Everything’s Coming up Dahlias
When she was a kid, Ashley O’Colmain decided she would be a farmer someday. The only hitch? “I didn’t know what I’d grow,” she laughs. “There were too many options.”
So she dabbled, planting and harvesting a variety of flowers and vegetables in backyard gardens. And years later, when her parents bought a parcel of arable land in Makawao, Ashley finally had a chance to fulfill her childhood dream. She mulled over the possibilities, and says lettuce, carrots, and kale made the shortlist.
An Instagram photo changed her mind.
Ashley came across a social-media site for a family-run flower farm in Washington State. She says a single image of a pink dahlia took her breath away. “That’s when it clicked,” she recalls. “I love growing flowers, giving flowers to people, and I knew it was something people would buy.” In that moment, the idea for Petaloom Floral Co. began to blossom.
Starting a commercial flower farm from scratch is no small feat, so in 2017, Ashley signed up for the Hawai‘i Farmers Union United’s Farm Apprentice Mentoring Program, which provides specialized support for start-ups using regenerative agriculture techniques. She learned how to navigate the process of finding land, develop a farming portfolio, and ultimately build a successful agricultural enterprise.
Ashley teamed with her sister, Lisa, to plant the colorful dahlias that now bloom on the family’s property. Apart from the signature (and decidedly photogenic) dahlias, the farm has other organically grown flowers, including zinnias, lilies, ranunculus, sunflowers and rudbeckia.
When it comes to year-round production, Ashley says there was some initial trial and error, but now she’s well versed in life cycles and growing seasons. “It’s a good thing I like spreadsheets,” she laughs.
In the space of a year, Ashley and Lisa have gone from selling sunflowers on the side of the road to supplying bouquets and floral centerpieces for bridal showers, weddings, graduations, and photo shoots. The sisters also teach lei po‘o (garlands worn on the head) and flower-arranging workshops. Every Saturday morning, they sell their organic bouquets at the Upcountry Farmers Market, where they also started a crowd-favorite “build-your-own-bouquet” bar. They plan to build a workshop and event space at the farm in the near future.
“It takes a lot of passion to work this hard,” Ashley says. “But I love growing flowers. They bring joy to so many people—it’s very fulfilling to be a part of that.”