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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 9 months ago

Farm 9 is blooming business in Oakland

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Oakland’s Farm 9 is cultivating fresh flowers from seeds and bulbs and becoming a popular booth at local farmers markets.
by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

To drive down Hull Island Drive, in Oakland, is to witness a flurry of new construction in the west part of the town. But beyond the tractors and dump trucks and mounds of dirt is a long, white fence surrounded by colorful flowering plants — a small hint of the rural landscape beyond.

Behind the fence are 13 acres of farm life, from the turkeys, goats and milking cow to the greenhouse, potting shed and rows of plants. Here, Flor and Niesa Putigna and their seven children reside in their farmhouse-style home.

It also is where Niesa Putigna operates Farm 9 with her business partner, Gregg Landis. Farm 9 is a cut-flower farm, and Putigna and Landis don’t shy away from trying to grow anything from seed or bulb.

Last March, the Putignas came up with a plan for their surrounding acreage, and they gutted their yard, created rows of beds and installed irrigation. It took just a few months to go from concept to product.

“By the beginning of June, we had enough flowers up and growing to have flowers available at the Winter Garden Farmers Market,” Niesa Putigna said. “It starts with the seed of love; just togetherness. … We always want a place where the kids are welcome.”

When deciding on a name, Putigna said they chose Farm 9 because of their family of nine. Niesa and Flor adopted two of their seven children from Ethiopia.

“It was all about our family,” Putigna said. “Our family went through ups and downs, and at the end of the day we’re like, ‘We’re going to stick together, through thick and thin. No matter what.’ … The name incorporates all of us.”

Gregg Landis has been operating businesses since college and said he has always wanted to start a flower business. He joined the Putignas because he believed in their philosophy of impacting people through relationships.

“The flowers are a great way to love people,” Putigna said. “It’s a way to walk through life with people.”

This flower farm has taken the dedication of both couples and their families. The children are learning valuable work ethics, said Lize Landis, Gregg’s wife.

Everyone has been learning the business together as a family.

The two oldest sons operate the tractor, and the other children set up tables and meticulously start thousands of seeds. They bundle the flowers and add stickers for market days, and they take turns helping at the market vendor booth.

“They are seeing the people buying the flowers that they put together,” Lize Landis said. “They had a hand in giving someone else joy.”

The fields are completely organic, Putigna said.

“You can go out there and pick and go home and know that you aren’t taking pesticides home with you,” she said.

With its unpredictable seasons and sweltering summer heat, Florida isn’t a popular location for thriving cut-flower businesses, but the partners are finding a way to grow their operation. They have spent the last year learning what can and can’t grow here, and they continue to experiment with new flowers.

“People have asked for peonies, so I had my dad researching that,” Putigna said. “I’m going to buy them up and see how they do. I want to see (which) roses do well here. … We’re going to start a new dahlia garden; we’re going to have killer dahlias. We’ll put them in the ground in February after we dig up all our tubers.”

A rainbow of fresh flower varieties is for sale each week at the farmers markets in Winter Garden and Windermere and at Lake Eola. Tildenville Marketplace will start selling the flowers at the end of the month.

Farmers market shoppers currently can buy freshly cut snapdragons, sunflowers, anemones, zinnias, Queen Anne’s lace, pin-cushion flowers, kale for bouquets and a variety of bulb flowers, including tulips, gladiolas, ranunculus, paperwhites and amaryllis.

Farm 9 flowers are available in small and large arrangements and in bundles and vases. Wreaths were available during the holidays.

Putigna and Landis will be exhibitors at this weekend’s 11th Annual Orlando Home & Garden Show at the Orange County Convention Center.

The business owners said they hope eventually to expand into the wedding market. There are plans also to put together a book based on their experiences for others wanting to try their hand at flower farming.

Farm 9 is a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, as well as a community of farmers called Growing for Market. Putigna participates in online classes hosted by Floret Flower Farm, too, in an effort to learn as much as she can about the cut-flower business and how to market her blooms.

Market days begin at 6 a.m. when the flowers are packed and then delivered to the Farm 9 vendor booth. When the market closes, the Putignas and Landises pack up their remaining product and return to the farm.

Putigna said she respects the farming world and farmers’ ability to live in the season.

The Putignas were disappointed to see the properties cleared in front of their home and farm, but they are thrilled their north and south neighbors also are committed to keeping their land rural.

“We want to preserve, we have a lot of wetlands, and that is all Florida wildlife, and we want to keep the land for that,” Putigna said. “We want to preserve the Florida land here.”

As a bonus, Putigna has been collecting bundles of asters growing on the land being cleared.

Lize Landis said she loves the idea of giving flowers as gifts.

“We have so much stuff, and it just sits around in our house,” she said. “With flowers, you enjoy it for the moment, and then it dies and you move on. It creates an experience.

“Flowers are there when you are born, and flowers are there when you die,” Lize Landis said.

Amy Quesinberry is the community editor of the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She was born and raised in Winter Garden, grew up reading the community newspaper and has been employed there as a writer, photographer and editor since 1990....

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