Story and photo by Toni W. Riley
On any Friday night from mid-April to frost, the kitchen of Martin Farm is filled with buckets of cut flowers from gardens just across the Trigg County line. The owners, David Martin and his wife Martha White, will gradually empty the buckets and use their flowers to create unique bouquets to sell at the Downtown Hopkinsville Farmers Market.
The story of how the couple developed Martin Farm and moved into flower farming is one where timing was everything. How two people with vastly different careers and personalities came together to develop a partnership in life, as well as business, could be described as serendipitous.
David is quiet and reserved, has a degree in horticulture from Oregon State University and has a master’s in genetics and molecular biology from Purdue University. Martha is outgoing and talkative, and has a degree in library science from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
In 2000, David purchased the property in Trigg County that would soon blossom into Martin Farm. He loved plant breeding and wanted to develop varieties of grapes and gooseberries that would be sustainable in the South.
In 2007, he took a position as a research lab manager at the University of Kentucky with the intent of going home on weekends to work on the plant development.
Martha, whose husband died in 2005, lived in Columbus, Ohio, but took a position as a librarian at the Lexington Public Library in 2007. She and David met when they were teenagers visiting family in tiny Rugby, Tennessee, but lost touch through the years.
When she moved to Lexington, Martha wrote David at his grandfather’s address in Rugby to tell him she hoped to reconnect. The letter made its way to Gallatin, Tennessee, where David’s father lived, and eventually into David’s hands.
The childhood friends reconnected and were married at Martin Farm on “10-11-12.” Martha chose the date so David wouldn’t forget their anniversary, but she was the one who forgot.
As the pair settled into married life, David finished their home and continued hybridizing his grapes and gooseberries. Martha took a year off work and they began developing a business based on selling perennial plants. But once again, fate stepped in.
Martha was visiting her sister in Knoxville and saw a small bouquet of sunflowers and other local blossoms on her sister’s table. When she returned home, she told David, “We can do this.” She wanted to start a fresh-cut flower farm.
“I thought, ‘No one would buy those,’” David said. But he was willing to try.
They planted some zinnias, sunflowers and a few other cutting flowers and made a few bouquets.
“When we put the bouquets out at the market and I told a customer they were $3, she looked at me as though I was crazy for selling them so cheap,” he laughed.
David and Martha now grow more than 100 different varieties of cutting flowers, which bloom at different times from mid-April until frost, in order to ensure a reliable supply of blooms all season. Currently, the cut flowers are outselling the perennial plants.
A detailed bloom chart shows when each flower will be available. A vertical row of numbers shows the month when the flower is in season, and a horizontal column shows what week that flower is expected to bloom. For example, if a flower is 54, it will bloom in May during the fourth week, or a flower with the number 73 will bloom in July and be available the third week.
The couple laughed at how their personalities reflect on their business. They each know what they do best. David waits for the customers to make selections and doesn’t “encourage” them, Martha said, while she will spot a customer looking at their jams and say, “Would you like a taste?”
The pride and pleasure they take in their flowers and exquisite arrangements is evident, even though it is a tremendous amount of work. When they aren’t cutting flowers or digging perennials, they make jam and jelly from the gooseberries, grapes and elderberries.
As their business grows, their partnership again resonates. David researches flowers that grow best in this area before narrowing down several choices to give to Martha. She then makes the final decision based on color and texture and how the flower will contribute to the arrangement.
While their Downtown Market business is good, Martha would like to be able to provide flowers to florists and weddings. Martin Farm currently provides flowers for a florist in Owensboro, who buys them by the stem rather than in arrangements.
Martha has done some weddings and enjoys working with brides, but she said brides have to be mindful of what “local and seasonal” mean, noting that some florists get their flowers from South America.
As David and Martha continue to make Martin Farm a successful business, it’s obvious their partnership as husband and wife will be an integral part of that success. Their distinct personalities are intertwined in the business just as their choice of flowers is intertwined into their one-of-a-kind arrangements.
Story and photo by Toni W. Riley