The Accidental Flower Farmer

Dandelion Farm went from virtual vegetables to a thriving flower farm

Teresa Tibbets might be the only flower farmer who drew inspiration from a video game.

In 2015, Tibbets watched her oldest son, then five, plant, water, fertilize and harvest virtual vegetables with the flick of a video game controller. She saw it as a sign that he needed to spend more time outside, digging in the dirt and learning what it took to grow a successful garden without the help of on-screen robots.

Tibbets transformed the backyard of her Lander, Wyoming, home into a thriving market garden and, together with her son, sold produce at the local farmers’ market. On a whim, she cut flowers from her garden and took those to market, too.

“It was such a last-minute thing; I don’t even think I stripped the leaves off the stems in those first bouquets,” she recalls.

No one seemed to mind. In fact, customers clamored for the fresh blooms. As the sole market vendor selling flowers, Tibbets sold out week after week. The unexpected success led the part-time research biologist to get serious about flower farming. She launched Dandelion Farm in 2016.

“I like to tell people that flower farming found me; it started out as a lesson for my son and it turned into something for me,” Tibbets says.

Connecting to the ASCFG

Although she had a lot of gardening experience, Tibbets felt overwhelmed at the idea of running a commercial company. To help get her footing, Tibbets contacted other growers, including Don Lareau of Zephyros Farm and Garden in Paonia, Colorado, for advice. In addition to sharing growing tips, Lareau encouraged Tibbets to join the ASCFG. Membership helped Tibbets realize, “This was a business, and I needed to take this to the next level.”

With the help of the small business center in Lander, Tibbets created a website and started marketing Dandelion Farm. Her first big leap of faith was offering CSA shares. Ten members signed up for the first season, forcing Tibbets to up her game in the garden.

“Offering a CSA was so different than going to the market,” she explains. “I could decide not to go to the market but, with the CSA, I committed to people and needed to produce bouquets for them every week. It took me from being a casual market gardener to running a business.”

Tibbets started out growing a lot of different flowers, including salvia, scabiosa, sunflowers, and stock. Yarrow was—and remains—one of her favorites.

The cold climate meant getting in cold-season annuals long before the last frost, and adding hoophouses to help shield tender dahlias from frequent cold snaps. In its first official season, Dandelion Farm produced more than 100 different varieties of flowers—more than Tibbets wanted to manage going forward.

“I decided to scale up: that meant growing fewer varieties and focusing on things that worked well in order to produce en masse,” she explains.

Tibbets chose to focus on “workhorses” like dianthus, snapdragons, sunflowers, ranunculus, sweet William, peonies cosmos, zinnias, and gladiolus. The cut-and-come-again flowers helped fill buckets for the farmers’ market and produce beautiful bouquets for the ever-expanding CSA.

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Taking the Next Steps

In the midst of scaling up the farm, Tibbets snagged a spot in a workshop offered through Floret. She traveled to Washington State for a flower farming intensive and left with much more than just knowledge of production and design.

“When I started, I really struggled with where we fit in because we’re so small. I wasn’t even sure about calling it Dandelion Farm because we’re growing in the backyard,” she says. “[At the workshop] I got to see that I was part of a community, a member of the slow flower movement, and that was so important to me.

“There is a diversity of ways to make a flower farming business and we’re just one version—the rural, small town, harsh climate version,” she adds. “You don’t have to be a big farm to be successful.”

Dandelion Farm might not be big but the business is growing. Last season, Tibbets started providing flowers for weddings. She sells buckets to DIY brides who want to create their own centerpieces, and designs bouquets for bridal parties—she’s even coordinated her planting schedule around wedding dates. With space at a premium, Tibbets had to get creative to meet demand. She partnered with another grower to access more space; when she had more brides requesting peonies than plants in her garden, she started knocking on doors.

“I asked all around town about cutting buds for weddings,” she says. “People were so happy to help out, to know that their flowers were being used in weddings. This winter, I got a lot of calls (from the neighbors) asking if I was going to need their peonies again.”

Figuring out how to keep up with demand is a key challenge for Dandelion Farm.

Tibbets has reached capacity for CSA subscriptions and weddings. Expanding the farm would require hiring help and possibly renting (or purchasing) more land.

For now, Tibbets is grateful that her sons are learning the value of hard work and doing their part to help on the farm, noting, “They see that it’s not as simple as robots farming; Mother Nature is a hard boss.”

Jodi Helmer

Freelance Writer

Jodi Helmer is a freelance writer in North Carolina. Contact her at [email protected]