Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee

I am thrilled to announce that the ASCFG is growing by leaps and bounds. Twenty-four Southeast Region members have joined since the March Grower Intensive in Athens, Georgia. These great new growers range in talents from just starting out in the flower farm business to veteran nursery growers, vegetable farmers, and university floral design instructors and more. We are pleased to have you all aboard.
Everyone wants to hear how things are going with other farms and most folks love a great story; that’s what I hope to accomplish here.

Roy and Linda Doan of Aunt Willie’s Wildflowers of Blountville, Tennessee had a good, though hot, summer. They were able to visit the Garden Gate Flower Company and The Blue Carrot in England and do one-on-one workshops with them. Both farms have beautiful images on their Facebook pages. Linda continues to mainly do weddings and will ideally grow fewer flowers next summer as they have more than they need for weddings.   The Doans did about 42 weddings this summer—too many for them. Their plan is to cut down on that number, and raise their prices next season.

Steve and Mandy O’Shea of 3 Porch Farm in eastern Georgia say: “It’s been a helluva summer.”  They fought more Japanese beetles than ever, saw more heat stress and burned starts than ever, are dealing with more thrips than ever, and unfortunately spread some compost over about an acre (half of their annual growing space) only to find it was contaminated with a persistent herbicide which has been deforming their second and third successions of celosias, zinnias, and sunflowers. Somehow through all of that, they are on track for their best revenue year, and working on increasing efficiency so that they aren’t killing themselves in the process—too many 90-plus hour weeks. They’re looking to hire more folks and drop it back to 65-75 hours next year. 

Outside Nashville, Laura Bigbee-Fott of Whites Creek Flower Farm reports that although this is only her third year in production she thinks she’s finally hit her stride! This will be the fall of spreadsheets for her farm while she puts everything she’s learned into schedules, routines, and long-range plans. She’ll also pursue the wedding and special event market in earnest, with plans to finish the sitting garden for hosting workshops and DIY bridal parties. She admits she must focus on weed suppression; she’s spending way too much time and money on it. Since she is planning on having events at the farm and is already giving tours on a fairly regular basis, she needs to keep the farm presentable and so far it’s been a real drain on finances. There is going to be a lot of reading and research about weeds this winter.

The silver lining to all this weed invasion is that in just the last three months her farm has been on the cover of Tennessee Home and Farm, The Nashville Ledger, and was profiled by the local gardening show “Tennessee Volunteer Gardener”! Lots of free advertising, and she didn’t pursue one of them—they all came to her out of the blue!  Congrats on that, Laura.

Teresa Biagi of Hazelfield Farm in north-central Kentucky had a great season in spite of way too much rain in June and early July. Some things got into the ground late due to daily rains but look fine now. The early sunflowers, zinnias, celosias, amaranths, and silky milkweed had to be mowed between the rows because they could not be cultivated, but that worked out okay. Only a few dahlias drowned. They love the tuberoses they received they obtained at the March Grower Intensive. Teresa has had more weddings this year than usual due to a new web site, Facebook updates, and word of mouth. All in all, a very busy and pleasant farming this year at Hazelfield Farm.

The final entry for the Southeast is the inspirational story about how Matthew and Sarah Ervin of Southerly Flower Farm started flower farming outside of Chattanooga.
“We inherited the house we’re in, along with a little slice of land, about 5.6 acres, on Brayton Mountain in Bledsoe. Matthew’s dad built the log cabin while Matthew was growing up.      
“We cleaned up the house, which had no central heat or air conditioning, and we installed a geothermal unit this past winter. During the reconstruction, a pipe froze and burst in the upstairs bathroom, taking out half of the house, upstairs and downstairs, wood floors, sheetrock, carpet. After that, we decided it was time to grow up and get over our city conveniences; we never looked back.

“Matthew’s grandparents lived on this land with a small homestead where our flowers are growing now. Matthew’s dad was a true craftsman and perfectionist; you can tell in the details of the home. Matthew’s mother grew her own flowers in the front yard here; daffodils still pop up in early spring, and we see his grandparents’ perennials making an appearance as well.

“We have been here for two years and it is a part of who we are now. A fellow flower farmer said something along the lines of never take for granted the gift he had been given, and that is exactly how we feel as well. We want to respect those who came before us and take care of the land.

