Native Poppy is proud to partner with several flower growers in San Diego, including BeeWorthy Farms, an organic flower farm in Encinitas.
This woman-owned farm supplies us with pretty petals for our locally-grown flower arrangements and flower wraps. BeeWorthy Farms is passionate about growing organic, bee friendly flowers and herbs “for people and pollinators” on their acreage in North County. We connected with farmer Cathryn "Cat" Henning to learn more about BeeWorthy’s philosophy and what she and her team (including co-owners Onnalee Stewart and Diana Saucedo) are up to on their San Diego flower farm.
Q: Hi Cat! What’s your favorite flower variety to grow at BeeWorthy Farms?
Cat: My favorite flower changes with the season – it’s so hard to choose a favorite because they all steal my heart. Snapdragons are high up on the list, because bumble bees love them. They dive into the flower and their little fuzzy butts poke out! Snapdragons come in so many beautiful colors, and they’ve loved this cold weather snap we’ve been having in San Diego, so they have been growing beautifully lately.
Q: Do you track how many stems you've harvested and varieties grown? What's a typical harvest like each year?
Cat: We track everything – we harvest 76 different crops, with 292 plantings. There’s tons of variety of colors among the crops, and we do succession planting, so we’ll have multiple harvests over the course of several months. At BeeWorthy, we’re growing on one acre, so we have enough land to strive towards providing flowers year round. We’re working towards extending our growing seasons using hoop covers to protect our crops from extreme temperatures.
Q: What’s the hardest part about growing flowers?
Cat: Extending that growing season, and adapting to shifts in seasons and weather and dealing with the effects of climate change. For example, this Mother’s Day season, all the plants we’d hoped to harvest in early May this year just weren’t ready. The ground was colder and the plants hadn’t reached their peak by the time we needed to harvest for the holiday, which was disappointing.
We’ve been growing in this space since 2022, and we’ve been farming in this region and stewarding this land for years before that. It’s still a learning experience adapting to whatever the season sends our way.
Q: Tell us a bit about your growing methods! Does BeeWorthy practice organic farming?
Cat: We’re passionate about protecting pollinators – our commitment is right there in our name: BeeWorthy. We took that passion one step further and became certified organic, and we’re proud of our certification!
There’s a lot of conversation around the process of organic certification. It was born from a movement of people who care about the ecosystem and saw how industrialized agriculture was harming the environment. The original heart of organic is in alignment with many small growers like us. However, now the term organic has been regulated and companies that may not have the original intention in mind, are using the term to profit. And unfortunately, organic certification doesn’t automatically mean best practices are being used. In fact, there are some chemicals certified organic that are still harmful to insects and people.
Because the term has been hijacked and the certification process can be a lot for small farms to manage, many growers opt to not be certified and focus on the value of locally and responsibly grown products. We do often think of organic on a large commercial scale as ‘better’ than non-organic. For example, most conventional flowers are grown either in greenhouses in the States or overseas where there are less regulations. Both cases translate to the use of a lot of chemicals to grow flowers. That means more chemicals that can impact the local environment and more chemicals that harm both the growers and people working with flowers down the line.
So while certified organic is different from locally grown and small scale farmers who are committed to organic methods, both groups tend to agree that less chemicals are better for the plants, for the people that tend to them and the surrounding environment!
There are many wonderful flower farms right here in San Diego that aren’t certified organic, but grow with all the care and respect that you’d come to expect in local flowers.
Ultimately for us at BeeWorthy, the organic process is important, and the requirements for record keeping are helpful to us as business owners. And we want to use organic as a way to spread this knowledge with our community so they can make choices about how they shop.
Q: How do flower gardens improve the soil and support pollinators? Is it good luck to find an insect in a bouquet?
Cat: It is SUCH a good sign to find an insect in your flowers! If a flower is safe for an insect, it’s safe for you! It means that the crop hasn’t been treated with pesticides, and you can trust it was grown in a sustainable way. It’s a golden ticket.
Broad spectrum pesticides often used in large-scale commercial operations don’t discriminate, they’ll kill any insect they come into contact with. Insects, our smallest creatures, are indicators of the health of our ecosystem. If the environment is in healthy balance, we’ll see critters amongst our crops.
There are certainly pests that are a problem for us as farmers, but overall we’re passionate about understanding insects are indicator species of a healthy ecosystem. That a caterpillar is a future butterfly!
As farmers, we say, “Grow soil to grow food or flowers.” We won’t get healthy flowers with dead soil. To create a vibrant ecosystem, we work to help beneficial microbes thrive in the soil, so we don’t have to worry about using commercial fertilizers that can runoff into our local waterways. Healthy soil is more humic, and can hold onto water and nutrients longer – especially in Southern California, this has huge implications for water management on the farm.
We do cover cropping, add compost, and grow diverse crops to help the soil build a robust ecosystem. Diverse communities are more resilient, and that’s true of farms too. One controlled crop in a greenhouse isn’t as robust as crops grown outside with lots of different varieties mixed together. That means our farm can support a larger number of pollinators and beneficial insects.
Q: What interested you most about organic flower farming when you first got started?
Cat: I was drawn to the people – the customers who really value flowers are so interesting! Coming from a background of growing veggies, it’s a different customer base than when you get into flower farming and selling flowers. Plus, the grower community is really tight knit. There’s a collaboration between flower farmers that’s heartwarming, and then there’s also the supportive florists who really get it, who understand the value sustainably grown flowers offer.
I never thought I would become a flower farmer. I was a veggie farmer who used to say, “No, never buy me flowers! They’re just gonna die!” After working with my business partner Onnalee Stewart, she encouraged us to try it, and it changed my life. Working with flowers connects you with the beautiful cycles of birth and death. I’ve gained this new appreciation of what it means to intentionally let joy into my life – I’m converted! That energy goes into BeeWorthy as well.
We are WORTHY of beauty, joy, love, and FLOWERS. Don’t talk yourself out of experiencing that beauty.
Q: What’s your favorite part of selling locally grown flowers directly to florists?
Cat: Florists respect the seasonality, and I think they understand the ups and downs of growing flowers. Creative florists like the team at Native Poppy are flexible about what blooms they receive, because they are artists who can create beauty no matter what their flower palette looks like. Florists who can be flexible with recipes make our collaborations more welcome, because it makes it easier for us as farmers to cope when harvests don’t go as planned.
We’re expanding our dried flower offerings to serve florists, too! In fact, we just launched a Kiva fundraising campaign to fund a loan that would allow us to build storage for dried flowers and capacity to host hands-on workshops. We’re excited to be able to offer more floral options to florists like Native Poppy for your dried flower designs.
Q: We’ve heard folks talk about why it’s important to “shop local” for everything from fruits and vegetables to handmade gifts. Why is it important to buy locally grown flowers?
Cat: Plants are alive, living things. Local food is more nutritious because it is picked fresh and has traveled less distance over less time to reach your table. Local flowers bring a similar living vibrancy and joy into your home. It also builds the knowledge of place – local flowers help people develop a deeper connection, love, and respect for the land they live on. San Diego is such a wonderful place, and being able to bring that into our homes elevates our mood and helps us connect to who we are. At BeeWorthy, we really put a ton of love into growing flowers. The plants are loved on by farmers, and then in turn, the blooms are loved by the florists. I think all that love can be felt by the end customer.