Growing up in the Netherlands, Mark Hommes was raised on horticulture and a love of Dutch iris. Current co-owner of Castle Hayne Farms, Mark always knew he would become a commercial-flower grower, learning the trade from his father, but what he didn’t realize is the amount of rich history both his farmland and his family legacy would carry in Castle Hayne, North Carolina.
Mark’s family raised him on a bulb farm in the Netherlands where he learned the ins and outs of the horticulture industry. It wasn’t until Mark’s dad started an export business to the United States that Mark decided to visit and fell in love with the land. “My father and uncle bought the farm, originally named Coastal Bulb Farm, in 1978,” Mark said, “and when my friend and I decided to visit in 1989 we both fell in love with the land and the amount of opportunities presented to us here.” Mark and his friend became co-owners of the farm in 2004 and have grown it to 7.5 acres plus four acres of commercial greenhouses.
“Dutch iris has always been our specialty and staple crop at Castle Hayne Farms,” Mark said, “it came from my family heritage in the Netherlands and grows really well here along the coast of North Carolina due to the full amount of daily sun, water and cool evening temperatures.” According to Mark, most Dutch iris varieties grown today originated from his families farm in the Netherlands. “It is by far my favorite flower to grow because it’s in my blood,” he said, “we are continuing the family legacy of developing new varieties, in fact, we are currently working on one that will be named after my daughter.” In addition to Dutch iris, the farm grows a variety of other flowers, such as lillies, snapdragons, peonies and sunflowers as well as CBD and greenhouse vegetables, like squash, eggplant and zucchini.
A typical day on the farm starts early at 6:30 a.m. with crews harvesting flowers in the greenhouses, laying tarp and sterilizing soil to ensure proper health. “Many people don’t realize that in addition to ensuring the proper amount of water is given, maintaining soil health is essential to the overall quality of your flowers,” Mark said, “because a high quality soil helps absorb and displace excess water, but the quality of your crop is determined by who is at the end of the hose.” Mark is also responsible for planting schedules, order fulfillment, sales and marketing for the farm. “It’s like taking care of a baby 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no breaks,” he says, “you cannot let it slide and it’s a stressful business because flowers have to be sold very quickly, within five days of harvest, or they have to be thrown away.” Despite the day to day stress, Mark says there is no greater pride than walking into a greenhouse and seeing a beautiful crop ready for harvest.
One unique products presented by Castle Hayne Farms is their Carolina Bouquet. “This bouquet features a variety of flowers that are in season, so it changes from one season to the next,” Mark said, “they are all made by hand and we give it our own design so that it represents current horticulture in the Carolina’s.”
Products from Castle Hayne Farms can be found at the Riverfront Farmers Market in downtown Wilmington, the Carolina Beach Farmers Market, the Wrightsville Beach Farmers Market and the Oak Island Farmers Market. Flower bouquets from the farm can also be found at retail chains across the state, including Whole Foods, the Fresh Market and Lidl. Their flowers can be recognized by the sleeve with a Dutch Iris and Goodness Grows logo.
Although times are changing and the future is uncertain, Mark knows exactly what his farm will continue to do. “In the future, we will continue to grow beautiful, high quality flowers and take care of our local people,” he said. If you would like to learn more about the history of Castle Hayne Farms land, check out the book “Tar Heels and Wooden Shoes” by Charles W. Riesz Jr. and visit their website for more on the family’s history of growing beautiful plants, like Dutch iris.