This year brings many changes to my business that are exciting, and motivating me to get the season rolling. I am not only revisiting some cut flowers species, but also have made some major marketing changes. Mostly, I look forward to the return of my partner in crime.
The first major marketing change is my decision to discontinue my wholesale plant business. Over the past 9 years we have been wholesaling 4-inch herbs and specialty annuals to a handful of local nurseries. This has been a good spring cash flow generator and justified the hiring of an employee in March. My primary decision for this was made after closely looking at the net profit from these sales. It proved to not be worth the stress and risk. As a small business we need to make large profits on smaller quantities of plants, rather than average profits on large amounts of material. The energy the wholesaling took was not worth the return. Another major reason was the waste. Wholesale growing is speculative growing and after two consecutive wet, cool springs I threw away too many plants. At a lecture I attended this winter it was stated that each pot you throw away equates to the profit on two sold pots. I shudder to think how much money I have composted. So this season we will concentrate on what we do best: retailing high-margin plants and quality cuts.
I am going to grow anemones and ranunculus this spring in an unheated hoophouse. Currently the corms are being sprouted and I am waiting for the weather to break to plant them. I have sort of tried these many years ago with no success. It gets too warm too quickly here in Maine when we plant most crops. By planting in April in a field tunnel, I hope to have a cool climate to get these flowers to bloom. Although the cutting window will be short, no one else will have these flowers at the markets I sell at, and we all know how great that is. I will let you know this summer how it goes.
The most exciting change this year is the return of my wife Linda to the daily activities of the farm. We started and grew the business 16 years ago and spent a tremendous amount of energy and time together. These were very exciting times and full of great memories. While each worked other jobs we developed a successful and sustainable farming operation. I can remember collapsing exhausted after Saturday markets in the truck and sleeping in the driveway. After the business became viable (about 10 years ago) we settled down and started a family. It was our choice then that Linda would stay home and concentrate on caring for our children, and I would run the business with hired help. After all, this is a major reason we chose this career—to be able to raise our family ourselves. There were many stressful days for both of us as we could not always be there for each other when we needed it. Each summer in early August we would question ourselves: is this farming stuff really what we want to do with our lives?
The business continued to thrive and change over the years under my guidance while Linda cared for our two children. I can remember one Wednesday when Linda came to visit me at the market and one of her good customers took her aside and whispered, “You know, Linda, that guy you have working for you is not that friendly.” The business did change a bit and customers did miss Linda. I would post pictures of the children and Linda at my booth to share with customers.
So this growing season begins with a return of my chief seed sower, transplanter, cutter, buncher, sleever, bouquet maker and marketing queen. I am very excited to once again share the daily activities of the farm with my wife and look forward to the increased participation of my children on the farm. Be on the lookout for “Caroline’s Colorful Creations”, my 7-year-old’s bouquet business.
Also watch out for the Northeast Regional Meeting to be held in western Massachusetts this summer. And make plans to attend the Conference in Raleigh this fall. The Conference Committee has done an outstanding job. Have a good spring.