Local Flavor: Wild Hollow Farm
Wild Hollow Farm: Business is Blooming
By Meagan Van Beest
With the Penokee Hills on the horizon to the south and otherwise edged by farmland, the views at Wild Hollow Farm command attention. They are the perfect frame to the true work of art, a diversified family farm owned and operated by Melissa and Jason Fischbach. In every direction, there’s something growing, including four kids who help with everything from harvesting to delivery.
Melissa and Jason spent time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota before and after college. “We worked as wilderness rangers,” Melissa says. “We were digging latrines, building water bars, repairing trails, and basically spending lots of time in this amazing wilderness.”
When it was time for a change, the couple went big. They said goodbye to the North Shore of Minnesota and spent a year working and living on a large organic vegetable and sheep farm…in Sweden. When they returned, they were inspired to get master’s degrees in agriculture. With grad school behind them, Melissa and Jason moved to Ashland in 2004 with the vision of building a farm business with the hopes that one day it would eventually employ at least one of them full-time.
“Not knowing exactly what we wanted that business to look like,” Melissa says, “we tried growing and raising many things over the years to find what best fit our interests, abilities, markets, and lifestyle.” Wild Hollow Farm grew slowly and steadily, as the couple balanced their growing family alongside their business.
While the farm offers vegetables such as garlic, basil, and greens that end up in the coolers at Chequamegon Food Co-op and a handful of other local stores, the main focus at Wild Hollow Farm is now on flowers. Melissa offers seasonal mixed bouquets, starting with tulips in April. They also create arrangements for special events and weddings, sell bulk flowers to people who want to DIY their own designs, and offer on-farm workshops focusing on basic floral design skills.
As a cut flower grower, it is important to have a continuous supply and variety of flowers and foliage all season long, which for Wild Hollow Farm is from May to October. In order to do this, there is a lot of research and planning that goes on in the winter months to make sure this happens. “I start 90% of the flowers I grow from seed,” says Melissa. “Depending on the variety, I typically seed any one variety between 2-9 times during the season.”
It takes an incredible amount of logistical orchestration to create a seeding plan that ensures the proper balance of colors, textures, and foliage throughout the entire season. When seeding and transplanting time rolls around, Melissa follows this plan faithfully, adjusts it when necessary, trusting that the work and research that went into it will guide her through a successful season. “You really have to be organized to keep everything straight, stay on top of the ordering, and learn to love those long hours spent staring at spreadsheets over the winter,” Melissa says with a grin.
Flower seeds can be incredibly small and are often sown on the soil surface – direct seeding is not something that is possible in our climate and soils. The couple starts all of their seeds indoors in plug trays and transplants them out when they are big enough to withstand the weather. The flowers grow in both fields and undercover in three high tunnels. Landscape fabric basically eliminates weeds in the field-grown crops. Some flowers, like lisianthus and dahlias, are grown in the high tunnel because they garner a higher market price. They grow incredibly well in there, protected from the wind and rain.
Wild Hollow Farm uses sustainable growing practices for all their crops. They try to focus on promoting and maintaining optimal plant health so they can avoid chemical input at all costs. “With four young children running around, and a deep respect for the natural world, we aim to grow and produce our products in a clean, safe, and sustainable manner,” Melissa says.
After all the hard work of growing and caring for the plants, the reward of harvesting begins. Before Melissa can cut a single stem, she walks through the fields and notes which flowers are ready to be picked and how different flowers will come together for a particular order. Flowers are harvested in the cooler parts of the day, either in the morning or late evening. The cut flowers are put into plain water, allowing them to condition (hydrate) for at least a few hours or overnight in the cooler. After they have rested, Melissa starts assembling bouquets in the workshop.
Inspiration for arrangements comes from many places, including a particular local flower or the color combinations in one specific bloom. “I think my favorite part about my job is the balance between art and science that flower farming requires,” Melissa says.