Growing Joy

Flowers and family reign supreme at P&K Farms.

ranunculus from P&K Farms
Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

Kathy Gormandy experienced one such moment by purchasing a piece of land in Elberta. “I bought this property as a single mom with three kids,” she says, sweeping an arm across the three acres. “I wanted to have a farm in some capacity. I wanted my kids to be able to run around, have fresh air under a big sky and just experience a slower pace of life.” 

Kathy Gormandy holding flowers at P&K Farms
Kathy Gormandy holds a beautiful bouquet of her home-grown ranunculus.

The property is tucked away from the highways and byways of the surrounding cities. It imparts peace, but don’t let it fool you. There is plenty going on in this patch of the rural suburbs. After all, a farmer-florist needs room to grow her blooms. “A lot of people aren’t familiar with that term,” she says of her title. “Essentially, I grow flowers and arrange them. That pretty much sums it up.” While she relays her job description with a sense of simplistic humility, the full scale of her work is impressive. Rows of black plastic with flowers budding out from the soil cover a section of her yard. Next to it, tall greenhouses known as caterpillar tunnels house more flowers in neat sections. “Those are where our high-value flowers and white blooms live,” she explains as she paces between the rows. “The tunnels help with wind protection and shield the flowers from the rain and sun. White flowers can turn brown if they get too much sun.”

Early experiences in the garden fostered Gormandy’s innate love of the natural world. “I grew up in Loxley and my grandfather lived with us,” she says. “Grandpa’s contribution to the family was that he would grow a garden out back every summer. When it was time to pick the veggies, the kids would harvest. I did a lot of that, specifically picking green beans. Every time I have fresh green beans, I think of Grandpa.” After moving to Elberta, she grew vegetables like her grandfather did, taking them to the local farmers market, to limited success. “People want to haggle you down on the price of a $3-pound of organic tomatoes,” she explains. “I started growing flowers — mainly zinnias and sunflowers — to put in mason jars to jazz up my booth and get people in. They sold instantly.” As the $15 zinnias in mason jars became a hit, she realized that the flowers were easier than the vegetables to grow. It was more fun, too. “There are a lot of amazing vegetable growers in this area,” she says. “But growing high-quality flowers for wholesale for florists and event design was not even a thing then. I said, ‘I think this needs to be my niche, and I need to go full force into it.’”

Gormandy inspects her growing flowers, pruning shears in hand. Caterpillar tunnels house Gormandy’s high-value blooms, protecting them from weather.

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She pivoted, taking flower farming more seriously in 2017. Her production grew, and so did the farm work. Cue the next life-altering moment, this time sparked by a Facebook post. “I posted something about repairing fences,” she recalls. “When you live on a farm, there are always fences to fix. I asked, ‘Does anybody want to come help fix a fence?’ I knew nobody was going to say yes.” To her surprise, a former classmate from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School responded, saying he had a truck and would like to help. “He pulls up into the drive and is like, ‘What’s it been, 20 years?’” she puts on a deep voice, laughing at the memory. The two spent a few hours repairing fences and catching up on their lives over the last few decades. Their natural connection was obvious, and Patrick and Kathy married in the same pasture where they fixed the fence not long after. 

The couple is a true team, encouraging each other in their pursuits and life on P&K Farms. “I told him about my dream of farming, and that everyone thought that was silly and crazy,” says Kathy. “And he’s like, ‘I don’t think it’s silly at all. What else would you be doing? It makes total sense.’ He’s the first person who said that to me. He has been amazing at making the vision come to life.” Kathy provides the same support and encouragement for Patrick. When he had the opportunity to further his career as a shrimper, she was there to provide a push to buy his father’s shrimping boat. “He learned shrimping from his dad…and I said, ‘We need to buy the boat. You are never happier than when you come off the water.’ I saw that as what this is for me.” She nods to the flowers and the farm. “The shrimping, it’s in his blood. It’s gratifying in the same way that farming is gratifying. It’s hard work, but you have something to show for it at the end. So that’s when we bought the boat, and he started Heritage Seafood. He’s the shrimper and I’m the farmer.”

Kathy’s snapdragons are ready to go on the market. Kathy’s husband, Patrick, and son, David, help plant rows of seeds. 

