It all started with a thicket of gorgeous magenta peonies that didn’t belong to me. They didn’t belong to anyone. Before the house next door was demolished, I rescued these peonies and transplanted them in our front yard. I didn’t know what I was doing and hardly knew how to use a shovel. But nature is generous and forgiving. That one peony clump divided into six baby plants. Little did I know that five years later, these six young peonies would become the inspiration for and backbone to our family flower farm.
The year is 1927. The new General Motors automobile factory begins construction on a neighborhood for some* employees; modern craftsman style bungalows and cottages with views of the Flint River. The Great Depression hits and many of these homes are boarded up and abandoned. But not for long. Young families move in. Maple saplings are planted, lining the streets. Soon it’s one of the most sought-after places to live in the booming city.
Fast forward ninety years. General Motors has relocated its factories out of the country, taking thousands upon thousands of jobs away from Flint residents. Workers from overseas have arrived at the empty factories and literally disassembled the buildings and machinery piece by piece to rebuild in their home countries. With depressing economies come depressing realities: 41.9% of Flint residents live below the poverty line. The violent crime rate is 310% higher than the national average. The local economy has crashed, the city a hollow shell of what it once was, a ghost town to its comparatively few remaining inhabitants.
This is when my husband and I decide to move back home! I was born in Flint, raised in the township and graduated high school in a suburb nearby. I went to college out of state and, along with my college-sweetheart-turned-husband, moved to warmer, more vibrant places. But after our first child was born, I knew it was time to come home. We didn’t have some grand mission in moving to Flint. We weren’t planting a church or starting an NGO. We just wanted to put down deep roots in a familiar place and be good neighbors, committed for the long term.
When we moved into our little 1928 cottage-style dream home back in 2011, it was surrounded by five empty and abandoned houses. Slowly, over time, each one was purchased and renovated; friends from church moved in next door. But that yellow house, the one just to the east of us, it was beyond hope. Beyond repair. It had a blue tarp for a roof and was home to wild animals. In 2015 the Genesee County Land Bank came and took the yellow house down (but not before I relocated its peonies!). Finally, I could watch the sun rise from our living room windows, light flickering through the giant maple trees lining the street.
My husband Ryan and I adopted the property through our city’s Adopt-a-Lot program. Immediately he put up a pallet fence and tilled a big portion of the lot. He had good, rich compost delivered to amend the soil. Ryan had dreams of an enormous and prolific vegetable garden. My dreams for the space were a little different, however. Once we finally purchased the lot, we’d mostly peaceably reached an agreement: I’d grow perennials, some annuals, and however many edible herbs and plants I could possibly squeeze in. He’d manage the garlic and other small crops. Needless to say (to my delight and his chagrin), the flowers conquer a bigger and bigger portion of the garden each growing season.
In 2018, Twig End Farm officially launched. Bringing the beauty and magic of thoughtfully-grown seasonal flowers to my hometown is now my mission and passion. It is a natural outpouring of my soul and of our soil. My beloved hobby has become a small cut-flower business that not only allows me to stay home with my three young kids and work under the wide-open Michigan sky, but also brings beauty to our historic neighborhood. I’ve found my heart’s calling and my dream job. With every seed I sow and every plant I divide, my roots in this city grow deeper.
*Sadly, like many cities in the north, Flint’s foundations were built on systematic racism. Housing loans were denied to people of color and redlining was common.
Hello! My name is Janie. I’m a Flint native and a homeschooling mother of three. When I’m not in the garden, I’m deep in a book or knitting something almost too difficult. Some say I’m old-fashioned and I might agree, depending on what they mean by old-fashioned. I cook on a 1953 General Electric stove and sew on a 1963 Singer machine. I feel closest to the Creator when I’m gardening; my heart absolutely sings. I’ve always been partial to peonies but my current favorite flower is the Senora zinnia; a bright coral Raggedy-Ann bloom.
Meet Ryan. He’s the heavy gardener here at Twig End Farm in charge of construction, composting, and our vermiculture and aquaponic systems. He grows the vegetables, manages the fruit trees and cultivates our garlic. Most days, however, you can find him downtown, helping to run the Flint Crepe Company. He’s also Program Director for Bethel UMC’s Children’s Defense Fund Summer Freedom School. When asked his favorite flower, he’ll grin and say, “a dandelion.”