It’s the end of November and the flowers out in the garden are still hanging on. A couple of beautiful rows of ‘ProCut Plum’ sunflowers, red and green okra, hibiscus, and zinnias still blooming and growing in very unseasonable temps resulting in no frost yet. Certainly by the time you read this they will be gone yet for another season. Late November plantings of larkspur, bupleurum, dill, ammi, bachelor buttons, and bells of Ireland that were priming in the fridge the last two weeks have been seeded and are now waiting for some timely rains to get them started.
We came off a ridiculous busy fall and a very stressful election season and felt somewhat overwhelmed, but thanks to making lists and staying very organized, we were able to handle all the harvesting and lots of weddings, and still slip away for the ASCFG Conference. I returned home on election night due to having a huge wedding weekend and sure was sad that I missed the tours. I have to share with you that it was an eerie feeling flying high above looking down at all the city and country lights knowing that most people were sitting glued to their televisions anxiously awaiting the election results, and not knowing what’s going on down there.
Accomplishing all this was made possible by an awesome crew and family that pitches in when I need them. My husband jokes that he is still waiting for a paycheck! Also crop planning, meetings with brides, and making sure all supplies are in stock, flower lists and recipes done for all the weddings, and market bouquets helps streamline the process and makes everything flow.
Some of you may be tired just from reading this but believe me your adrenaline keeps you going through all these tough weekends. So, you may wonder, how do we manage all this workload and not suffer from burnout? I think first and foremost you have to know you can take time off and step away from your business without it owning you. I very much value my time with family and friends, church, God, and vacationing and I make sure to schedule those in every week, and trips away from the farm throughout the year.
One of the ways that I have learned to get it all done is by learning when to say yes, and the hardest word in the dictionary, “no”. I start by marking up my calendar with special weekends as booked so I have those times with family. I also pencil in ASCFG meetings, vacations, and special weekends like Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day as I know I will be so busy with my store deliveries that I don’t want to tackle weddings on those weekends as well.
What I have learned since starting to grow flowers in 2004 is that my business has changed as I changed financially, mentally, and physically. I started selling at a farmers’ market, then added weddings. In early 2012 I decided that I was done with farmers’ market because I was burned out on going every weekend for 8 years and being so worn out on Sundays. We then switched to selling to a large retailer and still doing even more weddings. I’m very happy growing flowers and I know that’s where my passion is so I just continue to change how I sell them to fit my changing life.
Now I’ve come to the point where I want to cut back on weddings and concentrate more on growing for my market. My husband retired 18 months ago and the time has come where he wants to do the things that you do when you retire like fishing, traveling, and his hobbies so once again our business is changing. He has really been involved in the farm but we want to step away when we can and not have the farm fall apart. Over the past three years I’ve been blessed with an awesome employee and I’ve been training him to just about do everything from seeding to harvesting. He keeps me in line because he is pretty meticulous with his job and never scared to learn something new.
I believe if you make an investment in a good employee, it pays off. He loves working on projects that are improvements to the farm. He takes so much pride into a job well done and he is just as happy as I am with a successful crop. Having a great employee helps me from being physically burned out. Unfortunately I can’t do the things I used to for long periods of time like hand tilling, chopping and pulling weeds and still be able to walk the next day.
At the 2017 Conference in Grand Rapids, Lisa Ziegler gave an excellent presentation about other ways to profit from your farm sales besides flower sales. Her presentation, as well as all the others, are available for viewing on the ASCFG website. I hope you take advantage of watching all of them over the winter. I’m not ready to write a book (writing these articles is hard enough), or travel around to give presentations on flowers or sell tools and accessories, but Lisa has developed a market to home gardeners and she has tapped into a perfect market for her. I am sure though that when the time comes and I need to change my market strategy, I will figure it out.
For now I want to build a team here on the farm that will get all the jobs done that need to be accomplished each week. It’s a balancing act to know when you need to hire employees and still be profitable. My dad use to tell me that if he had to hire help, he wouldn’t make any money. He was a dairy farmer and pretty much a one-man show with us kids to help him milk. I always valued all his advice but I’ve had employees for a long time because flower farming is much different than dairy farming. You have only so many cool hours in a morning to get the flowers harvested and with an operation the size of ours you have to have employees. I also never make my employees do something if I don’t want to do it. We work side by side and it sure makes chores much easier. Who on earth would want to pick a long row of gomphrena by themselves? I think I myself would quit if I had to.
To grow a successful business you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your employees. I also believe that employees need to be applauded and appreciated when they do a job well done. It’s amazing how just bringing in breakfast or occasional goodies to eat motivates the crew on a busy harvest day. “Take care of your employees and they will take care of you” is what I go by on my farm.
If I wouldn’t have a good crew that I could depend on I wouldn’t be able to attend the ASCFG meetings throughout the year. They laugh and say “Wonder what new idea she will bring back this time to implement?” They know me too well. This past November’s meeting was attended by a record attendance and it was so awesome to be with so many flower farmers. I was so amazed to see so many young growers and very happy to see so many old friends. Several local growers donated flowers to make the photo booth flower crowns, flower hats, bouquets, and table decorations for the banquet. I was like a kid in a candy store getting to play with all the flowers and make some arrangements for the meeting rooms. Most of the material came from the Michigan area and most of the greenery was new to me so I had fun working with it.
Every year money is allotted in the ASCFG budget for Grower Grants. This past year there were no applicants so this year please start brainstorming and come up with a good grant proposal so we can award this money to a deserving applicant. A notice will be sent out with guidelines and when they need to be turned in by so please be on the lookout for this information.
Also please try to attend one of the meetings this year located in several places across the country, even one in Canada. Sounds like a vacation to me! Last January I visited several farms in our part of Texas and even a couple in Louisiana. What I would like others in our South and Central Region do is make a point to get together with growers in driving distance of your farm, and create mini groups like we did last year. It is so helpful to reach out to fellow growers if you have questions about what you are doing before reinventing the wheel. Also if you haven’t already, join the ASCFG Facebook group and post pictures or just questions. If you aren’t on Facebook, make sure to take advantage of the Bulletin Board on the ASCFG website. There is endless information on there that could answer most questions. Please don’t be afraid to ask questions.
There will not be a grower meeting in the southern part of the country this year so if any of you would like to meet with other growers I strongly suggest you meet with the growers that are near you and create sharing groups. Sharing is learning so let’s help each other and build a better future for all of us.