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Starting a flower farm
What happens when an architect and a former Walt Disney imagineer start farming? If they’re Andrea and Lou Gagnon, they can’t help but make art – even in the fields.
When the couple returned to the family farm to raise their children and establish a new way of life on 10 acres of agricultural land, the owners of LynnVale Studios embraced a new medium – flowers – and began growing thousands of stems to supply local and seasonal bouquets to customers in the nation’s capital.
College sweethearts who each earned a bachelor of architecture degree from Virginia Tech, Andrea and Lou spent a decade working on the West Coast before returning in 2002 to an acreage that Lou’s family has farmed for eight generations in Gainesville, Virginia, about 30 miles west of Washington, D.C.
“For Lou’s childhood, it was a great place of exploration, adventure, and freedom, and we both wanted our children to have that experience, too,” Andrea says. They purchased 10 acres from Lou’s mother, who still owns and lives on 90 adjacent acres, and designed and built a modern farmhouse.
Lou rediscovered his first love: painting. And Andrea explored ways to produce an income from their acreage while also raising two children. A winery was one consideration; then she thought about cut flowers.
“We saw building a flower farm as a possibility – one with an initially low investment, since we didn’t have any large farm equipment,” Andrea says. While Lou pursued art, teaching, and design consultation, Andrea planted her first seeds: cockscomb. She had never seen the plant before but read about it in The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski, a 1990 book (updated in 2008) that is considered the flower growers’ bible.
“I grew up with a mother who was very interested in gardening, but it was mostly vegetables and herbs in the 1970s, not flowers,” Andrea says. “I remember the moment when those cockscomb flower heads started to form and I brought one to Lou and said, ‘I can’t believe I just grew this!’ It was just so fascinating.”
Captivated by the flowers she grew from seed, Andrea gained further encouragement from farmers market customers. “Taking my flowers to market and having the experience of someone handing you cash for something that you grew – well, I was hooked,” she says.
The immediate gratification that she felt planting a seed or bulb, tending to and then harvesting its flowers, was unlike her past creative efforts. “We were used to architectural contracts where we might never see what we designed come to life,” she says.
Over the past 12 years, LynnVale Studios has gained a reputation as a boutique specialty cut-flower source. Andrea has grown and designed flowers used to honor former First Lady Michelle Obama and to decorate Congressional Wine Caucus receptions at the Library of Congress, among many other VIP events. The same flowers are available for local customers who patronize three area farmers markets from March through December.
“We are fortunate to participate in some of the area’s finest producer-only markets,” Andrea says. Urban D.C. farmers market customers have the assurance that the flowers and bouquets they purchase come straight from LynnVale’s fields.
Demand for premium flowers continually motivates Andrea and Lou to diversify their botanical lineup, which includes more than 100 varieties at recent count. The farm’s blooms are marketed to area florists and incorporated into LynnVale’s own wedding and event floral commissions.
Nothing is off-limits when it comes to artistic inspiration: Students who take Andrea’s popular “The Farmer Florist: Masters Workshop” each summer are invited to play with the entire field of floral elements for their bouquets and centerpieces, just as Andrea does when she designs her floral compositions.
The farm’s studio is housed inside a 1947 dairy barn once home to Lou’s grandparents’ cows. Arched trusses elevate the roofline, a beautiful rounded form that soars high above the landscape. The loft once stored hay, but Lou and Andrea ultimately envision the space as an art education center. For now, they are satisfied to look across the flower fields and enjoy the barn’s distinctive silhouette as an iconic symbol of their heritage farm.
It’s fitting that LynnVale Studios is equal parts art and agriculture, reflected in its mission statement: “Cultivate creativity and the human spirit through alternative agriculture and fine art.”
Indeed, having a strong design, art, and planning background influences everything they do on the Virginia farm, Andrea says. “Originally, I thought more like an architect than a farmer. Over the years, I’ve melded the two. My background included a great education in problem-solving through design. Really great wedding design is about coming up with an interesting concept and developing the different designs that might meet that concept. We have an incredible toolbox in the garden to find what we need.”