As I write, it’s the middle of winter (February ) here in central Illinois, and what do I see as I look out the office window: SNOW. As you all know, this past winter was a tough season, especially for the upper half of the United States. January and February had record cold and snowfall amounts.

In February I traveled to our ASCFG board meeting in Oberlin, Ohio. From Illinois to Oberlin, door to door took me 19 hours. No, I didn’t walk! If you follow me on Facebook, it’s all there. It was good to meet a few new members of the board that I had not met before. This was my first time to see it all. Judy and Linda rearranged the office so we all could carry on the business at hand. The weather issues came back the second day of the meeting and we needed to cut out early so folks could catch their flights home. My return trip home was somewhat normal, just ice in Illinois to drive home from airport.

As I follow the ASCFG Bulletin Board, ASCFG Facebook page, and Facebook grower’s page I’m noticing more and more growers are designing for weddings for as much as 30-50% of their income. The conversations on the designing aspect have risen so much over the years. When I joined the ASCFG the conversations between members were about varieties, plant care/harvesting techniques, who to sell to, and so forth. When I discovered the ASCFG years back my concentration was on learning the growing aspects. My background was from a designer. I wanted to learn how to grow flowers that as a designer I could use in my work.

When I started the farm in 1999 I wanted to grow everything I could find my hands on. Over the years I have learned what works in our area (flat and windy). For the first three years I sold to eight florists, three wholesalers, three farmers’ markets, and did full service weddings. For me it was one headache after another trying to juggle everything. Too much on my plate with an off-farm job as well. As the seasons have gone on, people leave, staff changes, off-farm jobs and other hiccups you retune your operations. Finding that comfortable fit in growth has been challenging, to say the least.

For the last several years, I have dropped from doing full service weddings, some of the retail florists and doing just one large market. In place, I have added the internet world. We have shipped to 27 states and growing relationships with several new wholesale buyers. Social media has grown our business greatly. If you are not into social media yourself, if you have a college age staff member let them give it a whirl for your farm. I feel if are not there, you at least need to look into this area for income. Growers are doing weddings, and posting pictures on their blogs and web sites; the work is quite impressive. There is a hunger for the new growers to jump on the designer bandwagon.

This area (weddings) I feel is helping our organization greatly, bringing new faces and talents to this segment of the industry. Our wedding segment is a small part of our sales. We have 6-10 during the market season. Through word of mouth brides will stop by on Saturday and pre-order mixed bouquets in their color scheme a week out or several weeks before their event. Basically a bucket bride. Had an appointment in January and two in February for April wedding using tulips and flowering branches. They have a designer who will work their magic. So depending on your operation with small staff to larger staffed designer grower farms are going to source that untapped bridal market.

Farmers’ market time is soon, if not already started for some. We participate in a large market (peak season 150-180 vendors) on Saturdays. Thoughts on pricing are on my mind, whether to raise or stay the same. On our mixed sleeved bouquets we raised them up 15% last year, and solid bunches up 10%. That’s the basic bread and butter type flowers. All our flowers are bunched prior to arriving at the market. I have thought of maybe selling stems on certain more higher end crops. Not sure about that, will maybe try on a few buckets each week to see how the interest is taken. For us it’s a grab and go with the customers. Of vendors that sell flowers at our market we are the highest priced. We run specials on bunches when we are long on certain crops – sunflowers, hydrangea, lisianthus. We also use Twitter and Facebook for market specials.

The Illinois State Florist Association will have its spring conference the first full weekend in March (7-9). This will be our second year as a vendor. I’ve been a part of this organization for some twenty years, and have donated product for the last 8 years to the flower room. Last year being our first, we had lots of interests from florist in Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee. Other wholesalers that we don’t yet sell to found out we are in central Illinois. The wholesalers that we already sell to on a regular basis were a bit surprised to see us there. Last day of the conference we ended up selling half the booth product that I brought, which was great.

We have a “Petals and Paints” event that we are participating in April at the University of Illinois Art Museum. We will have flowering branches featured with some of the artwork on display. So finding and doing these extra events adds a lot to the farm in several ways. Get out and contact your state’s floral associations and different conferences. Let the state organizations know you are out there, contacts, contacts!

We are back doing the ASCFG seed trials this year. I’m also doing an ornamental pepper trial later on. Have you participated in our trials before? If not put your name in. John and everybody does a great job, lots of work! The results are so very helpful to everyone. With trialers in different parts of the country the information helps you figure out new varieties by hands-on growers.

Kent Miles

Illinois Willows

Kent Miles Illinois Willows Contact at [email protected]