In 2015, Kent Isom along with his wife, Brooke, decided to plant an acre of sunflowers on the Isom family property located on Highway 72 in Athens. What is now known as the U-Pick field is located right next to Classic Sign Works, and the address is 23615 US 72 in Athens. At that time in 2015, Brooke was a professional photographer who owned her own business, and being able to take photos of the flowers themselves as well as provide a backdrop for client photos, gave her business a wonderful boost. Brooke and Kent also planted some zinnias, and they had a one-day sale at the end of the brief season that became the unexpected launch of Isom’s U-Pick Flowers. “The one-day sale recouped our costs for the field, and we had good response,” said Kent. The Isoms planted 1.5 acres in 2016, about 2/3 of it in sunflowers and the rest in zinnias, and it was a monster hit! They opened up the field on the weekends, and people came from near and far to pick their own bouquets as well as use the field for their photographic endeavors. At this point, the window of opportunity was only about two weeks, and they were busy and profitable ones.
When 2017 came along, the Isoms staggered the planting schedule in order to extend the growing season, and it lasted from June through July, and for two weeks in August. Next, 2018 and 2019 saw the building of the shed where people come to complete their U-Pick transactions. They were also able to rent out the field to other photographers. One of the things that has worked well for the Isoms has been the honor system of paying. While they are there on Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. until noon, people come at all hours all week long for all kinds of reasons -- to get certain lighting for pictures, to harvest flowers at the perfect time of day, or to quickly make a much-needed bouquet. There is an honor box, and as Brooke said, “We have honored the honor system, and it has worked well.”
Pre-assembled bouquets are $12 each, and can be just sunflowers, or only zinnias or gladiolas by themselves. They can also be put in a combination. Right now, U-Pick is selling around 50 of the pre-cut bouquets per week, and recently, a lovely one showed up at the farewell party that was given at City Hall for the graduating class of 2020 members of the Mayor’s Youth Commission before they headed off for school.
As far as knowing what they are doing and how to do this well, it is most helpful that Kent Isom has an agricultural degree in horticulture from Auburn University. He specializes in fruit and vegetable production. He works full time in his family’s legendary orchard, and the U-Pick fields keep an already busy farming family hopping; but he loves what they are doing. “We enjoy giving the community something to do,” Kent said with a smile.
So now we are in the middle of the 2020 season, one that has had its challenges for all of us due to the Coronavirus Capers. If anything, it probably has helped Isom’s U-Pick thrive, even as people are mindful of social distancing. The reason for this is that besides being beautiful and having the chance to be out in the middle of God’s gorgeousness, (as Brooke’s photos to illustrate this article so skillfully portray) people are having the chance to safely be amongst people, enjoy the “power of flowers,” and just feel a touch more “normal.” Kent and Brooke together told me, “We enjoy giving the community something to do. Everybody loves it, and it makes people happy.” They are enjoying sharing knowledge with the community, and it has been their best U-pick season yet.
In contrast to the “field-based” community building where everybody is able to come together safely and reasonably, there is also the desire to help photographers build their businesses. The addition of the photography-only field in 2020 makes it possible for photographers to have their exclusive turf; they don’t have to work around people who have come to pick fresh blooms while shutterbugs are framing their “perfect pic.” Photographers who wish to use the exclusive field need to contact Brooke; the other field is open to everyone to photograph for a donation. The flower fields have become the backdrop for senior portraits, family portraits, and engagement portraits; and as the fields grow, they will also attract butterflies. Besides being beautiful, butterflies are important for pollination, the development of hardier native plants that need fewer resources.
Kent told me that they have hopes to expand the U-Pick possibilities to include strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. But for now, you can come to the U-Pick fields for flowers that, as Brooke said, are “astounding.” You can park in the Classic Sign Works parking lot and safely walk to the fields. Come see the Isoms as soon as you can, and go home with an abundance of blooms to brighten your summer!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner