Wow, what a conference we had in Tacoma last November. For those who did not attend, here are some highlights I found interesting.  I’m that sure that I have overlooked some.

Monday started with an early bus trip to Jello Mold Farm with our hosts Diane and Dennis. This was my first trip to the Northwest. The climate and beauty of the scenery were spectacular, compared to the flat fields of Illinois. With the tour of the farm, Dennis explained about their composting with the use of fish. That is one that I’ll never forget.

Janet Foss took us to the one of the hoophouses that was involved with cut mum production. I found it interesting to hear Janet’s description of how they were growing them. I was very impressed with what I’ll call the “barn”, i.e. cooler, packing shed, and upstairs meeting room. I like the setup they had with regards to the packing room and cooler. Due to the close proximity of the beds and the ‘barn’, bringing in product to be processed and then put in the cooler was all completed in a short distance. Upstairs we had a presentation from Robin Stockwell, from Succulent Gardens. Robin told us about his nursery that is composed of succulents. He discussed propagating, and designing/installing succulent in landscapes and fixed design elements. His photos were detailed. After Robin’s portion of the program, we had a brief time to network and then enjoyed a wonderful lunch.

Back on the bus, we left Jello Mold Farm and headed to the WSU Extension Center, and had Ron Beck from Gloeckner give the first presentation. Ron spoke about bulbs: tulips, lilies, and specialty bulbs like ranunculus and anemones.  After Ron’s session, we got to hear Ralph Thurston from Bindweed Farm. This was my first time hearing Ralph talk about his farm and his bulb production. Ralph was very informative, and I was able to take the information back and try a few procedures here in Illinois.

We got back to the hotel for a reception. Debra Prinzing and David Perry each gave a presentation of their book The 50 Mile Bouquet. The stories and photographs discuss the rise of the local flower movement.  Afterwards, there was a book signing and more networking.

Tuesday we started off with the keynote speaker Kasey Cronquist from the California Cut Flower Commission. Kasey discussed what California has done with growers and branding their flowers nationally.  The topic really spoke to me on how I, a small farmer from Illinois, could begin branding my flowers.  Marketing and branding continue to be important areas which we try to improve upon. It makes me question how can I get my message expressed to my own customers, wholesalers, farmers’ market customers, and retailers, regarding our products and how they differ from imports.

The remainder of the day was scheduled with concurrent sessions. It would have been nice to have a clone so all sessions could be attended. I decided to go to “Sexy Flowers: Hellebores and Gloriosa Lilies.”  Speakers Riz Reyes and Patrick Zweifel were very knowledgeable and informative about these crops.

After lunch I went to the postharvest session with John Dole and Gay Smith. I always pick up new information on postharvest applications. Following with a high tunnel session, speakers Ralph Cramer, Polly Hutchison, and Ralph Thurston gave their personal experiences with the do’s and don’ts that they have used in their own operations. Questions and answers followed the panel.

To close the day was the trade show with reps from vendor companies. It was a jam-packed day in the hotel with sessions and networking.
Wednesday, we got back on the buses for a start at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market. A co-op market of growers in the region all under one roof in the historic Rainier Brewery building. Then off to Skagit Gardens and Choice Bulb Farms ending the day at Maplehurst Farm.  We all enjoyed a delicious meal featuring local foods and beverages.

Overall, I brought back ideas that may or may not be applied to us here in Illinois. With going to a conference or other meetings, you see and learn how farming is done in a locale that one may not be familiar with. Between tours, sessions, and networking, you can bring home just a few tricks that can be tweaked to meet your customers’ needs and make a difference in your farm operation.

Distance, and being off the farm, doesn’t have to stop you from selling flowers. While I was at the conference, I had received two wholesaler orders and one order from a retailer before I returned to Illinois.  Selling while you are off the farm at a conference is a bonus!
The catalogs for seed and plugs have been arriving the past couple of weeks. Decisions, decisions, decisions will be completed soon on what new items we will offer this upcoming season.

Our outdoor farmers’ market here ended the first Saturday in November. We are fortunate to have an indoor market that runs until the week before the Christmas holiday. The big surprise this year has been the dogwood crop. All varieties are selling very well in all grades. By the beginning of December we had only a few bundles of cardinal tips left in the cooler. In the past we had finished the dogwood crop by Valentine Day sales.

This year was the first time to offer ilex to wholesalers, and we were sold out by Thanksgiving. We sell ilex by the bunch, i.e. tips, medium and single stems (tall). As of the first of December, our sales were up with our seasonal fresh wintergreen, and red curly willow wreaths.

We are finishing up some of the details for our meeting slated for October 7-8, 2013. Overall, there will be four meetings in different areas of the country. The goal of holding four smaller meetings instead of one large one is to increase attendance. We are hoping that more people will be able to attend one of the meetings held closer to their home, instead of having to travel halfway across the country. The theme for the Ohio meeting will be “From Seed to Sale” and consist of speakers addressing a variety of crops. Presenters will inform us on what it takes to produce that crop from seed to sale and all points in between. Varieties, growing operations and marketing that crop, who you sell it to, like retailers, wholesalers, farmers’ market customers, or internet sales. Crop presentations will include annuals, woodies and perennials. We will meet at OSU’s Secrest Arboretum at in Wooster, Ohio. Watch for upcoming information.

In closing, keep your mind open and flowers will flourish.

Kent Miles

Illinois Willows

Kent Miles Illinois Willows Contact at [email protected]