Becky Devlin, Back Bay Flower Company, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Some growers might be envious when they hear that Becky Devlin’s biggest challenge to growing flowers is getting the work done with her four children underfoot. Located in southeastern Virginia Beach, Virginia, Becky says, “I’ve got a great climate, an awesome tractor and good soil.” She also has a green thumb. With professional training as a graphic designer, her horticultural knowledge comes from experience. She had been growing flowers in her home garden and sharing them with friends, who would often comment, “You should sell these.” Her parents had a one-acre field that provided her more space, and eight years ago, she decided to give it a try.
Four years ago, Becky and her husband bought a larger property that would better accommodate their growing family and the now-established flower business. This year she estimates that she’ll use three acres for field production. After scaling back last year, she’s ramping up production for a new market this year.
Back Bay Flower Co. bouquets can be found at the Old Beach Farmers Market, which is located in a resort area of town. This year, Becky plans to double her booth space at the Market. In addition, she is offering weekly CSA subscriptions, with limited availability and a higher cost for delivered subscriptions (driving around town is a task Becky particularly dislikes). Her newest marketing venture, though, will be online sales. Having fielded requests from different cities, she believes there may be a wholesale demand she can supply.
Organic or Not?
Last year, Becky was a certified organic farm. While she will continue using organic field practices, she did not seek recertification this year. She explains the several reasons. First, she did not see an increase in sales due to “organic” status. In fact, she says some farmers’ market customers seemed perplexed as to why there would be value in organic flowers since they aren’t eaten. They placed more value on the fact that she was a local producer. Most of her market customers already had an appreciation for Becky’s sustainable, eco-friendly practices.
Another factor affect-ing her decision to forego certification was based on flower quality and vase life. Few organic postharvest products prove as effective as non-organic options. While Becky doesn’t use silver thiosulphate or other harsh products, she did notice quality deterioration compared to her holding solution and “conventional” products. One place Becky thought certification might make a difference to customers was online. With the launch of online sales, she will have the opportunity to find out.
One market angle she’s previously featured will be downplayed this year—wedding services. While she’s certain the farmers’ market will generate interest in wedding flowers, she won’t be promoting her services as a wedding floral designer. Instead she’ll try to cater to the do-it-yourself brides, who can be directed to the web site to order flower bunches that can be shipped and then arranged by someone else.
Becky’s primary crops include lilies, sunflowers, zinnias, dahlias (though last year was a tough season), gladiolus, celosia and lisianthus. She doesn’t grow many woodies, but may look to expand those offerings in the future. Right now, the varieties include ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, English roses and greenery for bouquet filler. This year she was awarded an ASCFG Grower Grant to trial lilacs in zone 8. The trial will include 40 heat-tolerant varieties that she will evaluate for southern performance.
Becky has been a member of the ASCFG for six years and has enjoyed getting to know fellow growers, often building friendships without ever having met someone, but sharing a common interest. She notes there is a growing network of growers connecting on Facebook. Becky utilizes the internet and social media to promote her business. She maintains a blog, Facebook “fan” page, and Twitter account to supplement her web site presence www.backbayflower.com In the near future, she may move the blog, named Sugar from Sunshine, to her Web site to simplify navigation.
She’s found the Facebook presence is most effective to communicate with customers and network with fellow ASCFG members. Last year, she teamed up with a fellow farmers’ market vendor to offer a wine and flowers special to their first 20 customers. They advertised only on Facebook and had a great response. In March she had more than 100 Facebook fans and more than 400 followers on Twitter.
Becky explains that web site development is one aspect of graphic design, so she’s at home on at the computer or in the field. This winter she’s been working on web sites for some fellow cut flower growers she met at the Long Island conference. The field work will be calling soon though.
Becky’s oldest two children are school age and the younger two are now in pre-school. The oldest, at 13 years old, is eager to make money and therefore more interested in helping Becky. Her 10-year-old daughter enjoys going to the market, but often helps the most by babysitting the younger kids. Pre-school hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and it never fails to amaze Becky just how much she can accomplish during those four short hours of solitude on the farm. It looks like the business is poised to grow as the children become less dependent. Already this summer, Becky is looking to hire two employees, one to help with field work and one to assist with floral design and bouquet making. It’s an exciting period of growth and new ventures for Back Bay Flower Co. and the Devlin family.
Megan Bame is a freelance writer in Salisbury, North Carolina. Contact her at [email protected]