In Kathy’s words, the flower farm and production have “hugely changed” throughout the years. She certainly stays busy selling to clients and designers across Mobile and Baldwin counties and Pensacola, fulfilling custom orders for events such as weddings, funerals, parties and more as well as managing her retail space, Artisanal Blume, in the old Spanish Fort post office. The space allows customers to buy by the stem or order a custom arrangement, but most of all, it’s a place to be amongst the flowers in an atmosphere of casual elegance. Workshops teach participants about arranging bouquets. “The fun thing about the workshops is we also have our license to sell wine, beer and champagne-based cocktails,” says Kathy. “So, we are an actual flower bar.” All of this is enough to let people know that the sum of what Kathy does goes beyond gardening. 

Farming is a business that has a sense of urgency around timelines, production numbers, budgeting and harvesting. This pressure is especially evident at the onset of the summer months. “In the summer, things germinate instantly and then you’ve got to get it in the ground,” she says. “As long as you have enough water, the flowers grow really quickly. The pace is faster, but we have to do our work earlier in the morning. The flowers don’t like to be picked when it’s hot and we don’t like to be out here when it’s hot.” 

Cheerful sweet William blooms are almost ready to harvest. Everyone in the family contributes to the farm, including the Gormandys’ son, Christian.

After several years in operation, Kathy has mastered a production mindset. She isn’t timid when it comes to deciding which blooms are sell-worthy and which she should pitch. “If I have to hunt to find a good bloom, the bed is finished,” she says decisively. “Otherwise, we’re losing money. It’s not intuitive to rip out perfectly good plants, but I want the highest quality to go out the door. This is what my name’s attached to and I want to be known for high quality. If not, it’s not leaving the farm.” Experience has also taught her how to substitute blooms that grow well in south Alabama for the more commercial buds clients might expect. “We don’t grow roses as cut flowers because it’s very hard in the South to grow roses organically. So instead, we do ranunculus and lisianthus because they can take up similar space.” While the goal is always to please the clients, she enjoys it when she gets more creativity around the arrangements. “I love it when I have a client that says, ‘Just bring me something seasonal and local in this color palette,’ because I really feel that’s where we can shine and we can give them the best flowers that they never knew existed,” she says. “People will often ask for roses and carnations because that’s what they know. There is this whole world of fresh flowers out there — just let me show you!”

It’s a full plate, yet Kathy manages it all with joy. Her social media feed is bursting with gorgeous photos of blooms, bouquets and buds. Kathy’s smiling face often accompanies them, shining with a special radiance. “There is a hashtag that I love to use. It’s #GrowingJoy,” she says. “We grow the flowers, so we’re physically out here in the dirt, but the flowers bring joy to everybody who perceives them. It’s our calling and our honor to grow joy in the life around us. We can all use more on an everyday basis.”

Creamy Whipped Feta Dip

whipped feta dip served with pita chips
Creamy whipped feta dip

Makes 8 Servings

8 ounces block quality feta, drained
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2-3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1-2 tablespoons crushed pistachios

1. In the bowl of a large food processor fitted with a blade, combine the feta, Greek yogurt and lemon zest. Blend well. While the processor is running, drizzle olive oil through the top opening until the feta is whipped to a smooth mixture.

2. Transfer the whipped feta to a serving plate. With the back of your spoon, smooth the top of the feta, making a well in the middle. Pour a bit of olive oil over the feta, then top with the pepper flakes, fresh herbs and nuts.

3. Serve with pita chips or pita wedges.

Spicy Saucy Shrimp

spicy saucy shrimp on a bed of greens
Spicy saucy shrimp

Makes 4 Servings

1/2 cup mayonnaise
5 tablespoons siracha 
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
Vegetable oil
Sesame seeds, for garnish
Green onion, for garnish

1. In a small bowl, combine  mayonnaise, sriracha, sugar and vinegar. Whisk until incorporated and set aside.

2. In a shallow bowl, add egg and milk. Whisk until combined.

3. In a shallow pan, combine flour, breadcrumbs and seasonings. 

4. Coat shrimp in batches in the breading mixture, then egg mixture, then back in breading mixture. Repeat until all shrimp are coated. Place breaded shrimp in a bowl and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

5. In a frying pan, heat a few inches of oil to 350 degrees. Fry shrimp for 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Repeat until all shrimp are fried. 

6. Toss shrimp in sriracha sauce, garnish with sesame seeds and green onion and serve. 

Rosemary Shortbread

Makes 8 Servings

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
1 cup unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 –  2 teaspoons dark, full-flavored honey

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, rosemary and salt. Add butter and honey, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess. Dough should not be smooth.

2. Press dough into an ungreased 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan or 9-inch pie pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm.

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