Kirby Bachman, Behold Flowers
While raising her boys, Kirby Bachman made a special effort to engage them in nature. They would take walks through the gardens and the woods searching for examples of wildlife and simple beauty in the life cycles all around. When everyone was intrigued, Kirby would proclaim, “Behold the beauty of God’s creation.” When it came time to name the business, it seemed obvious to Kirby that this family moment could be shared and it provided an apt expression of her love of flowers; thus, Behold Flowers was established in 2004.
Though trained as a registered nurse, after years of being a stay-at-home-supermom, Kirby wasn’t interested in re-entering the medical field. She recalls that as she raised her three sons, who are now college-bound or beyond, she says, “I was obsessed with growing things as a way to hold on to my sanity.” She grew things for herself, but when it came to deciding what to do in her post-child-rearing days, she explored many different growing-type ventures that held business potential. In her fourth year as a full-time flower farmer, Kirby has found success with fresh cuts, but is in the process of tweaking the business model by developing a line of products that feature pressed and dried flowers.
Kirby has 1.5 acres in production with raised beds, drip irrigation and completely enclosed by deer fencing. She doesn’t have a greenhouse, nor immediate plans to build one. She starts seeds in her “workroom” using grow-lights, moves them to a shade house as soon as temperatures allow (usually April), then transplants them in the field. The workroom would likely be called a barn by most standards. While it seemed massive at first, she’s filled much of the 90 x 140-foot space including a 10×10-foot walk-in cooler.
She’s looking to erect a shade structure over part of the existing field area to grow a wider selection of shade perennials. One plant that won’t be among her mix is hydrangeas, since she’s in friendly competition with fellow ASCFG members and hydrangea specialists, Highland Moor, at the bustling Saturday market in nearby Louisville, Kentucky.
Kirby loves to trial new flowers every year, but her primary crops are the traditional favorites including sunflowers, snapdragons, zinnias, lilies, lisianthus and tuberose. A hot seller later in the summer is Hibiscus sabdariffa ‘Jamaican Cocktail.’ She would like to add to her small collection of woodies in cultivation, but takes full advantage of the opportunity to gather interesting stems, berries and flowers from plants that are growing wild on her 80-acre property. As a cost-conscious measure, Kirby takes time to dig bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberose, and peacock orchid lilies. She leaves her lilies in the ground and leaves the tulips for two years.
In addition to herself, Kirby has one full-time employee, David Sanchez, a dedicated worker with immense creative talent. To retain him, and avoid training someone new, she pays him the same amount year-round, though they both work significantly fewer hours in the winter. Through the summer, she has three to five part-time folks who so far have been family, or family friends who actually come looking for work. And then there’s Tom, the customer who asked if he could work for free. This past year Kirby rewarded his volunteer effort by giving him an acre to grow miniature heirloom pumpkins, heirloom squash and gourds, which may very well find their way into Kirby’s product mix.
Though not organic certified, Kirby is committed to using organic compost she purchases from Kentucky, and OMRI-approved chemicals if needed. She doesn’t plan to move toward certification so that she can retain the right to use Round-up along the sides of the raised beds and by drip application on noxious dead nettle. Weeds, she says, are her biggest challenge.
The market season runs from early April through late October. Her initial sales strategy was to make and sell mixed bouquets, but she wasn’t thrilled with that approach. Making the bouquets was quite time consuming, they were difficult to transport and required lots of display space. She now sells single stems and her signature item is a small bouquet, easy to make and ready to carry, in a 16-oz. biodegradable cup. They make up 36 in advance for each Saturday market and her employee continues to make flower cups throughout the entire market. Selling at $6 each, regulars sometimes call ahead to reserve a certain number for pick-up later in the day. The small bouquets are also a great way to use short stems. In fact, due to their success, Kirby has started growing some shorter flowers that would normally be passed over for cut flower production.
In addition to farmers’ market customers, Kirby sells her flowers to floral designers and restaurants who must come to her since she doesn’t have time to run a delivery route. While she provides flowers for special events, including weddings, she does not arrange flowers. Since she dries flowers throughout the year, she also offers dried flowers and dried wreaths in the fall.
The dried flowers are the cornerstone of the new business venture. She’s been selling her flowers at a mid-week farmers’ market and a Saturday market, both in Louisville. The Saturday market is always busy and they regularly sell out, while the Tuesday market, though well patronized, simply doesn’t bring in the profit Kirby would like to see. She made the difficult decision to completely drop the Tuesday market in order to develop the products and marketing strategy for a family venture in papermaking. Along with her sister-in-laws, they are working on decorated paper products such as gift tags, bookmarks, cards, stationary, framed art renderings using the dried flowers as the color medium, and even flower infused pottery.
She uses a microwave press from Australia that provides superior quality to the terra cotta tiles she’d tried previously. While there are certainly exceptions, the standard drying time for most flowers consist of three short bursts of heat: 30 seconds, 20 seconds and 20 seconds. Once they are pressed and dried they are labeled and stored among the pages of an old set of encyclopedias—they are in the process of looking for a better, weighted storage solution.
Up to this point, Kirby hasn’t paid for any advertising, only mentions in the farmers’ market e-newsletter. While she anticipates selling the papercrafts at the farmers’ market, she also plans to invest in developing a website this year. Most importantly, she markets the perceived romanticism of being a flower farmer. For example, she lovingly refers to her property as a magical piece of land where flowers grow. While in the business of selling flowers, with every sell she tries also to create a meaningful connection that her customers can take back to their busy lives as they enjoy their flowers through the week. And “magically,” they come back for more.