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Worlds End, the Upstate New York Flower Farm Known for Growing Unexpected Flowers

In March, the final days of winter break perpetually longer and brighter over a thawing landscape of terrestrial inhabitants who reside at Worlds End, a farm situated at the 42nd parallel North, where the earth's rotational speed is roughly equal to the speed of sound. We enjoy a full four seasons; though not evenly distributed. The wintering type fare well here, I myself tolerate it poorly in exchange for the high drama of what the locals call a fast and furious growing season. For us, that season includes a diversified homestead including but not limited to; a cut flower and vegetable production, 15 laying hens, about 200 broilers (better known as meat chickens), and a flock of 20 Icelandic sheep kept for fiber and meat.

The land is 107 acres and sits in a swath of rocky clay soil in the Mohawk Valley of New York State, 30 miles West of Albany. The Mohawk Indians called themselves ‘people of the flint’ and were known as fierce warriors. They were semi-nomadic and lived in matriarchal linked communities of 20 or so families. Sometime in the early 17th century the Mohawk helped form the Iroquois Nation; a peaceful agreement between the Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca tribes — an organization on which the early Americans based their new political system (after they massacred or displaced the native peoples that inspired them.)

The farmhouse at Worlds End farm, built around 1825 in the Greek Revival style popular at the time, is fully intact and after ten years of constant repair and haphazard stabs at decoration, is livable by modest modern standards. This includes new wiring, a working stove (we cooked outside on a gas grill for the first 9 years) and some Farrow and Ball paint.

Saipua Farmhouse, Worlds End farm, photo by Sarah Ryhanen

The larger farmyard consists of a number of cabins, workshops, communal kitchens, libraries, studios, barns, bathrooms all which are closed for the off season. Those few of us (including my parents) who maintain the farm and its animals for the dark and quiet six months of winter spend most of our time inside the farmhouse shuffling around each other and the wood stove. Reliable internet arrived here this year which eases the pressures of intergenerational cohabitation.

This is a family and culture of workers and all of us by March are itching to get back to it.

I bought the farm in 2011 to grow flowers for Saipua — ironically I had developed a reputation for my garden-inspired designs, but was without said garden. I paint this picture for you now, ten years later, of a thriving agricultural and art making paradise — but in the beginning it was very quiet and I was often alone here. I learned to farm on the internet, through trial and error, and with the patient advice of farming friends. It was grueling and exhilarating — everything else faded to the background as I struggled, fueled by the thought of my dream flowers. Dream flowers are stems I had only seen in pictures; long leggy ‘martagon’ lilies, campanula ‘takesimana’, digitalis ‘parviflora’. Dream flowers are also regular flowers — but ones that are oddly shaped, slightly off-color or spotted with disease. The freaks that would never find themselves displayed at the flower wholesale vendors in NYC, and the muddy colors that don’t fly off the shelves at the same rate as the ‘clear’ colors — the pinks, reds, yellows, oranges, etc — that translate in all languages the happy, cheerful message that flowers are so often saddled with. I wanted something other from flowers. Something not as clear.

The first spring I planted 100 hellebores in a shady outcropping opposite the farm house. Now in mid-March I look for the first signs of these flowers — they lead the race out of the gate with narcissus, tulips and ranunculus quick to follow. One of my favorite hellebores is named ‘pink frost’ a color that more accurately resembles a bad bruise. Needless to say, it’s in my preferred color palette; and this hellebore does the heavy lifting in my floral design work by creating tension and nuance amongst the ubiquitous and screaming high-visibility yellows of early spring.

This March I watch the season quietly unfurl for the tenth time. What began as a personal pursuit of beautiful flora for floristry work has expanded profoundly to encompass an intergenerational communal living project which aims to preserve and nurture the ecosystems within which it is situated, and also to continually provide an enriching environment for the creative practices of its participants. Specifically this means farming our food, flowers and medicines with the lightest touch possible, encouraging new perspectives of health and wealth amongst each other, spinning wool for knitting hats and fingerless gloves, trying to make the ideal coffee mug in the ceramics studio (my current creative obsession), cooking the best food for each other and sometimes just for ourselves, organizing the third annual SUPERNATURE barn disco party (we have the county’s largest disco ball — 40” diameter), learning to use an old offset printing press to create beautiful snail mail for our larger community, and planting an indigo crop so that we can brew big fermented dye vats for our wool like the witches we are.

Saipua Farm, Worlds End farm, photo by Sarah Ryhanen

First, as the snow recedes, we begin hauling and splitting wood from the back 60 acres of forest to restock the emaciated woodshed. Then there is greenhouse work — the seeding and propagating of food and flowers in the sometimes 90+ degree miracle achievable by layers of polyethylene and glass. Lambing begins around March 25th by which time the measured pace gains operatic build. By June life on the farm is like a runaway train, there is a frenzy of social activity as we open the farm to visitors on weekends and there is the never-ending work of garden bed preparations and planting. The work becomes sweaty, and buggy, the daily moving of sheep, lambs and chickens daily to new grassy pasture.

These last few years many new tantalizing things and people and ideas have populated this place and my driving thirst for dream flowers has faded into the background. Flowers and indeed floristry very much propelled me on this path, and now I have changed course as I set my sights on a bigger beauty: catalyzing new ways of living (and dying) together in our complicated world. So it goes with any sort of evolution, I think.
Saipua Farm, Worlds End farm, photo by Sarah Ryhanen

Our home at Worlds End opens to the general public May 14th, with farm tours and cafe hours every Sunday from 12-4. No reservations needed, lunch is food grown here and donation only. For those interested in deeper investigation; residency weeks are available throughout the season and include topics such as soapmaking, weaving, cakemaking, floristry and ceramics: