A flower farm blooms in Kensington

Jig-Bee stems from neighborly idea.

Flower power: Flowers are in full bloom at Jig-Bee Flower Farm in Kensington.

By Lindsey Nolen

Passing down the streets of Kensington, vacant lots filled with overgrown weeds and trash are visible left and right. In an attempt to deter this spatial neglect and make better use of one lot in particular, Cassie Plummer, 41, and her husband, Justin Kumpf, 39, found inspiration for their flower farm located at 2143 N. American St., which they have since named Jig-Bee.

Although the couple now resides in South Philly, both are natives of New England, which is where they first tried their hands at gardening and landscaping. Plummer’s experience stems from growing up in Maine and helping her parents tend to their family garden.

Kumpf, a Boston native, spent his free time in high school working for a landscaper, and from there moved to Philadelphia to study industrial design at the University of the Arts. Roughly around the same time, Plummer moved to the city to begin her pharmaceutical residency at Jefferson Hospital, and the couple first met at Memphis Taproom in 2009.

“We became friends and fell in love,” Plummer said.

Years later, Plummer is now a medical writer for a pharmaceutical company and her husband operates his own business, LIGHTFAST design+build, located at 2137 N. American St. His spending each day at the workshop and studio space for woodworkers and metal fabricators is how the couple’s attention was first brought to the vacant lot next door.

“Because we own the building next door, we were able to see that the lot was extremely overgrown, and that it was only every three to four months that the city would mow it down. We began to think about what we could do to help put it to better use,” Plummer said. “This is how we got the idea for the flower farm and ultimately came up with an agreement with the city to begin farming there.”

The couple signed a license agreement with the city that allows them to garden on the property and requires them to maintain liability insurance. In addition, the agreement noted the city would not provide any monetary support to the project. Thus, the proceeds from the flower farm go back into the business to cover the cost of seeds and bulbs, compost, insurance, general maintenance and care of the lot.

With the city’s permission, and in beginning their flower farm project in 2014, Plummer immediately began reading up on flower farming in addition to listening to “The Slow Flowers Podcast,” produced by award-winning author, speaker and leading advocate for American-grown flowers, Debra Prinzing.

As they continued becoming self-taught in the art of flower farming, Plummer and Kumpf, with help from friends and volunteers, spent most of their first year working on the project simply cleaning the space. From mowing to keeping the weeds down, the first year became a test of their ability to grow plants in the lot.

“When we first started, the lot was surrounded by a chainlink fence and was full of overgrown weeds that stood about six feet tall and trash,” Plummer said. “In cleaning it, we probably took out about 15 to 20 garbage bags full of trash.”

During this “trial” year, Plummer and Kumpf found an important element was to incorporate soil amendments and fertilization methods, such as topsoil and compost, in addition to the seeds and bulbs. Plummer explained this is necessary because whatever building was on the site before the lot became vacant had left large amounts of rubble, making it difficult to grow anything without additives.

“Since then, we started growing cosmos and zinnias, later advancing to tulips, poppies, ranunculus, anemones, dahlias and lisianthus. We’re really trying to grow things you don’t typically see in a grocery store flower bouquet, and that are more unique, interesting and that don’t travel well,” Plummer said.

Jig-Bee, which is named for the universal manufacturing tool often used by Kumpf in his line of work (a jig) and the buzzing residents of the farm (bees), has partnered with local florists such as Falls Flowers and Papertini Flowers. Together, the local vendors help provide the community with local, sustainable floral options that arise from ethical business practices.

Jig-Bee also offers weekly flower delivery to homes, offices, restaurants and businesses. Its pick up locations include stops in Kensington, South Philly, Center City and Fairmount/Art Museum. Weekly flower share options can be seen by visiting jig-bee.com/buy-our-flowers.html.

In its offering of wedding flowers and packages, Plummer noted that during the fall, Dahlia “Cafe Au Lait,” a cream and pale pink dahlia flower, remains among the top-selling wedding flowers. During the remainder of the year, Jig-Bee will work with brides to arrange personal and distinct bouquets or flower arrangements for tables.

“The community has been really supportive of what we’re doing, and often stop by and talk to us to tell us how good the flowers and the lot look,” Plummer said. “It’s fun to see that people are happy to see the change in the lot.”

In addition to witnessing the happiness her flower farm brings to others, Plummer explains the lot provides her with a much-needed break outside, away from her desk and computer. Thus, she believes she has since become more attuned with nature and the changing of the seasons.

“Although there’s never enough time in the day to do everything we want to do, I just love being at the flower farm,” Plummer said. “Everything just feels so alive and green there, and it’s just nice to be in a garden that is bursting with energy.”

Plummer hopes to expand and grow the business by opening some sort of flower market, while working to acquire more square footage to farm, in addition to its current quarter acre of space. She also said she would like to figure out a way to allow the community the opportunity to become involved in farming, possibly through classes.

“So many people have expressed interest and excitement in what we’re doing,” Plummer said. “The diversity of nature in the city is a beautiful thing.”

For more information on Jig-Bee, visit it’s website,jig-bee.com, or it’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/jigbeefarm.