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Flower Farming Myths and What I Wish I Knew…

by | Feb 14, 2019

A myth has a way of taking on a life of its own and driving us to unhelpful practices. While a myth might be false, it is often widely held and very influential. I’ve fallen for a few flower farming myths through the years, but on top of that, I created some of my own!

One of my first myths was thinking that my flowers were so fabulous, customers would just show up in droves to buy and keep buying. I hadn’t done research to learn how other farmers hunted customers down. It never crossed my mind how much of this was really necessary. When the bottom fell out on my sales, I was devastated.

I believe any of us can stumble and fall for myths—-no matter where we are in this business. In fact, it seems to be easier today than ever before to fall in headfirst and then be caught hook, line, and sinker! 

My hope is that a punch list of common myths that can hold us back will make you less likely to fall for them. 

And this brings me to my guest contributors. 

I asked some of my flower-farming friends: Jennie Love, Laura Beth Resnick, and Emily Nekl to chime in on a related question: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started farming? The wisdom they share contains no fluff or myths. Jennie’s piece is raw truth; she and I have a very frank relationship and I love that she is sharing it here with you. So read on, folks, for mythbusters and eye openers.

Lisa Myths:

  1. Customers will just show up. My mindset back in the beginning was rooted in my flowers being so beautiful, fresh, and pesticide-free that I thought customers were going to storm my doors to buy them. Wrong. Going out over and over to find customers, educate them, and share what I’m offering was what this business required. How crushed I was when I had unsold flowers! I thought something was wrong with those beauties–and me! That wasn’t it at all. I was only doing the growing half of the job. I needed to go out and find customers on a regular basis.
  2. I’ll figure out the business part later. Many going into farming are also starting their first business ever. Two huge endeavors. Fortunately I did not have to struggle with this myth because I had had previous experience. I come from a strong entrepreneurial family and had been a business manager of a veterinary hospital for many years. I had at least an eyeball on this fact: the point of going into business is to create a profit. To do that, even flower farmers must have a plan for how to generate income and how to manage and track expenses. This is the groundwork to ensure that you’re on track to generate more money than you spend. I understand the fear of business–bookkeeping, taxes, and literally finding time to do it. But it is necessary. Starting out with a simple system is easier than to backtrack later.
  3. Bigger is better. I fell for this one hard. I used to feel inferior because my growing area was so small. In fact, when I had to answer that dreaded question: “How big is your farm?” (Ugh!), I felt like I wasn’t really a farmer. My first years I farmed less than ½ acre on my 1-¼  acre property. Learning how to produce incredible volume on a very small space was one of the best things that happened to me. If I had had 5 acres at hand, I wonder if I would still be farming today. Then 11 years into farming, I miraculously was able to purchase an additional 1.5 acres adjoining my urban farm for a total of 2.75 acres. Surely, this brought more opportunities, but I don’t believe I would have ever made it to the place I am now as a farmer if I hadn’t started out small. There is power in small farms.
  4. Social media. There is much to be learned on social media— if we can get past gazing at the photos—right? It’s understandable to want to share only the gorgeous successes, but it’s hard for those looking to even imagine the work, failures, and troubles we experienced to get that stunning shot! I’m not suggesting we stop posting but that we temper every photo with a large dose of reality. Most importantly, resist the insidious curse of constantly comparing our own results with the intoxicating photos on social media! This is a hole I still fall into at times.
  5. I can’t grow that because… This is one I believed for far too long. My book Cool Flowers has blown the “can’t grow that in the south” excuse out of the water. Based on that great experience I can’t believe I fell for this other myth for so long. I believed for years that certain crops, like lisianthus, had to be grown in a hoophouse. I didn’t grow it for my first 10 years farming because I accepted that myth. Lisianthus and many other specialty crops can be grown outdoors, you just have to tune it a little differently. Where there is a will to figure it out, there is likely a way. Don’t feel left out without hoop houses— I personally find it liberating!

Special Contributors:

Laura Beth Resnick, Butterbee Farm, Baltimore, Maryland

Started Farming: 2013
Sells to: florists in Maryland and DC, wedding couples who want to DIY their flowers, and CSA members.
Added value business: events and classes on the farm. From the Creative Entrepreneur and small engine repair courses to hands-on head crown workshops.
Visit Laura Beth’s website:  Butterbee Farm for her blog, schedule of tours, and events.
Follow on social media: Instagram and Facebook
Contact: [email protected]  (410) 570 – 5257

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started flower farming?
I worried so much at the beginning about whether things I tried on the farm would work, or whether I could sell enough to make farming my job. But with farming, you just have to TRY things- see if you can get that late planting of celosia in, or if that weird variety will be a good cut, or if your community will start to love your farm. All you can do is be aware of your strengths and shortcomings, and try to make informed decisions. Worrying just gets in the way, and should be tossed in the compost pile! To be honest, I still worry too much, but recently my mom said something that I say to myself when the going gets rough: “If you can’t handle it, get off the throne!”

