Polly Creech, Polly’s Flower Farm
After 25 years as a healthcare administrator, Polly Creech was looking for a career change, something that was less stressful and more enjoyable. She had always tended a well-manicured perennial garden and offered bouquets to friends and neighbors, who in turn would comment, “Polly, you ought to do this for a living.” Five years ago, Polly was searching the Internet and simply ran across the ASCFG website. The National Conference in Texas was coming up and she immediately registered. When she returned to Albany, Ohio, she dove in headfirst and Polly’s Flower Farm was established.
Polly bought a 10-acre farm and planted a quarter of an acre her first year. She was armed with the knowledge from the conference, the books The Flower Farmer and Specialty Cut Flowers, and by her own admission, “an extremely green thumb.” She relied on the information in seed catalogues to decide what would grow well in her area and quickly got involved with the National Cut Flower Seed Trials. When she went buy a tractor she recalls, “I didn’t even know what a PTO was.”
Another early challenge Polly faced was finding a good irrigation system. The first one she tried deteriorated in a year, but she’s been much happier with her current drip system. With the wisdom a lifelong farmer would possess, Polly surmises that weather is year-in and year-out the greatest challenge because you simply have no control over it. In three years she’s experienced an extremely dry year, the wettest year in Ohio and flower-flattening winds from Florida hurricane remnants.
Her original goal was to grow cut flowers to sell at the local farmers’ market, and to wholesalers and retailers. It didn’t take long to realize that selling wholesale would be difficult since the nearest market was two hours away. She serves several retail florists, and has worked at one during the “off season.” In fact, Polly has discovered a new passion of designing floral arrangements and may be purchasing a florist shop in the not-too-distant future.
But that all ties in to the farmers’ market. Other flower peddlers at the market offered short stems—only 8 to 10 inches. Polly didn’t understand why they would cut so short, especially when customers would flock to her booth for her long-stemmed offerings.
It was at the farmers’ market that a bride-to-be first approached Polly about supplying and designing the flowers for her wedding. It certainly wasn’t anything Polly was expecting, but before long, she had a new market—weddings. Last year she did 10 weddings, just from word of mouth and the farmers’ market. This year she participated in a local bridal show and has already booked 23 weddings! She’s found that featuring her farm is a unique way to gauge the style of the bridal couple (or their mothers). Some come up to a year in advance to see the flowers in bloom and select flowers for their special day.
She recently added a small greenhouse, 20-ft by 40-ft, to start seedlings. The frost-free date in Albany is May 15, so it’s good to get an early start indoors. She grows lots of hot peppers for dried wreaths, but last year her germination was so poor she bought in almost all her pepper plants. She offers dried flowers at the farmers’ market in the fall and early winter. Many of her preferences for dried flowers are perennials, so each year she starts more perennials. Last year she ventured into the woody cuts by planting 20 to 30 callicarpa, pussy willow and lilacs.
If (or perhaps, when) Polly buys the flower shop, she thinks it will be best to focus on variety rather than quantity. She can supply the flower shop and manage the weddings, and still sell any excess to other local florists. Though she loves growing, she’s found, “it’s hard work, and I really love designing and arranging.” So when Polly’s Flower Shop comes to fruition, she’ll likely hire a farm manager to oversee the maintenance and harvest at the farm. A nearby college offers an able and willing pool of seasonal employees who are reliable, and with many interested in the natural sciences, want a job that allows them to be outdoors.
Polly grows organic and feels fortunate to be in an area where locally grown and organically grown products are emphasized and appreciated. When asked what herbaceous flowers she grows, she starts listing off “celosia, rudbeckia, sunflowers, digitalis, artemisia, echinacea, gomphrena, statice, ageratum, several grasses and grains…oh, I’m trying to picture the garden, but all I can see now is snow.” While the garden may physically be covered with snow, Polly’s Flower Farm is growing as if it were already spring.
That’s right, Polly grows cut flowers and shrimp. She had a pond built on her farm for the specific purpose of growing (and harvesting) shrimp. She explained that it is easier to harvest if the pond is specifically for shrimp. Though the first year produced a low yield, that was expected, and her patience the second year paid off when the harvest tripled. Considering that 95% of the freshwater shrimp sold in the United States is imported, the market potential is great. Shrimp are sold at the farm on the day of harvest and taken to the farmers’ market for second day sells. Last year, Polly sold all she harvested in the two-day time frame. One of the unforeseen benefits of this side business has been the publicity that it has generated for her and the flower farm. As second (and third) careers go, Polly seems to have found success and fulfillment.
Polly Creech, Polly’s Flower Farm