This is the beautiful story of how Bryan Gjevre and Harold Wilkins brought their passion for flowers to the Mill City Farmers Market. We are so happy to welcome Goldfinch Flower Farm back to the Market for the 2023 season.
Words and images by Iglika Petrova (a devoted Mill City Farmers Market shopper), @iglikapetrova
There is something about spring flowers having the gentle power to stop us out of our way – whether on a walk in the neighborhood, or entering a grocery store. And if not their bright and happy colors that makes us say hello to them, it’s the enchanting fragrance that travels a long way and gently guides us back to them. There is something about seeing the first bright colors coming out after a long, monochromatic white and black winter, that fills our hearts with joy, and gives us that sense of renewal and hope.
Entering the Mill City Farmers Market on a warm spring day and encountering the Goldfinch Flower Farm table full of buckets of all the shades of pink and white peonies, and the sweet fragrance of white and purple lilacs has the same power of making us forget what we were doing, and gently guides us to this incredible abundance of flower beauty.
Bryan Gjevre and Harold Wilkins were the power duo of Goldfinch Flower Farm. Many of us, who have been shopping at the Mill City Farmers Market for years, knew them with our hearts, either by being a loyal customer, or by becoming one of their dear friends. Both Bryan and Harold, just like their flowers, had this incredible power to draw you in until one found themselves blissfully wandering for a long time at their table, chatting happily with Bryan or watching Harold’s artful hands make a beautiful arrangement right in front of their eyes.
In 2005 Bryan and Harold purchased the 9-acre property near Baldwin, WI and named it the Goldfinch Flower Farm. They both had experience with cut flowers: Bryan by growing them in Hawaii, California and Southern Wisconsin, and Harold by being well renowned professor of horticulture and floriculture at Cornell, U of FL, U of MN and Ohio State. Harold consulted all over the world and was beloved teacher and mentor who taught many courses in floriculture, including bulb physiology and his famous Floral Design class at the U of MN from 1966 to 1989. Both Bryan and Harold had passion for cut flowers and knew that they are an excellent alternative way of supporting a lifestyle on a farm.
In Bryan’s words, Harold was a visionary and true artist when it came to flower arrangements. He would request growing stems that could be used in flower arrangements as ‘the leader’, and create a straight line. Flowers that would create a focal point. And supporting flowers to create contrasts of texture or shades of green. Bryan, on his end, would do a great amount of experimentation on what flowers would make good cut-flowers. He would cut the flowers when they bloomed, bring them inside, place in water and test what flowers will drink water – as a lot of plants, cut and placed in water, would wilt.
At their flower farm, one could not help but wander mesmerized by the beauty of the variety and the fragrances of the peony fields. Getting lost in a sea of shades of pink, white, and red peonies is one of the great experiences in life. Bryan will cut them in the evening before the farmers market and carry them back the farm – giant bouquets of peonies laying in his arm. He would venture out to collect other stems, branches, and plants found growing wild in the country to bring back to Harold who was a natural-born master of flower arrangements. What was most wonderful about Harold’s arrangements is that they captured the essence of being in a garden. Cultivated flowers paired together with grasses, leaves, and tiny daises came together as one, transporting you back to their farm.
In 2021 Harold Wilkins passed away. Many of his loyal customers, students, and friends will remember him for his wonderful stories, joyful laughter, strong opinions, and his passion for travel and good restaurants. Harold absolutely loved being at the Mill City Farmers Market. Rain or sun he was there with his hands lost in flowers, making arrangements, telling stories surrounded by old and new friends. In Bryan’s words, Harold enjoyed the feeling of ‘glory of creation,’ and this quote best describes Harold and his love of the Mill City:
“A steak and sauce dish, greatly admired in Argentina, which shows its continental heritage, is even more spectacular. It is cooked at the head of the dinner table before the eyes of the ravenous guests so the host can feel the glory of creation.” –Food of the World; Latin American Cooking
“Thats is what Harold loved about being at the market,” Bryan says. “It’s such a rare thing, but I know other people noticed it and appreciated it. And in our own little way, when we are at Mill City we can also experience this special feeling.”
With the loss of his partner, Bryan took a break from selling flowers at the Mill City Farmers Market. We are so happy with his decision to return to the market this spring, selling his wonderful spring farm flowers: tulips, daffodils, peonies and lilacs. Come visit us as we open the outdoor market and say a warm hello to Bryan.
Bryan will be at the Market with us this May and June– be sure to get some flowers for yourself or a loved one next time you see him.