It would have been nice to have a crystal ball when we were starting our flower farm. We could have asked, “Will we find good markets for our flowers? Will we be profitable? Where should we begin and what are the most important things we will need first? Do we have what it takes?” The list goes on and on. But we can’t see into the future, we must submit ourselves to those years of trial and error, and learning.

Get that learning process going and do something.  Why? Because first of all, before you invest in all the “I needs”, you must find out if you’ve got what it takes to be a flower farmer. Are you brave enough to try to sell your flowers to a grocery store? How about a wholesaler? Are you willing to walk into a shop and engage a florist? Are you willing to sell weekly at a farmers’ market? Or do you want to start smaller and maybe just go with a subscription service around town? Be honest with yourself and find your willing level of commitment and start growing flowers.

My test was investing a whopping $300 for lily bulbs from Gloeckner my second year. And finally, one day, all those fat, swollen, slightly-colored lily buds were swaying in the breeze STARING at me, challenging me: “What are you going to do? Do you have what it takes?”

Another time, when I had the worst market day of my new flower farming career, and found myself pulling into hotels and businesses on my way home to sell my left over abundance, I knew… yes, I do have what it takes.

Okay so I’ve got what it takes—now the next discovery. I stopped seeing my farm as some romantic, fluffy dream and wanted to see it run more efficiently and effectively—you know, like a business. This is the next natural step to building your company. But it takes time, experience, and trial and error to know what your particular needs are, which brings me to the meat of my subject for you.

I needed to make some drastic changes and up-scales to match the markets I had developed. We were working a lot harder than we needed to, simply because we didn’t have the infrastructure and equipment to make it easier. Why? No money. If you don’t have a tractor, you dig. If you can’t afford weed cloth, you weed. If you don’t have a cooler, you cut it all in one day before your market. And the list goes on and on and it’s all labor intensive and expensive.

With a few years under my belt, I now better understand what it was I needed to run a tighter ship. I was ready for the real plunge. Enter a very new loan program  offered by the USDA Farm Service Agency.  They call it a microloan, and if you qualify you can receive funds of up to $35,000—enough money to do something substantial. This was just what I needed, and they simplified the application process so much, it was easy and do-able. The paperwork was very simple; I completed it in about 20 minutes. The interest rate was extremely low at 1.125% and the term of the loan can be up to seven years. We did put up collateral for the amount we requested, but it wasn’t our land and the loan officer was very flexible on what it could be. They requested proof of income for the farm and from any outside work, so I provided a trial balance showing what our sales were for the previous year, proving that we do have markets and generate income with our flowers. We will make our yearly payment at the end of our season (it’s very low). I don’t really advocate large loans for startups, because I think an important element to flower farming success (as with anything) is determining first if you have what it takes. But if you find yourself dedicated to your farming and lacking in tools and infrastructure this microloan could be a serious tool to help you succeed.

One of the speakers at the November 3-4 meeting in Rhode Island will be a USDA FSA agent, who will speak about this very same program. Get to this meeting and bring your questions, see if it is something that could work for you. There isn’t a lot of help out there for small growers, and this loan program could really help bridge that valley between making it as a small grower or burning out for lack of resources. This may possibly be a tool you could use as you find yourself in the “middle years” of struggling to get over the hump and to the other side.

Paula Rice

BeeHaven Farm

Paula Rice BeeHaven Farm Contact at [email protected]