“We have been on a constant brainstorm since we got married. We wanted to be intentional about the paths we took and do something we both loved but we had absolutely no idea what that was. I even started a blog, if you can call it that, for a project to help me find out what I could be passionate about.  We played around with the idea of vegetable farming a few times but it never stuck, mostly because there were so many top notch farmers in the Chattanooga area already doing their thing so well.

“One day I got an email from the photographers who shot our wedding, asking if I would like to style a mock-up of a wedding for a photo shoot, since I coordinate all things decor as a stylist. I am an event stylist and handle all details décor-wise in an event or wedding. Our website is I am just getting started as far as floral arranging so I wouldn’t exactly say I am a florist yet, but working on it!

“This opportunity required me to get in touch and coordinate with other Chattanooga wedding vendors. This turned into another photo shoot, and another, which were eventually published on wedding blogs. These photographers I worked with were absolutely amazing and captured every detail so well. The experience I gained from these shoots prepared me to design for actual weddings.

“The flowers were always my favorite part of styling: planning them out, working with them, obsessing over them. Somehow I stumbled upon the local flower movement and read about flower farms across the country growing and designing with their own flowers. I had a eureka moment: Why don’t we GROW FLOWERS? It made so much sense. It would combine my love for creative work with my continually growing dream of farming. I had quickly convinced myself this was exactly what we needed to do. I found books and so many resources for beginning growers that I dove in head first. I started researching and learning all I could last summer and started planting this past spring. We joined the ASCFG on the advice of other flower growers and attended the conference in March in Athens. We learned so much and the people we met were so wonderful and generous with the knowledge they had gained over the years. So here we are, literally learning as we go.

“Because I love to capture with a camera, it is kind of a natural transition for me to share on social media. It not only challenges me with the camera, but also shares with others our progress. I have taken a few courses here and there but just kept it at hobby level. It has always been a fun way to create for me. But it has also been a personal goal of mine to keep building that skill and I am taking an e-course this fall to help with that. I currently have a Canon EOS 20 D and am loaning out a Canon EOS Rebel T3i.

“I think more people want to see where their product is coming from and to make a conscious decision to support local. By sharing the good and yes, sometimes the bad, people get to follow along in your progress. They get a glimpse into the life of the farmer or farmers and this creates a connection that otherwise might be hard to establish. I have found that I am in a rush the entire time I am at a market making it difficult to establish a relationship with others. Face to face contact with customers at the market is invaluable and can’t be compared, but social media is a wonderful tool to supplement your connection with your customers, and reaches a larger audience. It has helped us tremendously get our brand started. We have also created a simple web site using the platform Squarespace, which makes it fairly easy for anyone to build. And we plan to build up a blog to give a more in-depth insight.

“I still have a full-time job in insurance that sometimes works me into the evening, so Matthew quit his job to tend to the farm and help me with the event styling. Matthew was working in landscaping, but neither of us has a horticulture background. I learned what I know now from the ASCFG and other books and web sites, and the occasional bits of wisdom from my family. But I can see I have so much more to learn.

“When I was asked to share my successes in our first year I chuckled because I have been thinking of all of the issues we’re in the middle of. We didn’t get to attend as many markets as we had hoped, and we could have done more to establish how you can buy from us consistently. This year was a year of learning and experiments which did slow us down. We didn’t get a succession plan out in time and there were many flowers I had to put in the “next year” pile. We can’t stop the voles from eating our dahlias. I can tell you with certainty that we have not made a profit. I feel very “green” in this process but knowing there is a next year and that I am not alone is very comforting. We are excited, in a way, to be at the bottom because it is so much fun to see progression. It is our dream to mesh the farm with the styling and eventually as a florist for weddings and events using our locally-grown flowers. We aren’t where we need to be by any means at this point. But we do know where we want to go and if we can start, we can keep going.”

For the next Quarterly, I plan on doing more research on a mock wedding photo shoots. I feel like perceived value is worth its weight in gold. As you can see, Sarah and Matthew Ervin have garnered a lot of attention due to publicity and social media. Jessica Hall of Harmony Harvest Farm in Virginia also participated in a mock wedding photo shoot and has realized a lot of attention from this publicity.  Mock weddings coming soon!

Tanis Clifton

Happy Trails Flower Farm

Tanis Clifton Happy Trails Flower Farm Contact at [email protected]