Perennial Perseverance

By Gretchen Westdal Centers 

Meredith Nunnikhoven runs Barnswallow Flowers in Oskaloosa, where she grows chemical-free, in-demand and locally grown flowers for all to enjoy and learn about conservation practices.  

Meredith Nunnikhoven is a farmer. It is not simply an occupation. It is her life, her blood, her calling. She comes from a long line of farmers — third generation on her paternal side, fifth generation on her maternal side. She is connected to the land and determined to leave it better than she found it.   

From an early age, Meredith knew she wanted to pursue an agriculturally rich livelihood. But, on the encouragement of her parents to follow her other interests, Meredith ventured away from farm life for a bit. She was studying abroad in Spain and traveling, working in multimedia art and eventually became a production coordinator for film. Regularly pulling 16–18 hour days, she achieved career goals in a tough industry that many hoped for, but Meredith couldn’t ignore the internal call back to the land. 
“I was always thinking, ‘I can’t wait to return to the farm,’” Meredith reminisces. “It’s home. It’s where I sleep well. I never slept well anywhere else and always had health issues. I wanted to be on the farm where I could breathe. Where there’s open air and grass.” 
She’s now back on that family farm — her work ethic just as steadfast as ever. Except now, it’s being poured into something that gives back so much in return.   

Sowing Sustainability 

Based in Oskaloosa, Meredith and her late mother, Kerrilyn Loynachan Nunnikhoven, started Barnswallow Flowers in 2010. What began from a basic seed starting class at Indian Hills Community College grew into a one-of-a-kind, successful farming business focused on sustainable, chemical-free cultivation of flowers and other products. The farm is a rich tapestry of native florals, pollinator-friendly plants, and new crops like chestnut trees, which are easy to maintain and take little water to grow.   

Meredith Nunnikhoven, Isabella Pollock, Taylor Daniels, and Payton Lyons, all from Mahaska and Marion Counties, handpick flowers for Barnswallow Flowers. 

“We wanted our small family farm to be diversified. That's how the farmers before me survived on both sides of the family. They had diverse operations, various sales and marketing channels and never gave up when it got tough,” Meredith explains. “When we started the flower farm in 2010, there was a lack of available information on how to grow flowers sustainably, chemical free and completely outdoors. So, our expectations back then were very low, and there were many frustrating moments and learnings. Our internal drive to love, grow, cultivate, and harvest beautiful flowers kept us going. We hoped that eventually, people would want to buy our flowers.”  
Meredith and her team are doing something different in an industry that relies heavily on chemicals and pesticides to produce the “perfect” bloom. Tending to 450 acres and using organic and sustainable practices, they have a deep understanding of what each variety of flower needs and when. By transplanting succession crops, relying on perennials, using cover crops and using other regenerative ag practices, Barnswallow Flowers is bucking the trend of perfection for sustainable, beautiful blooms. 

Meredith even developed a patent-pending compostable vase that drastically reduces their reliance on plastics, glass, metals and other detrimental materials. During the growing season, she sells pre-made arrangements in the vases at The Little Blue Barn Farm Stand. Customers can take home the blooms, enjoy the beauty and then compost the vase in their gardens.  

“Our customers don't care if a bug nibbled a little bit out of a petal because they know when they touch it won't impact their health,” Meredith shares. “This rings true at you-pick, which is why we opened that experience on the farm. When you tell the mother of a toddler that the flowers are not sprayed with chemicals, their eyes light up as if to say, thank you for thinking of my child's future.” 

The Beauty In The Toil 

As with most farming operations, it wasn’t always flowers and butterflies.  

Kerrilyn, a master gardener and the impetus for diversifying the flower farm passed away in 2021. She and Meredith had been building to create what’s now Barnswallow Flowers.  

“Twenty-one hit, and that was a big blow. I almost retired from flower farming,” Meredith remembers. “I just didn’t know how to do it without her knowledge… she was the one who you could ask anything. We did everything together.” 
In addition to the loss, Iowa was in an extreme drought. The farm was burnt from the heat, and the landscape was brown and depleted. For Meredith, that seemed like that was it.  
But in true Iowa fashion, neighbors, friends and the community came together to ask how they could help. Things began to grow both physically and figuratively. Practical Farmers of Iowa reached out and wanted to do a story on the farm. It was also then that Meredith figured out how to manufacture the compostable vase.   
“That time was kind of magical,” Meredith says. “Those events and having a value-added product with the vase told me I should continue, and it would be possible for us in the future to continue to farm this way.” 

A Blooming Success 

Their persistence and commitment paid off. Now, Barnswallow offers floral arrangements of all sizes, you-pick options for people to come and enjoy the farm experience, floral designs for events, monthly CSA options and more. The farm is open from May through October and is abuzz with activity. There’s even an AirBnB on-site for people to relax and soak up the expansive fields of fragrant florals.  

The floral varieties grown on the farm are awash in color and varying sizes. Peonies, dahlias, tulips, zinnias, daffodils, marigolds and more dot the fields like organic art and create opportunities for pollinators to do their work.  
Some of Barnswallow’s most popular offerings include: 

• The Barnswallow Mini Arrangement — an arrangement for $10 that comes in the proprietary compostable vase. Meredith and her team sell these at farmer's markets and inside the farmstand.  
• DIY Floral Buckets — visitors to the farm come and cut their own flowers to create designs perfect for everyday events or something more special. Meredith notes this option is a win for them because they are selling flowers and creating memorable experiences for patrons.  
• Pick Your Own Flowers — this option is a special Flower Field Harvest Experience. Visitors come to the farm on Saturday mornings in peak season to experience what it’s like to be a farmer, harvesting a product then taking home to enjoy. There’s an educational aspect that teaches the public about what conservation and chemical-free farming entail.   

If she’s not on the farm, Meredith can be found selling at local area farmer’s markets and speaking at ag events about the importance of diversification, conservation and sustainability in farming. She’s working year-round running the business side of Barnswallow Flowers, too. In her “spare” time, she is also frequently in Washington, D.C., where she speaks with elected officials on the importance of supporting Iowa farmers.  

Meredith Nunnikhoven holds fresh cut flowers from her chemical-free flower patch in front of The Little Blue Barn.

It’s nonstop — just like Meredith.  

“I’m the accountant, the marketer, the designer, the social media person, and the farm manager,” Meredith laughs. “I was skeptical in the beginning, but my mom had a vision of how we needed to diversify to stand the test of time. She knew we couldn’t do just one thing.” 
And just like the variety of flowers she uses in her fields; Meredith is never just tending to one thing.  
For more information and how to enjoy the farm, visit