Due South: Kris McKey and MoonBee Flower Farm

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Within the rolling hills of Yalobusha County, 43-year-old Kristen McKey is at work. Palm-first into fresh earth, she cares for her plot, which is filled with everything from sunflowers to zinnias.

Her business, MoonBee Flower Farm, is the result of big-city burnout. After studying Interior Design at Brenau University in Atlanta, Georgia, McKey was tired of the city, its austere concrete jungles and rush hours.

“I was just looking for a change,” McKey said.

Fortunately for McKey, her parents had recently retired in Water Valley, and she was welcome to join. Her dad, a Mississippi native, wanted to return to a quiet few acres after a 43-year-long career with Ford Motor Company. McKey had never lived in Mississippi. 

As she considered moving to Water Valley, McKey stumbled upon a magazine article on flower farming and enrolled in an online course on the subject. Her expertise in interior design – in creating functional, beautiful spaces – informed a hobby that would demand the very same skill sets. She was intrigued: and due south.

After starting her online studies in 2019, McKey quickly learned which flowers fare best in Mississippi heat (cosmos, celosia) and which ones do not (dianthus). She also learned the tribulations of a midsummer Mississippi sun, or the fear high winds can instill into a farmer’s heart. 

“It can be difficult at times, especially when I’m trying to get everything done before the afternoon, when it gets extremely hot,” McKey said. “It’s challenging when you hear about a storm coming up, and you’re not sure if those flowers will survive. You just never know what’s gonna happen.”

Despite the risk, the reward is high. McKey now sells MoonBee bouquets at the Magnolia Square Market, Water Valley’s bi-monthly farmer’s market, and via weekly delivery subscriptions exclusive to the town. Her designs are unmistakable: rich pink and purple florals studded with honeyed marigolds or fuschia celosias. 

For all it is worth, McKee’s garden is labor-intensive. She is gladly pesticide-free, using only organic fertilizer. If a weed arises, she pulls it herself. If an insect pesters her work, she plucks it out by hand and places it in soapy water.

“I’m willing to do that extra step,” McKee said. “Just so everything’s safe and I’m not harming any bees or butterflies.”

McKee hopes to stretch her skill set this year. She’s considering training for a Master Gardener certification, a certification which requires a combined 80 hours of teaching and community service in Mississippi. McKey also wonders what it might be like to offer garden consultation or design services – anything to help her community appreciate the craft she adores.

“I enjoy it so much, because I get to see [seeds] grow and produce over the summer,” McKey said. “And I get to see the bees loving them, and the butterflies and everything. When I’m out in the garden, caring for them, it’s peaceful and colorful.”

As for leaving the city behind? McKey is content.

“I think that’s what I was born to do,” McKey said. “To be in nature all the time. I can’t imagine going back.”

photos by Kristen McKey