Published August 19, 2022
Editor's note: Summer Hours is a photo series focusing on UB staff members who use the longer days to pursue interesting hobbies, causes and other endeavors outside of their day jobs.
Build it and they will come.
Those words from the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams” seem fitting to describe the venture taken on by Alex Frase, a maintenance assistant with Campus Living, and his young family.
“I’ll take whatever success has come our way. But the whole idea is just to be able to supply a product and afford a beautiful property for our family to grow,” Frase says. “It’s a perfect location for me and my family, and hopefully for the business.”
The business is The Frase Farm, a U-pick flower farm where customers can also buy pre-made bouquets.
The dream began in April 2021, when Frase and his wife, Morgan, purchased a deteriorated house on nearly 30 acres in Pendleton. Frase describes the location as being “on the edge of convenience. You feel like you’re going for a trip out into the country, but it’s basically one road away from a Tim Hortons.”
Motivating the Frase family to open the farm is the hope of taking advantage of an agricultural tax break. And Frase has worked countless hours over the past year to build the farm, updating the house, barn and grounds. He enjoys having the business at his home, so his family can be part of it. He and Morgan have two daughters, 9 and 2, and a son born this past May. They all work in the garden, helping as they can.
Buckets and buckets of clean fill helped build up the land for the planting area, which covers about an acre. They invested in drainage, deer fencing, irrigation, weed matting, growing tray and lights, and shelving. They bought a backhoe loader, realizing how much faster things could move with better machinery. All this before a seedling ever made it into the soil.
“We decided doing floral was in my comfort area and we moved forward with that; cost-wise, it was pretty comparable with everything else” says Frase, whose first job was with Menne nursery. He and Morgan also considered growing Christmas trees or an orchard.
The season started in early spring, when their unfinished master bathroom became a plant nursey. Trays and trays of seedlings filled three large stainless steel rolling racks, with timed LED grow lights hanging above.
“It smelled like spring,” Frase recalls. “It was nice walking in there and seeing everything grow and watching my daughter walk in there and she’d go, ‘baby plants’… and get excited to see little buds and stuff, different plants and touch the leaves.”
Those seedlings were eventually transplanted into the outside garden, where approximately 20 rows of plants are maturing this summer. Varieties include sunflowers, celosia, zinnia, snap dragons, ageratum, gomphrena, dill and pumpkins. But it’s the strawflower that Frase has come to admire most.
“The strawflower has taken my heart … the symmetry, the shape of the petals. I just love it,” he says.
The farm had early-season success selling pre-made bouquets through its social media accounts. The first small group of U-pick customers was welcomed in mid-August, once the larger flowers, such as sunflowers, came into bloom.
“I think it’s real pretty,” says Victoria Behun, who came to the farm to buy a bouquet with her mother, Kimberly, in late July. They strolled through the garden, stopping to take photos. “I feel like a lot of people will come pick flowers.”
On the same day, Barbara Mollon took her time studying the bouquets, taking in each detail, but ultimately it was the dill in a bouquet that helped her make her choice.
“I can double-use it. I can use the dill in pickles,” says Mollon, who was making her third purchase from The Frase Farm.
Frase is looking forward. He and Morgan keep notes on all the little things they want to tweak and improve for the next season, as the dream continues to grow.
“We expected to have some bumps and lessons to learn throughout the year, but overall we’re accomplishing what we were aiming to do and we’ve learned a lot,” Frase says. “I’m most happy about the visual of coming out of the back of my house and seeing something that we dreamt about doing, and seeing it in full bloom.”
He and his wife are considering creating subscriptions for bouquets to establish a regular client base with more predictable income and hours. The idea came from the realization one morning that they were spending up to five hours cutting and crafting ready-made bouquets while continuously checking social media to see if they sell.
“If we get 10 sales this year, we did something. We grew flowers. Period,” says Morgan. “It’s not our goal, but at least the infrastructure is there, and we know what we can do.”
They estimate it will be between three and five years before the farm is producing the abundance and variety of flowers that they want. From there, they have a long-term goal of opening an event venue as well.
“I have big plans for next year, so we’ll see if I can pull it off,” Frase says with a chuckle and a nod to the unknown. “You always hear about farmers and the weather. I’m one of them now.”
Alex Frase has worked for the past three years with Campus Living’s Main Street maintenance team. The Frase Farm, 5180 Feigle Road, Pendleton, is scheduled to be open through October. Follow the farm on Instagram for hours of operation.
Way to go cousin! Very cool. Your Grandma would be smiling ear to ear!
Don L. Erb