El Paso florist teams with New Mexico flower farm to create ethical arrangements

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EL PASO – When Juliana Varkonyi and her mother Mary Ibanez decided to open a flower shop, they knew they wanted it to reflect a sense of community and respect for the environment.

That’s why they decided to open Desert Modern Florals in Downtown El Paso and then partner with Calhoun Flower Farms based in southern New Mexico.

Desert Modern Florals and Calhoun Flower Farms

From Left: Susannah Calhoun, Mary Ibanez and Juliana Varkonyi merged businesses to bring local and sustainably grown flowers to the El Paso/Mesilla Valley Region Photo credit: Esmeralda Treviño

The shop is in the center of the Cortez Building downtown, across the street from the newly renovated San Jacinto Plaza. Ibanez said they chose the downtown location because of the revitalization that is going on right now. She wanted the business to be part of the emerging community.

To ensure that the flowers they use are locally grown and 100 percent sustainable, Desert Modern Florals chose Calhoun Flower Farms as a supplier.

Located just south of Vado, NM, in the Mesilla Valley, the family-run farm, which follows ethical, sustainability practices has a commitment to being ecologically sound in its growing and sourcing of flowers, said co-owner Susannah Calhoun. She explained the family decided to go into flower farming in response to issues with the floral industry trend of importing cheap flowers into the U.S. from regions like South America with poor labor laws and low pay rates.

“We wanted to show people that there is a local option in the U.S., but also a cruelty-free option, as well as a modern and sustainable farm,” Calhoun said.

The farm collaborates with several businesses around the region, including wholesalers, restaurants and flower shops. No harsh chemicals are used in the farming of these flowers.

“We decided to start the farm here in New Mexico because of the heat, it actually helps the germination cycle and actually increases the germination rate and success rate of the plants coming up through the ground, the heat in this region also helps plants grow stronger and last longer than plants grown in other areas.”

Established in 2012, the farm has an off-season that runs from November to February, leaving a major portion of the year closed to buyers,. The farm has plans to install greenhouses that can help grow flowers year-round.

“Our goal is to be a year-round producer by 2017, by implementing better techniques, such as using warmer water, water heaters, as well as a hoop house and a greenhouse that will allow us to heat our flowers to heat during the day in order to provide a warm ground temperature during the winter, however, between November and February it’s a little too cold to grow outside in southern New Mexico,” Calhoun said.

Desert Modern Florals Owners

Juliana Varkonyi (Left) and Mary Ibanez are the mother-daughter duo that own Desert Modern Florals Photo credit: Esmeralda Treviño

The owners of Desert Modern Florals wanted to build a strong foundation for local consumers and vendors and thought partnering with Calhoun Farms would be a great way to provide customers with sustainably grown flowers.

“I had always wanted to start my own business,” Varkonyi, who has a background in fashion design said. “My mom previously had a flower shop, so I decided one day to ask her if she wanted to start a flower shop because I knew she had always wanted to start another one.”

The shop provides more than flowers, they also sell gifts and host workshops on flower arranging. Desert Modern Florals focuses on making arrangements that are organic in style, with an unstructured design that, according to Ibanez “allows the flowers to do what they want,” meaning that they do not manipulate the flowers used in their arrangements allowing for a free flowing style.

Although the business has only been open for three and a half months, they have big plans for the future. “We hope to eventually have 100 percent American sourced flowers, and hope to expand and open our own event venue,” Varkonyi said.

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