Emily Nekl, Fuggles Flowers, Camden, North Carolina

Started Farming: 2015
Sells to: area businesses with bouquet consignment, DIY buckets, area florists and OBX wedding designers.
Added value business: event and wedding work.
Visit Emily’s website: Fuggles Flowers for more on her flowers and the sweet story behind the business name.
Follow on social media: Instagram and Facebook
Contact: [email protected]  (252) 339-8272

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started flower farming? I wish I had known to fully embrace and learn from every failure, because you will fail a lot during your early years as you build your farm and business, but find your groove much faster.  From learning your soil problems, to building the soil, learning the crops that do well in your micro climate, the correct timing of your successions, the right market(s) for your area and your personality, how to farm your space the most efficiently, how to battle each specific insect/fungus/weed, balancing work vs family, and what your ultimate goals are. Goals will change dramatically at the beginning as you find your markets. Once it begins to fall into place, which it will if you are persistent, your dreams are your only limit.  By then I’ll bet you will already have customers that are life-longers because your product is that much better.

We’ve nearly tripled our bouquets on commission this year in a very rural and financially strapped area.  So interesting that the flowers have really put a smile on this area – pretty cool. This past season has really given me a better idea of what I want out of this business, no longer do I want to take over the world. My quest is to perfect the market bouquet from April until frost and it is going brilliantly!

Jennie Love, Love ‘n Fresh Flowers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Jennie Love at a floral workshop.Started Farming: 2009
Sells to:  flower CSA and small-scale grocery stores.
Added value business: Wedding design and floral workshops.
Visit Jennie’s website: Love ‘n Fresh Flowers for her blog, schedule of workshops, design philosophy, and her design work.
Follow on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest
[email protected]  (215)804-9056

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started flower farming?
So many people are inspired by the lifestyle of flower farming and being their own boss. I certainly was when I first started! But there’s a bit of a dirty secret buried within that word “lifestyle”. This business of flower farming is intense and all-consuming. You’re probably nodding your head in agreement. Yep, of course it is. All farming – and small business ownership – is immensely engulfing. But the thing I did not realize when I decided to launch Love ‘n Fresh Flowers is that you don’t really get to ever stop. I don’t mean just for a quick vacation. I take plenty of vacations. I mean, basically, quit. Period.

I’m sure this doesn’t just pertain to flower farming. This is a big picture problem that is rarely talked about in a world that over-romanticizes and over-glorifies the notion of starting your own small creative business. I used to work in the corporate world, running marketing and business development for big companies. I changed jobs/companies three times in less than eight years. Every time I wanted to switch gigs, it was a simple (enough) matter to peruse job postings, submit a resume, go on some interviews, get an offer, go into my current boss’ office to give my two-week notice, and then shortly thereafter start a whole new job. It was seen as admirable, this switching jobs. In many ways, in the corporate or retail worlds, you’re expected to switch jobs every few years or else people see you as stagnant and not working on “climbing the ladder”.

But once you start your own business, the tables are turned. If you decide you’re ready for a change, it’s an incredibly complex process to make that shift. I know several flower farmers right now around the 10 year mark who are looking for ways out because they want to spend more time with their families or someone they love is struggling with their health and need to a caretaker. But you don’t just up and walk away from a farm and business you’ve spent a decade or more building. You have to find someone to buy it or maybe train an employee who can take over all the daily operations. And if you can somehow manage to figure out that puzzle, there’s the stigma of saying you’re “quitting”; dismantling what once was your dream. I have an immensely successful business. And, yet, some days I really want to quit.

There, I said it!

And yet, I’m not quitting. I’m going to evolve my business in new directions. I’m sure I’ll do this many times over. So what I wish I’d known before I started my own flower farming business is that this is an “all in” situation. You can’t easily ask the dealer for another hand. You better really, really, REALLY, want to do this job pretty much for the rest of your life. If you don’t, then it’s probably best never to start. But if you think flower farming can be your life’s work, and you’ve got the stamina and flexibility to see it through the decades, then get digging!

Many thanks to my guest contributors:

To the two gals I see as fresh rising stars in this flower farming industry–Laura Beth and Emily –thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I’m grateful to my friend Jennie who has set the success bar in urban farming and is always pushing us all into new territory while grounding us in reality, thank you!

As we become more experienced in an area of flower farming and then tackle an unknown, aren’t we really all right back at the start again? Sure we may have years of experience or wisdom on our side, but the reality of making it a successful part of our business is a real struggle and that’s normal, y’all.

If succeeding in this flower farming business was easy, everyone would be doing it. I’m with Laura Beth’s mom: if you can’t handle it, get off the throne!

Learn More about Flower Farming School Online!

HOsted by Lisa Mason Ziegler

Founder of The Gardener’s Workshop and Flower Farming School Online. Author of Vegetables Love Flowers, Cool Flowers, and The Easy Cut-Flower GardenConnect with Lisa on Facebook and Instagram!