BLOOM — A Portrait of Oregon Organic Flower Farmer Joan Thorndike
The opening frame of “BLOOM” features a dahlia blooming in time-lapse, with petals unfurling to a full-sized flower.
Accompanied by birdsong audio, the screen reads: “28 years ago, Joan Ewer Thorndike began growing certified organic flowers in Southern Oregon.”
This short and impressive documentary is filmmaker Joanne Feinberg’s love letter to flower farming, sustainable and organic growing methods, and the fragile beauty of a flower. It is a tribute to one woman’s journey to change the floral landscape in her own community and beyond.
“BLOOM” debuted at the 19th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival (May 22-June 14) in Joan Thorndike’s hometown, where she also operates Le Mera Gardens.
Joan Thorndike is a true pioneer in the Slow Flowers Movement, having grown organic cut flowers for decades, long before there was a term for her singular approach to floral agriculture. We featured her in The 50 Mile Bouquet (2012) and she was a guest on the very first episode of the Slow Flowers Podcast in 2013 and later on our fifth anniversary episode in 2018.
The documentry about Joan and her relationship with the land, not to mention flowers and the seasons of farming, reaches a wide audience during a time when things in our world are dark. The viewer experiences Joan’s physical act of harvesting in fields and high tunnels, often alongside her daugher, Isabella Thorndike Church, owner of Jacklily Seasonal Floral Design. The footage is stunning and Joan’s voice comes across with authority and love for her work.
I recently asked Joanne about the film’s “back story.”
SFJ: How did you meet and become interested in directing a short documentary about Joan Thorndike and her flowers? JF: I knew Joan because she has been a volunteer at the Ashland Independent Film Festival for many years. I did know she had a flower business but I didn’t know that much about it. And then I was invited to an event for a women’s leadership group here in Ashland that Joan and another woman hosted at one of Joan’s fields just outside of town. I had never been there; had no idea it existed. I was just blown away — it was so beautiful. There were probably twenty-five women and Joan asked us to bring clippers and wear sturdy shoes. She invited us to walk through the fields and each cut a bouquet of flowers to take home. So we really got to see the work she was doing in that way.
She spoke a little bit about her business and I immediately said, “I need to make a film about her.” JOANNE FEINBERG, FEIN FILM
SFJ: What part of Joan’s story did you want to capture on film? JF: I knew there were so many people in Ashland who know Joan’s flowers from the farmers’ market or through different florists in town. But I bet no one knows she is growing them right here in this amazing field. Then I found out Isabella (Joan’s daughter) was working with her. I really cared about the organic part of her business, the local aspect of it, the way Joan was collaborating with other farmers in the area to make her business work. As a woman-owned business, there were so many fabulous pieces to this story, as well as her own family ties to flowers and gardens.
SFJ: How did you get Joan interested in being filmed for your documentary? JF: The first piece is approaching your subject, so I had to meet with Joan and talk with her about my ideas. She’s a little bit humble, so I did need to convince her that she would make a wonderful subject for a short documentary. We spent a little time getting to know each other and building some of that trust. Part of that process was to meet her in the fields without the cameras, so we could talk about what she does and about her passion for organic growing practices.
SFJ: What happened next? JF: Short documentaries mean finding a budget. Some of my work is for companies that want to tell short stories about their business, and there’s funding for that. With this project we were self-funded, so getting a crew to work with me was important. I was really lucky to have some talented camera people here in the Rogue Valley who wanted to help me tell this story. The music was recorded in Oregon by a great guitarist who lives in Ashland — and he donated the music to the piece, so it’s really cool that we kept it all local.
SFJ: Did you film all of this in 2019?
JF: I started in 2015 and filmed in different seasons. Then Isabella came back to Ashland and I did more filming to capture her story. I left town to work in Los Angeles, but I returned to Ashland right when the pandemic hit. I realized I was going to be here for a while and I thought: “This is the time this film needs to come out. People need to see the beauty that they might not be able to get to in person right now. To experience the sights and sounds that are so important in this film.”
Flower harvesting with Isabella Thorndike Church (left) and Joan Thorndike (right)
Joan also believes the film’s timing is relevant to the uncertainty of this era. In her own work, Joan has witnessed her wedding business disappear for 2020. She converted her farm into a “flower market” and invites florists to place orders and shop for flowers, much like at a wholesaler’s. “In my world, I have stopped selling,” Joan says. “This is my 28th season, and what I’ve realized is that for the past 27 seasons, I’ve been selling a product; selling the idea that flowers are grown here. Pushing ‘local’ and asking customers to give us a chance, rather than buy flowers at Trader Joe’s or Costco.
“This year, I’m not pushing anything. I’m saying, ‘here is the farm. here are the flowers.’ I’ve completely changed how I sell. And the florists are coming to me. Bit by bit, the word is getting out to designers. I’ve stepped back with the feeling that the work we did as a farm, as a presence here, as a signature piece of ‘buy local’ is now having its moment. The timing of Joanne’s film is perfect because in that film, we’re not pushing anything. I’m just with my flowers. And I love that at the very end, on the black screen, Joanne added the hashtag #buylocal. Because that brings it home.”