I first saw her when I happened across the book The 50 Mile Bouquet. It described her as a woman running a flower farm in her backyard in Los Angeles. My heart raced. I backed away slowly and put her out of my mind for six months. But when I was back in L.A., I looked up Silverlake Farms online, and there was a phone number to call, right there on the homepage. I hesitated. Should I tweet at them first? Should I try to sneak in as a WWOOF volunteer?
Forcing myself to dial, I mentally prepped my pitch to the intern I expected to reach. But Tara Kolla, flower farmer and entrepreneur, answered right away. Not only did she answer, when I told her I was a fan and wanted to see the farm, she said Sure, no problem, when’s good for you? When I hung up I did several victory wriggles of excitement.
The idea of selling local, cleanly grown flowers just hasn’t left me alone since last winter, when I found myself anxiously but helplessly buying bouquets (ranunculus from Norway, poppies from Japan, who-knows-where-from Trader Joe’s mixed bouquets) to break the gray monotony of, well, everything in the winter. I wanted to see if this was a realistic idea, and “backyard” sounded like the best place to start.
Tara is a calm, strength-radiating, funny, and generous wonderwoman. She showed me her backyard setup—just getting ready for the next planting—and over a good British cup of tea and a blood orange shared her experience with me, doling out tips and names of other people to know. I scribbled quickly and gratefully. Her experience, which has been that she needs to be working several small businesses at once, was no surprise. Diverse income streams are a smart move and an increasingly necessary one during these years of economic suckiness. It seems like the idea of running just one small business might be a dream, a thing of the past.
If you want to know more about her cut-flower business, her help-you-grow-your-backyard business, or the multi-farmer CSA she runs, you can read to your heart’s content on the Silverlake Farms site or any of the many articles written about her already. Did I mention she helped change the urban agriculture laws in Los Angeles? To say she’s got hustle would be a gross understatement.
At no point did Tara promise me that going into the urban farming business would be a rose garden. In fact, like any kind of farming, you probably have to be a little crazy to choose it in the first place. But if I ever do start up my own backyard enterprise, I’ll have her to thank. Here are my snapshots from the visit, which I have to say cannot do her genius any justice. After all, it’s January! You’ve gotta check out her site and her Instagram for a real treat.