From graphic design to “Grow with the Flow”
Though the April breeze holds a winter chill, the workshop at Grow with the Flow (GWTF) smells like the height of spring. Two employees stand at a high table covered in stems and greenery, piecing together floral arrangements headed to customers across southeast Nebraska.
But the flowers are just one part of the business owned by Heather Husen, class of ‘14, and Jeff Jirovec. Soon, the greenhouses and fields on their farm just north of Crete and west of Denton will be filled with fresh produce, flowers and plants ready for destinations in homes, restaurants, grocery stores, farmers markets and events.
The company is the first — and only — farm in the state using aquaponics, a space- and water-efficient method of farming. It uses tanks of fish to generate ammonia-rich waste, which is then filtered by bacteria into nitrogen, a key plant fertilizer (see GWTF’s blog on aquaponics for more detail on the process). Jirovec first heard about the method from a friend during his undergraduate education at Nebraska Wesleyan University, and built a small aquaponics garden in his backyard after graduation.
“I realized, this could be a scalable business,” Jirovec said. In 2013, he acquired the 11-acre farm at the corner of 154th Street and Yankee Hill and started growing.
But his young company didn’t yet have a logo, which would be helpful in the process of marketing GWTF’s flowers and produce to area restaurants and businesses.
His mother, Kelly Jirovec, Doane’s director of student wellness, recommended reaching out to the graphic design professor at the university. The logo turned into an assignment for Husen’s class. In a blind review of the students’ projects, Jirovec said “there was one that was really great, and it happened to be Heather’s.”
Husen continued working with him on marketing projects for GWTF through her senior year at Doane. Then she said yes to a date, followed several years later by a wedding. Together, they’ve continued building and expanding their company.
“It’s nice to use my degree,” Husen said. She graduated from Doane with an art major and an emphasis in graphic design, and draws on her education to create GWTF’s marketing materials, photography, and floral arrangements, which she taught herself.
“I grew up on a farm and I remember cutting things like twigs, flowers and plants, and arranging them,” she said, and now incorporates the design principles she learned into GWTF’s floral arrangements. “It all kind of breaks down into the elements of shape, color and texture.”
For the first couple years, all work was primarily done by Husen and Jirovec, with help from Jirovec’s mother at the weekend farmers markets. Now, though, GWTF employs four people, two on the floral side and two on the agricultural side. They hope to continue expanding operations on the farm, too. There are several greenhouses and an outbuilding, and fields ready for spring planting, but plenty of the 11 total acres is still undeveloped.
Running a small farm and business isn’t always easy. Take 2020, for example. Restrictions with social distancing meant fewer people at farmers markets, fewer weddings and events that needed bouquets. Even just this month, overnight freezes have delayed planting. But these challenges also lead to new ideas. Husen and Jirovec will actually have a soft opening for a new location in Lincoln’s Gateway Mall in early May. The Lincoln Floral Market will offer cut stems and pre-made bouquets, as well as opportunities for DIY bouquets — “like a Build-a-Bear but with flowers,” Jirovec said — and floral arrangement classes.
“After this last year, people didn’t get to do as many fun things,” Jirovec said, and hopes that small in-person classes or take-home kits can introduce a new activity to Lincoln and area residents.
Another activity that halted in 2020 due to the pandemic was tours of the farm and aquaponics system. These were primarily given to college classes, but GWTF had also participated in the Local Farm Tour hosted by KZUM talk show, How’s it Growin’? Their operation is different from other farms in Nebraska, Jirovec said, and it’s been fun to meet with both students and other Nebraskans interested in plants. He’s hopeful the tours can return in the future, and maybe encourage more students to discover an interest in agriculture they may not have known.