The 2014 National Conference in Delaware was outstanding! It was great to see so many new growers thirsty for the knowledge of how to be better flower farmers. The Growers Schools’ “Speed Date a Pro” was a blast but totally exhausting by the end! The ASCFG Conference is so very exciting because most of the year we are alone in our fields hoping that we have all the right information, putting our best practices into play and praying nature deals us a good hand. This can be a very lonely place! The conference works because it gives us the opportunity to check in with other growers, get new information, go home and put it all into practice.
Some time ago I decided I needed more contact with other growers. I really don’t remember how it started or who invited whom, but I formed a study group with two other flower farmers after the ASCFG 2012 Conference in Tacoma. This group has become invaluable to me. We have phone chats weekly, and more intensive phone dates November through December when we review the year and every item on our seed list line by line. We discuss growing conditions, spacing, organic pest management and pricing. We clarify, justify and defend each variety we grow. At times we remind ourselves of previous conversations about a crop, and add the newfound information to the conversation. We also discuss our record keeping, and always have an oath to do it better! It’s perfect because none of us in our group are perfect!
One of my study partners is Barbara Lamborne of Greenstone Fields in Virginia. We have about the same growing conditions, and they plant by hand, have high tunnels, sell wholesale to florists and at farmers’ markets just as we do at Urban Buds. The main difference is that they grow on a larger scale.
Once when we were at an impasse over the correct way to cut dahlia tubers, we patched Bob Wollam into the phone conversation for clarification. When we had questions about lisianthus we tapped in Laurie Hodges of the University of Nebraska.
The expert we tap into our phone group the most is Dave Dowling; he answers our questions about tulips, lilies and the like. These conversations turn into mini growers’ schools, and the result is that I’m no longer alone in my field with just my own information, but I have created the flower farming universe network at the touch of my iPhone! I bring to the group not only have my knowledge base and network but also each of my study partners come with their own networks. This information and support instills confidence as I head out into the fields. “Each of us brings to the group our own knowledge bases, and information from our outside networks
Another result of my study group is that I am trying new items; crossed out in the past, they’ve now made their ways back to my seed list due to group discussion. ‘Salmon’ godetia and dill were two crops we gave each other last year and are back on our lists for 2015.
The study group is also a nice way to fill in the time spaces between ASCFG National Conferences and smaller meetings, and to keep the cobwebs out of my shrinking brain!
Finally, the very best part is the friendships that are formed within study group. I know ours is beyond measure.
If you’re out there trying to figure it all out on your own, and you want to learn more information and stop questioning your decisions in isolation, this is one idea that has worked for me. Here are some tips on finding the right study partner:
1) Find a grower outside your market area.
2) Have similar growing and production systems.
3) Have close enough USDA hardiness zone numbers.
4) Look for someone with the similar commitment to professional development and time availability.
5) Limit the group to 2-3 persons (you will be able to structure it better and cover more ground).
6) Pick someone close to your knowledge level in flower farming (maybe a little smarter!).
7) It’s great when you have similar daytime schedules. Example: I know during the growing season we can send a text and get an answer at 5:00 a.m.! We are both early birds.
8) And of course, select someone you want to become dear friends with because that is a natural outcome of the activity.
Happy planning, planting and creating your own flower farming study group!