Most of our world runs at a fast-paced, instant gratification, and “I want it now.” lifestyle. But there is something to be said about trying things and learning from our mistakes. One morning I found myself quoting a character from a popular television show from my childhood—Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. “Take chances, make mistakes, and get MESSY”.
This is a great mindset to have. I believe that as farmers we do have this mindset because we are always looking to next year. If something doesn’t do as well as we hoped, “There is always next year”. If something is a success, we want to have it exactly the same next year. 2018 is our 10th season growing. But ten years ago our business didn’t look anything like it does now. In 2008 I was encouraged by my mom to grow gladiolus for our local farmers’ market. My parents grew vegetables, and were an anchor vendor at the market. I ordered 3000 glad corms and roped Mark, my then long-distance boyfriend (now husband) into helping me plant, grow, harvest, and sell the flowers. We had a great year! I was hooked.
The next year I added sunflowers and other annuals, as well as anything else my Grandma would let me pick. We continued growing this way for the next couple years. Then we planted the glads at Grandma’s farm (now our farm). That summer I experienced thrips and cucumber mosaic virus for the first time. I was upset that we didn’t have the usual number of glads to sell. That year was definitely a learning experience. It didn’t stop me as I learned there are hurdles and blocks in my way, and I have to persevere.
Looking back at growing up in a full-time farming family there are many things that I realize now:
• Diversity is key; don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
• There will be good times and bad times; remember the good.
• Stick-to-itniveness is the best trait to have.
• There will always be next year.
Our business changed when I was lucky enough to be off for a year maternity leave (yea Canada!). The business changed in a few ways. Farming with a baby was a learning curve. I had plans of doing so much on my “time off”, I quickly learned that a June baby wasn’t the most ideal time for a farmer. We did do a lot of farming but it also took a lot of help from family and accepting that some things wouldn’t get done. We still had flowers to sell and we were at the markets but it was a different pace. Flower farming was still an extra to our income, not a primary. I did return to my city job (optician) full time after the maternity leave and flowered in our after work hours.
Baby # 2 came two and a half years later. A November baby meant that winter planning could be scheduled around nap time. When flower season started he was older and I had a little more freedom to flower farm with him. I did my first weddings with him in a wrap. I started to see that this flower farming could be a real business. Baby #3 was a surprise two and a half years later in March. By this time #1 was in kindergarten, #2 wanted to be involved, and I was a pro babywearer. I took on more weddings, we continued with our farmers’ markets, and our customers watched our kids grow up. They were excited to see our kids (and flowers) each week.
When it was time to return to work after the maternity leave I had already talked to my employer about reduced hours so I would be able to be on the farm more. The two youngest went to daycare and I had full-time farming days. I quickly realized that flowers were more than part time. In spring 2017 I approached my employer about having the summers off and returning to work in November. I was prepared that they would say no and I would have to resign. They agreed, as long as I still worked minimal hours (6 hours per week) through the summer, and helped if they were in a pinch. So nine years into my flower farming journey I was flower farming full time.
I am telling this story to show that things don’t happen overnight. In our “I want it now life.” sometimes good things come to those who wait (and work hard). Flower farming is the cool new thing but it’s still farming. It’s still hard work and at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Over the years I have made many mistakes. The only problem with making a mistake is to not learn from it. I have rotted many ranunculus and swore that I wasn’t going to try them again. But the Ms. Frizzle in my brain kept saying “Try again”, and in the spring of 2017 I picked the first ranunculus that I was able to get to bloom. It may seem trivial to some but that was a huge triumph for me.
I have made the mistake of pricing my earlier weddings too low. In the beginning I was excited just to have someone think of me for their wedding. I agreed to anything as long as it meant I was doing the wedding. There were a few weddings that I look back and cringe at. I know I made little to no money because I ordered in whatever flowers they wanted or the wedding was totally not my style. I am much more upfront about what a Harris Flower Farm wedding looks like. I’m not afraid to say no to a wedding. Not because I am too good for it but because I have proven my track record. I can be honest and say I can not do a dyed orchid and baby’s breath wedding, but my friend Rosemary sure can!
Another mistake I made was not realizing how great an ASCFG membership was for a birthday present. My Mom signed me up for the Association five years ago. I remember opening my gift and thinking “Thanks, Mom.” Little did I know how important the Association would become in my life. In 2012 Mark, our two little boys, and I went on our first long road trip. We drove to Wooster, Ohio to an ASCFG Regional Meeting. I was amazed to find so many people that were excited about flowers like I was! I met people at that meeting that I consider some of my close friends. The ASCFG membership is an awesome tool. There is so much information at your fingertips. The information is real and true and from experts. Sometimes just because an answer is posted to a question elsewhere doesn’t mean you are getting the best information.
After sharing some of my history I bridge into the Association’s history. 2018 marks 30 years! The ASCFG today looks very different than it did 30 years ago. It has stuck to it in the good times and bad. Membership is at a record high because there is so much diversity in what it has to offer. There are so many great presentation, articles, online information, and great people. It is a new challenge for the ASCFG to grow and cater to the needs of growers in different stages of their business. But we as the Board are taking on that challenge.
It’s exciting to have a full workshop for new or beginner growers (Oberlin, Ohio February 20-21.) Take advantage of the membership benefits as soon as possible, don’t wait like I did! There is also a session for Seasoned Growers (New Orleans, March 13-14). They face an entirely different set of issues and needs. I’m looking forward to hearing how that meeting comes together. And in September, in Raleigh, North Carolina, get ready for the best get together party and learning experience possible! The ASCFG turns 30 and we are going to celebrate! The Board has already been working on a stellar lineup of presenters and activities. It is an event you will not want to miss!
I may not be “old” (turning 36 soon!) but I think I am wise to a few things.
• There is great joy in growing things.
• The flower that you grew always smells sweeter.
• When you choose a job you love you will never work a day in your life.