We had the good fortune of connecting with Helen Skiba and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Helen, can you share the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
That I can’t, and don’t have to, and should not, do it all alone. And that I am not alone: there is help all around me, and beautiful people who are fighting in my corner. It is not a badge of honor to do it all alone; in fact it is destructive and hurtful. I have a strong will and exceedingly high expectations for myself, and in the past that has blinded me to the kindness, talents, and magic of other people. Once I learned to let others into my business, to become my partners and contribute their ideas and energy to our mission, my work and life became so much more fulfilling and free. This takes the form of listening deeply to my partners and employees, of hiring people to do the things I’m simply not good at (taxes!) or don’t have time to do well (social media!) and of cultivating a beginner’s mind to see what I’m doing from the outside. I’m so grateful I went through the garbage disposal of life so I could come to this new perspective.
What should our readers know about your business?
Farmette Flowers is a sustainable (working toward regenerative) flower farm and floral design studio in Boulder County, Colorado. What’s most unique about us is that we farm as part of a group: the Treehouse Farm Collective. My farm partners are Cody and Melissa, who run Speedwell Farm & Gardens, and Matt Kuebbing, who is growing wheat and storage crops for local wholesale markets. We lease space to three other businesses on the property: a landscaping company, a farm equipment operator, and a brand new vermicomposting operation. Having so many folks involved with the maintenance, operation, and infrastructure of our farm is invigorating and sometimes challenging, but the benefits of farming together far outstrip any of the complications or difficulties.
In my business, I’m most excited about building a long-term farm that takes care of the land. I am planting perennials, trees, and shrubs to help grow windbreaks, provide bird and animal habitat, conserve water, and foster soil health and a diversity of life. I’m focusing on reducing waste in my operation, especially plastic waste, and on making decisions that may not save me money right now but that will save me money, time, and trouble in the future. For example, many farmers buy chap plastic sandbags to hold down row covers and tarps in the field. These sandbags have a very short life and often break completely and disintegrate in the field, spreading microplastics throughout the soil and generally creating a mess. Farmers then have to spend valuable time filling more sandbags, only to have it happen again and again. So I’ve chosen to buy cordura sandbags, which cost ten times as much as woven plastic bags, but which last ten times as long, won’t disintegrate into plastic, and won’t cause me to curse my life because I have to spend my morning filling sandbags or pulling broken ones out of the field. This is just one example of the choices I’m making for my farm that I hope will create a better life for me, my employees, and all the creatures great and small that live on my farm.
Getting here was the fight of my life. When I lost my first plot of land 3 years ago, I was on the brink of total collapse. I had gone through a nervous breakdown, therapy, medication, and extreme weight loss. I didn’t know if I could keep going. Only because I have an amazing partner, incredible parents, and loyal, beautiful friends was I able to keep my vision of the dream alive in my heart. Only because I let others into my life was I finally connected to this piece of land where I will build that dream. I think of my journey like a seed: I started hard-coated, impenetrable, and sealed up against the elements and other people, but through the harsh changes of winter and spring, season upon season, that hard shell was cracked, and then shattered, and the incredible magic of what was inside was revealed and allowed to grow.
I’ve learned more than I can write or say out loud along this journey. I’ve learned to be tender and kind to myself. I’ve learned to really listen. I’ve learned that having a strong spine doesn’t mean I have to have an armored heart.
I want the world to know that Farmette Flowers and the Treehouse Farm Collective are making intentional long-term change for our land and our community. We want our community to have the experience of a diverse, healthy, and thriving farm, and to eat the good food from our earth and feast on the beauty of our flowers. We are so honored to build this oasis and this Eden for our world.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We are blessed to live in an incredibly beautiful and vibrant community. I’d love to take friends hiking in the Flatirons or Rocky Mountain National Park, or the Indian Peaks Wilderness, or take the long-ish drive out to Pawnee Buttes on the prairie. If they’re farmy, visiting any node in our big ecosystem of farms is a must-do, and the Boulder Farmers Market is a gathering of all the Front Range’s best bounty. We have innovative restaurants like Black Cat, Bramble & Hare, OAK, and The Kitchen offering locally-sourced produce on their delicious menus, along with tasty cocktails and locally-crafted beers —too many to mention!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to recognize the Flatirons Young Farmers Coalition for giving me support and validating that my choice to be a farmer was important. This organization connects young farmers to each other and to resources in Boulder County, and I owe my continued farming career to the members and leaders of this group.
Nelson Esseveld Ryan Muglia