Current Issue / DU Alumni

Flower power

Alumnus Marc Kessler grow flowers "the natural way." Photo courtesy of California Organic Flowers

For Marc Kessler (BA environmental science ’85), embracing his love of nature and the great outdoors meant always choosing a job that allowed him to be outside. Today, as owner of California Organic Flowers, he not only gets to spend every day under the sun, but he gets “to be part of the whole nature process” by cultivating his own beautiful floral ecosystem in Chico, Calif.

“Each day I can’t wait to get out there and see the ladybugs, nesting hummingbirds and other creatures working in harmony with the plants and watching the magic of the whole world that we’ve created through good stewardship,” says Kessler of his two-acre organic flower farm.

Fifteen years ago, while working as a naturalist for the Teton Science School in Wyoming, Kessler gathered unique wildflower seeds while leading natural history tours. His garden soon had a surplus of flowers, which he and his wife, Julia, took to farmers markets. The couple soon began growing organic produce as well.

But the desire for a longer growing season led the Kesslers to California five years ago, where they decided to specialize just in flowers — an “efficient” crop that doesn’t require much land.

Today, Kessler has six employees and sells his unique flower varieties at farmers markets. He also delivers floral arrangements locally, though most product orders come through his Web site,

Kessler manages his land in a way that builds and enriches soil and promotes water conservation. His operation also is free of dangerous chemicals and pesticides.

But, he says, “To us organic is more than just not using chemicals. It’s a way of looking at the planet and your farm as ecosystem and approaching things in a holistic way.”

Kessler says his customers buy organic to avoid allergic sensitivities that can come with non-organic flowers that usually are sprayed with chemicals and fungicides. Others, he says, just appreciate doing something good for the planet.

He also describes a third reason to buy organic: There’s a happy, healthy story behind a gift from his farm.

“If slave labor is used to harvest flowers and the workers are being doused with chemicals, that’s a sad story behind what should be a meaningful gift to your mother or friend,” Kessler explains. “We’re a family farm growing things the natural way.”

To avoid insects and diseases, Kessler raises strong plants by growing flowers only in the correct season.

“Commercial flowers are a lot like commercial tomatoes — they’re round but have no flavor. A flower grown out of season is the same,” he says, noting that when flowers are grown outdoors and in season, they are more vibrant, fresh and longer lasting.

“We would grow organic whether we had a label or not,” says Kessler. “This is where we work and live, and we want it to be a healthy place.”

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