I have been hinting around for some time now about becoming a farmer-florist. It wasn’t long into growing and selling flowers that I saw the basic logistics and profitability of design. I would sell $200 worth of flowers to a designer, and within a few hours she would turn around and charge out $800. When I compared the energy and time of those two activities, the message was loud and clear. I could even further compare the profitability of designing flowers to my farmers’ market: I could take on some simple weddings each weekend and easily surpass what I would make at the farmers’ market. I hear some arguing going on out there: “But what about all the back and forth emails, all the prep work, it takes more time than you think, etc. etc.” I agree with all of that, but for those of you who have some experience in this matter, think to yourself, “What does it take for you to make $1000 at a farmers’ market?” Now think to yourself, “What would it take for you to design a $1000 wedding?”. The choice is not hard for me.

This was my first year going solo in design and I am glad to report that, just as I suspected, it is profitable. Not only are you the one selling the flowers ($ in your pocket), you are also the designer (more $ in your pocket). And the whole idea of using locally grown, in-season flowers is not only trending and growing, but also romantic and endearing. Customers who pick out the flowers themselves, based on what you have available, creates a truly one-of-a-kind, custom wedding design. That is a “happy thought” indeed. We as growers have a niche. 

I’ve spent years bringing all the pieces together to begin to fill that niche. I’ve built my infrastructure (studio, website, walk-in cooler, delivery van, contacts, resources), studied (read tons, watched videos, watched and completed a satellite floral design class, attended shows, etc), and dabbled in design (practiced, practiced, practiced). I am ready. 

Having said all that, I have work to do because I am not quitting my other sales venues. I plan to keep my florist route and continue to sell flowers at the farmers’ market. Being diversified in markets is what has made this farm a sustainable flower business. But I need to streamline my operation; everything needs to mesh from one activity to the next within the work week and not be so dependent on me. Because ultimately, no matter how things change, my only real goal is to not work myself to death and lose the joy and passion I have for growing and playing with flowers. I want to keep my sanity.

One area where I can do this meshing is to revamp my farmers’ market. With adding design to my business, I need my farmers’ market venue to be the outlet for the overflow of straight bunches not sold during the week. (Side note: According to my book work and experience, selling straight bunches is far more profitable than selling mixed bouquets and I want, want, want, to make this change.) To pull this off, I would like for my farmers’ market stand to look and sell like a European flower market. (I know I’ve said this before but I’m getting really serious now.) I think if I can make it look more like that.

This transition will work, and make my life a lot easier; I won’t always have to “be” at the market. If I need to be somewhere else, my kids or employee can handle it. My husband and I are putting our heads together on how to create a display that will wow our customers and woo them into “feeling a little European”, and I will certainly keep you posted on what we develop. 

Are there problems with this farmer-florist idea within a farming business model? Of course. For one, don’t expect florists and event designers to support you as a farmer if you are going to be their competition. If your florist route works for you, is profitable, and competing would jeopardize that relationship, tread carefully and pencil it out – if you have to choose make sure you choose right. 

I am lucky that my florists are far enough away that we are not in direct competition. (I do not sell to the florist in my town.) Other problems? Farmer-florists who do not understand the mechanics of design or the longevity of certain flowers in particular designs. This will most definitely bring down the professionalism of farmer-florists within the floral design industry.

While we might be smart about growing, harvesting, and holding flowers, designing is a very different realm and to keep the integrity within this trend high, it will require some education on your part. I’ve seen countless mistakes on the part of the farmer-florist attempting to do designs that just won’t work or hold. A photo shoot is one thing; a wedding that lasts many hours is quite another. And because you are the grower as well as the designer, it’s important to know what you’re doing because people will expect it. Think seriously about investing time and resources into your education—it will pay you back. We want to grow this farmer-florist industry to be reputable as well at provide a unique experience. 

Getting yourself educated is really not out of your reach. YouTube has a plethora of videos and instruction for floral design. Leanne Kessler of the Floral Design Institute has a great many videos uploaded and there are schools all over offering classes and certificates. There are a ton of books on the subject as well; a public library that offers inter-library loan is all you need in that department. And of course you already have tons of flowers to begin practicing with. Get some floral tape and begin attempting boutonnieres, corsages, and hair crowns. Practice spiral hand-tied and weave hand-tied bridal bouquets with all your “headed for the compost” market leftovers. The ASCFG, for years now, has been offering conference topics tailored to growers designing. If you think this may be a possibility, this winter is a great time to decide to learn the art of design. Very soon you will have the confidence to accept a full design client.

Because the designing aspect of my business increased substantially this year, I am excited about the potential. As the farmer-florist trend continues to rise in popularity, I see an opportunity to do something challenging and exciting within my already established business. My goal is to make sure that my customers’ experience of using a farmer-florist (me) surpasses any experience they could get anywhere else.

Paula Rice

BeeHaven Farm

Paula Rice BeeHaven Farm Contact at [email protected]