Opportunity blooms: Laid off engineer buys flower farm from Milliken’s legendary Glad Man
934 Farms Gladiolus
Find Matt Carson’s gladioli at the Greeley and Boulder farmers markets on Saturday mornings (7:30 a.m.-noon at 902 7th Ave. in Greeley and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on 13th Street in Boulder) and at the Fort Collins farmers market on Sundays (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in front of the Ace Hardware at 1001 Harmony Rd). Carson also sells his flowers to local florists when he can.
The Glad Man
Marvin Bruce, the original gladiolus farmer, in January was inducted into the International Gladiolus Hall of Fame, which is housed at the James A. Michener Library at the University of Northern Colorado. Bruce maintained the Milliken gladiolus farm for 28 years before selling it to Matt Carson of 934 Farms.
Matt Carson always knew he wanted to own his own business, but he went through many ideas before finding the right fit.
At one point, back when Chipotle was just getting started, Carson worked at a burrito shop for a few months. He thought that might be the business he wanted to start. It wasn’t.
“I would get this close,“ he said with his fingers less than an inch apart, “and just never jump into it. I would analyze myself out of the decision.”
Through a series of fortunate events, such as getting laid off from his engineering job and a chat with a local farmer, Carson bought a flower farm near his Milliken home. That was the start of his business, 934 Farms, which focuses mainly on growing the colorful, sword-like gladiolus, known to flower enthusiasts simply as “glads.”
It all started when a friend handed him a Denver Post article about a Weld County farmer, Marvin Bruce, who was growing glads. After 27 years of growing and marketing the flowers, Bruce has earned himself the title of “The Glad Man.”
Bruce still maintains 9 rows of the flowers on Carson’s field — which, Carson jokes, are much better looking than his own 104 rows.
Carson said he read the Post article about Bruce and was struck by how unique the business was. So much so that he would come home from a long day of work in Longmont, pick up the tattered paper from his coffee table and thumb through it again and again.
“In the article you could really get Marvin’s passion for doing it,” Carson said, “and I didn’t know of any other gladiolus farms around here. I decided to go drive around until I found it. About 15-20 minutes in, I passed the field and I thought, ‘Hey, I’m just going to drive in and talk to him.’”
So he pulled into the colorful field and was met with a smile. Carson started asking Marvin questions.
“About two minutes into the conversation, he just kind of stopped and said, ‘Well, I tell you what, I’d sell you my business,’” Carson said with a laugh.
Both Carson and his wife, Jonie, grew up in farm country, and the couple had recently finished a class about beginning an agricultural-based business through the Colorado State University Extension program.
“So I went home to my wife and I said, ‘The weirdest thing happened today,’” he said.
Jonie thought that it might just be the opportunity for which they had been searching. That was two Septembers ago.
The Carsons decided to start slow by buying the business and staying employed at their jobs — Carson as an engineer and Jonie as a teacher. Right around Halloween that year, a different decision was made for them when, on a Monday morning, Carson lost his job.
“They gave me a severance package,” he said, “and I just jumped in with both feet from there.”
Without that push, Carson said he’s not sure it would have happened.
“It was the thing that needed to happen,” Carson said. “If I wouldn’t have lost my job I would have continued to really debate whether I should do it.
“Everything just kind of fell into place, and I was open to the ideas that I wasn’t going to figure it all out beforehand — that I just kind of had to jump in and learn as I go.”
Two years later, Carson said he couldn’t be happier that it worked out how it did.
Jonie still works as a school teacher, but she helps a lot in the summer. When school starts again in the fall, she spends Friday nights making bouquets of flowers for the farmers markets.
Carson loves that his schedule is flexible enough to make his sons hockey games, and that he doesn’t have to punch into a job that isn’t fulfilling to him.
“And the flowers … people love flowers,” he said. “I’m selling something to people that they love to have, that makes them smile, that lights them up.
“What’s better than that — to be providing something that people love and that makes them happy and provides beauty?”❖
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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign SB 21-87, known as the Farm Workers Bill of Rights, though much of the content will be decided through the rulemaking process.