Hi, everyone! In thinking about a “hot topic” for this quarter’s report, I turned to the feedback you gave me in January, when I sent a note to the Region asking what you’d like to do less of, more of, and try out in 2017. It was great hearing from you! Two themes came through loud and clear:

1.  You’re looking for more hands-on experience in floral design, which we talked about at the Portland board meeting, so stay tuned on that topic.

2.  Workshops! Lots of you said you want to try your hand at doing either more of, or your first ever, on-the-farm workshops.

Workshops sound like the perfect topic for this time of year, so I thought I’d share what we’re doing at Three Toads Farm around workshops. I know many of you have more experience at this than we do, but maybe there’s an idea here that might be of interest to you, too, and I hope it will inspire some of those who are really wanting to give them a try.

As I mentioned in my Winter report, this will be our fourth year doing workshops. Every year we figure out something new to do. There’s just no way to figure everything out in year one, year two or probably year five! For example, last year we decided on our schedule at the beginning of the year and posted all of the dates, times, prices, and descriptions on our website. Each of the workshops sold out. Okay, pretty good idea. This year, we posted everything BEFORE the holidays, so the workshops could be given as gifts—turned out to be another good idea!

I totally realize that each of us is different in what we do (grower only, wannabe grower, farmer-florist, etc.) and where we grow (backyard, small farm, big farm, borrowed land), but I can tell you that people WANT to see what you’re doing. They want to come to your place and experience the sights, sounds, and scents we take for granted. Don’t feel that your flower space or farm isn’t good enough for people to want to come to, and they’ll pay you to do that.

First Things First:  Figure Out What You Can Do
When will your fields look most abundant? When will you have the time to prepare for and then host a workshop? How will you promote it? And the biggest question, how much should you charge?

The first year, we charged $50 for our 90-minute Field to Vase workshop. We were pretty excited to get 10 people to sign up. We cut all the best of our specialty flowers and foliages, conditioned them overnight in the cooler, and lined them up down the big table in the greenhouse, like we were expecting company. We gave a tour of the farm, explained about what we grow and how we do it, talked about how we got started, Elizabeth (the most talented Toad by far) showed everyone how she makes her big farmer-florist arrangements, and then we turned everyone loose. Letting them choose the flowers and foliages they couldn’t keep their hands off was very cool. And we helped and coached each person, so they would go home with their own “to die for” arrangement.

Take Photos, and Do Your Best Not to Forget!

We had invited our local small-town newspaper to come to our workshop and before everyone took off, she asked them all to get together with their arrangements and the flower fields in the background. What a great touch! That’s something we do now, every time. Then we send the best photo to the group the next day, thanking them for coming to the farm and saying if they’d like to post it on their social media, to please feel free.

Try to take photos of participants as they work, take photos of the flowers you’ve prepared. Also take photos of mothers and daughters, sisters and sisters, and friends and friends who come together. You’re creating a wonderful— perhaps even priceless—memory for each of them.


Fast Forward to Today

We LOVE doing workshops! First, it makes us feel so good about what we do. It inspires us to see our guests get so excited when they create their own masterpieces. We’ve found that people who come to the farm feel a special connection and typically become so loyal that they’re our best ambassadors. Also, it’s really nice having that extra cash come in.

We’ve expanded beyond just summertime Field to Vase workshops, trying to think of ideas, based around what we’re already doing, to add a special, or “first dibs” workshop. For example, we force spring bulbs for a big high-end event in Lexington the first weekend in March, called the Blue Grass Trust Antiques & Garden Show. We start forcing heirloom, always fragrant and typically multi-stem or double spring flowers in deep six-packs, potting them up in containers (like concrete bowls and urns) to sell as spring bulb gardens.
Last year, we decided to offer a new Spring Bulb Gardens workshop, giving our guests “first dibs” on all of our bulbs before we started potting them up for the show. Turns out, there’s something magical about getting first dibs on anything. Think about what you’re doing and add in a special workshop, giving people exclusive access to whatever it is you’re doing.

Be Sure to Charge Enough
Yep, that’s always the challenge! Limiting the number of people who can attend helps a lot. There’s something magical about posting “SOLD OUT” that makes people crazy to come to your next one! We limit all of our workshops to 12 attendess, unless we’ve added a spot for the high-bidder at a local fund raiser.

It’s going to take time to stop what you’re doing and clean up your grounds or greenhouse or barn to host one of these. We’ve found we actually get more people coming when the workshops are priced higher.

Promote and Promote Again

We use social media and our website to promote the dates, including photos and a description of what our guests can expect. Recently, the host of our local Saturday morning gardening show on AM radio asked us to send him a listing of our 2017 workshops … dang! I didn’t think of doing that before. Be sure to invite the local press to come cover your first workshop of the season, letting them know it’s a great photo opportunity (which every newspaper is looking for). Share photos afterwards on social media, too.

When someone signs up, send them an email, thanking them for their registration. Seven to ten days before the workshop we send a group email, talking about what to wear, what to bring (clippers and their favorite vase or container), how to get to the farm, and the names of everyone who’s coming.

How Do People Sign Up?

Payment always accompanies a registration, and we politely say that we regretfully cannot refund cancellations. We take payment on our website, and we also take phone calls and emails, using our trusty Square to send an invoice and enter credit card info over the phone.

We also offer gift certificates. After all, don’t we all want to make a hero out of anyone who gives one of our workshops as a gift—or two, or even three? Thank goodness for people who buy something so generous for people they care about.

Here’s Our 2017 Schedule

Spring Bulb Gardens, Sat., Feb. 25, 10 a.m. to noon, $140. This is the one where we give folks first dibs on our 3,500 forced spring bulbs.

Field to Vase, Tues., July 18, 6 to 7:30 p.m., $95. For this we cut the best of all of our specialty foliages and flowers, holding nothing back, unless it’s reserved for a wedding or special event. This is the first one we schedule, because by July, we should have TONS of flowers!

Field to Vase, Mon., July 31, 6 to 7:30 p.m., $95.

Field to Vase, Tues., Aug. 1, 6 to 7:30 p.m., $95. Since we do a lot of work to cut for and clean up the greenhouse for our workshops, we decided this year to hold a few back-to-back.

Field to Vase, Tues., Aug. 22, 6 to 7:30 p.m., $95. By now, we’re really glad to be holding the workshops in the cool of the evening.

Field to Vase,
 Wed., Aug. 23, 6 to 7:30 p.m., $95.

Field to Vase, Tues., Sept. 12, 6 to 7:30 p.m., $95.

Special Dahlia Workshop, Tues., Sept. 19 3 to 6 p.m., $250 Last year we offered this first-ever workshop for a Bluegrass Conservancy fundraiser and it sold out within an hour. It’s the only event we hold at our home (where this whole journey started) and allow our guests to cut their own dahlias for their arrangements.

Flower School, Tues., Nov. 14, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., $365. This one is all about forcing glorious bulbs for the holiday and beyond. Guests get first dibs from our premium-size amaryllis bulbs, specialty paperwhites, and spring bulbs to create three different projects, and then we help them create a big arrangement with winter greens and our magnificent white Oriental lilies. We include lunch at a local specialty restaurant and a notebook packed full with our growing advice.

Hopefully, this might give you some ideas on timing, pricing and something unique to try. There’s no time like 2017 to give it a go!

Valerie Schirmer

Three Toads Farm

Valerie Schirmer Three Toads Farm Contact at [email protected]