It was a very good year—that’s what I’m hearing from many of our South-Central growers. Not what I would have predicted at the beginning of 2009. Of course, those who have good news are more likely to be telling their stories—a self-selection process may be skewing the results. But the fact that some of our growers are declaring 2009 to be their best year ever seems remarkable given that year’s dismal economic conditions.
The good news applies to experienced and new growers alike. Kim Walton, a first-year grower in Muskogee, Oklahoma (Walton’s Farm), had a “GREAT first season.” Kim is a registered nurse who has done emergency/ICU nursing for over 15 years and was ready for a change. This year she sold flowers, plants and produce at her local farmers’ market on Wednesdays and Saturdays from April through October. She estimates that about 75 percent of her sales were flowers. Kim grew a basic menu of annual flowers on about 2/3 acre, with help from her two teenagers and husband. She found the year “incredibly rewarding.”
It was rewarding emotionally because the customers were so appreciative, but also financially—Kim actually made a profit in her first year! Kim obviously has moved up the learning curve very quickly and she credits Mark Cain (Dripping Springs Garden, Huntsville, Arkansas) with being a wonderful mentor. She looks forward to expanding next year, adding some perennials and woodies, making full use of her new greenhouse and installing a CoolBot in her cooler.
Likewise, for long-time grower Janet Bachmann (Riverbend Gardens, Fayetteville, Arkansas), 2009 was a “great year!” Janet attributes this success partially to an extra-long growing season—still no frost in late November. Last year was Janet’s fifteenth as a vendor at the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market. She originally sold vegetables and strawberries there and gradually added flowers, which are now her main product. Janet faces strong competition at the market, but that doesn’t seem to bother her. This year tulips, peonies and dahlias were excellent sellers, to both farmers’ market and florist. Janet makes bouquets and is currently trying to simplify her bouquet making by developing some “recipes” for good combinations. Two combos she likes are short dahlias with short snapdragons and monarda ‘Coral Reef’ with phlox ‘David’. Some new cut flower favorites include Amarcrinum (a cross between Crinum and amaryllis) and dahlia varieties ‘Cool Luke’ and ‘Sierra Glow’ (purchased last spring from Banner Flower Farm).
Janet is finding landscape fabric to be a big help in the continuing weed battle. She says, “As I get older, I realize that I can never do everything I want to do—so just breathe deep and smile and let some things go!” That’s good advice for all of us.
Rita Anders (Cuts of Color, Weimar, Texas) made a big change this year: she quit her full-time job and became a full-time farmer. That change made possible a big boost in her 2009 production and sales. Rita sells flowers and vegetables at a farmers’ market, but also does some sales from home, for events and to florists. She is hoping to expand her florist market and wedding work in 2010, now that she has more time to devote to these outlets. Rita plans to take a floral design class and send flyers to potential wedding customers. Her new website (cutsofcolor.com) should also help promote this business. Rita likes lisianthus ‘Mariachi’ for colors, stem length and long-blooming season—in fact, they bloomed until she was sick of picking them. She also had good luck this year with ‘Superior Sunset’ sunflowers, Mexican tuberoses, delphinium (started from plugs) and dahlias. Despite weather (drought) and insect (whitefly) challenges, Rita had a good year. She has applied for certification from Certified Naturally Grown.
Calvin and Julie Cook (Arrowhead Dahlias, Platteville, Colorado) also “had a great 2009 cut flower season.” They go to four weekly farmers’ markets with dahlias, gladiolus, sunflowers, sweet peas, lisianthus and mixed bouquets. Although market sales were about the same as in 2008, dahlia sales to wholesale florists and Whole Foods Grocery were up. A new favorite cut flower is Asclepias ‘Silky’, which works well in bouquets or bunches, is easy to grow and blooms until frost.
Vicki Stamback (Bear Creek Farm, Stillwater, Oklahoma and our new ASCFG president) sells only to florists. We keep hearing that times are tough for florists, but Vicki’s sales were up in 2009. In her area, the florists are consolidating. The poorly-run shops are closing and their business is going to the florists who understand their business and customers, and who are good managers. As a result, the florists’ problems have not affected Vicki, and she is even expanding. She has added two new greenhouses and always adds a couple of new crops to her mix. This year she planted some roses and plans to add cut mums and more dahlias next year. We will get to see all of this when we go to Tulsa for the National Conference in November.
For Kim Haven (Billabong Fresh Flower Farm, Hempstead, Texas), 2009 also was much better than 2008, largely because she was proactive and made some big—and quite successful—changes to her business. Switching from a small farmers’ market to a larger, established market gave her a big sales boost. She also dropped some florists and started doing weddings and other events. Kim may add another farmers’ market next year and is building her first greenhouse. Some of Kim’s new favorites are Lysimachia, Dianthus barbatus ‘Sweet Series’, Veronica (produces from late spring through fall), and Phlox paniculata (heavenly scent and no real problems). Kim’s good year came despite some mighty challenges—deer, drought, bugs, and gophers. She built an 8-foot permanent deer fence around a half-acre of her growing area, ran her well 24/7, planted extra product to cover insect damage, and now is thinking of buying a “rodenator or rodent blaster” and “have me some fun!”
Congratulations to these growers on a successful 2009, and best wishes to all of us for a great 2010!