Alyssa and Allen Ward, along with Junior, at the farm in Salem. New Jersey. Ward’s Farm, New Jersey Around this time of year, an 11-acre stretch of land in Salem, New Jersey is in full bloom.

Sunflowers and dinner-plate dahlias, as far as the eye can see, sway in the sun. Some parts may sway a little harder from time to time. That would be where a 75-pound boxer named Junior is roaming — either playing with his best friend, a cat named Oci, or chasing off animal intruders that could cause trouble for the precious blooms. Ward’s Farm hosts regular “pick-your-own” events. Ward’s Farm, New Jersey And there’s a healthy buzz here too, thanks to the thousands of bees who make their appointed rounds.

This is the cut-flower farm that Alyssa and Allen Ward built — a field of dreams not just for the couple who own it, but for every living thing that thrives there.
This is also the farm that a pandemic could have broken. Since it was established in 2013, Ward’s Farm drew much of its business from weddings and parties, directly sending fresh-cut flowers to the florists. But as social distancing rules became the norm in the face of Covid-19, those gatherings withered.
Indeed, it’s a pain shared by much of America’s flower industry. Events that traditionally call for flowers — birthdays, weddings, even Mother’s Day brunches — just aren’t happening anymore.

It all adds up to a crisis for the $1.4-billion flower industry.

“America’s flower farmers, the floral industry and all of their employees are teetering on economic devastation,” Dave Pruitt, CEO for the California Cut Flower Commission said in a conference call earlier this year. “These people literally cannot hold on without support from consumers. Amid dark times, the Wards offer buckets of pure sunshine. Ward’s Farm, New Jersey But the Wards came up with a fresh plan for uprooting their old business model. With some healthy social distancing rules, why shouldn’t people enjoy those sun-dappled fields as much as they do?

So, instead of only supplying their wares to florists, they opened their farm to the public. Inviting locals to come and pick their own sunflowers. And Junior and Oci found more friends at the farm, as more people than ever appeared among the sunflowers.

“We believe this is due to the fact that everyone has been in quarantine and just wants to get outside,” Alyssa explains. “We are so happy that we can bring joy in this tough time. We are blessed to have plenty of acreage so we are able to follow social distancing guidelines all while sharing the fields with others.”

It all adds up to a bumper crop of much-needed hope. And a testament to what you can grow with a little inspiration — and plenty of perspiration.

Neither Alyssa nor Allen have a long history of cultivation. Allen works full-time at a local bank, while Alyssa works a 9-5 in the pharmaceutical industry. While her husband credits childhood visits to his grandparents’ 200-acre farm […]