to be effective. Westside Flower Market is tiny -- just three farms. We are open just one morning a week, but it is organized well and modeled after bigger wholesalers. So, don’t be intimidated to start small.