I worked on Third Branch Flower in 2007 and 2011, in sales, under the guidance of Ed Pincus, who passed away this week at the age of 75.
Ed was the third flower farmer I had become close with and worked for. I worked on a wholesale mum farm in Connecticut as a teenager, and during college I met my buddy for life,Nicole, who has owned Painted Tulip for almost 10 years. I met Ed at a time when I was feeling very lost, and stressed out by years of working hard in college and even harder at my first real job in an office.
We did not have a lot of soulful talks that put me back on the right path. At least not at first. At first, Ed taught me things about peonies. His longtime employees Bram (also sales, and now owns his own peony farm in Plainfield, VT) and Willy (his field manager) worked with Ed to bring the flower market peonies during the shadowy time of late June to early July, when peonies weren’t usually available.
Ed’s unique location on a mountaintop in Roxbury allowed them to harvest peonies later than anyone else in the lower 48. The farm had been in operation since the 80s, and by the time I reached it in 2007, it was down to a science. A science of when to order ice packs, and how to place them in boxes so they did not harm the unopened flowers but kept them cool on their torturous FedEx journeys.
There was so much about the world of high end peonies that I found unusual and fascinating. The sturdy white peonies that people loved: first, Duchesse, last, Ann Cousins and Elsa Sass. The unusual yellow Garden Treasure. The sexy reds; Red Charm and gangly weird Henry Bockstoce. Cutting. A team. The boxes. Booking flights for the peonies so they reached the LA flower market on time without damage.
Ed had had another life, a life before peonies, where he was an important and innovative filmmaker. I was a brusque and artistic 23-year-old when I met him and I asked for his films. He gave me DVDs I still have to this day. My tough attitude was pretty trumped by the strange, lingering, contemplative documentaries Ed had produced. Before a filmmaker, a Philosophy student. A father. Now a farmer. Ed had been many things, to many people.
I returned to the farm in 2011 and managed sales for a season. Ed was already suffering from an illness which would ultimately end his life. Something remarkable about Ed was that he faced everything with freshness, even illness. He almost seemed to marvel at disease, rather than fear it. He would talk about symptoms he experienced, if you asked, but he did not dwell. And the goings on of other people, of the farm, of those outside the farm, amused him down to the smallest detail. When two field employees both became pregnant that summer, Ed was gleeful. “Fertility farm!”
Ed told me that in the early days of the farm, he did all of the work–now managed by a crew of up to 35 people–himself, with a friend, with a helper or two. It was incredible to think what was such a streamlined process had begun so humbly. He was always willing to help facilitate the resolution of any puzzle: minute or big picture. Loading a truck, dealing with an upset customer or a mother of a bride who didn’t care that Third Branch was a farm that sold only to wholesalers, or someone who wanted to order a peony they’d seen but didn’t know the name of.
I made flyers for Ed to use advertising Third Branch root divisions to Alaskan peony farmers. We used some of the spectacular images he’d taken of his peonies to showcase what the knotted little bare roots would one day produce. Alaskan farmers, of course, would enjoy even later dates for cut flower sales than Ed. It wasn’t the photos that struck me, though, it was a line of text he’d written out for the flyer:
Feel free to call Ed for advice
Because he welcomed that. Any farmer, in any scenario, could call him to chat about problems, weather, crops, their love life, their mood swings. Whatever they wanted. He would answer the phone, “Ed Pincus speaking,” and whoever was on the other end launched in to whatever had prompted their call, and Ed did listen, and provide miracles of advice.
I house-sat for Ed and his wife Jane in March of 2012, and did some odds and ends working on other projects for Ed that winter and spring. I never went back to the farm as an employee. But I took some long walks around the farm, usually by myself or with the farm’s proud Tibetan Mastiff, Louie. Ed gave me a pair of his clippers and told me I could cut things and take them. I often left with armfuls of flowers.
In the summer of 2012, Ed and I stood by a peony bush that was one of his favorites. He knew his health was in decline. He told me he wanted to see one more season.
I knew that he would. A farmer lives by the seasons. There is so much passion for watching the land moisten and warm into Spring, and then produce in the Summer, and then degrade into Fall. You cannot subdue the (often painful, somewhat codependent) love a farmer has for his or her fields and land and crops.
I wish you fields and fields of endless and beautiful flowers wherever you are now, Ed Pincus. You brought so much striking beauty into this world.