Building Bridges

I was invited to Prince Edward Island to make some presentations at the ACORN (Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network) Conference about flower farming. It was a great chance to get away from my farm and meet new friends in this industry. The keynote speaker was Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm in Virginia. I have seen the documentaries he has been in and read his books but I was really impressed that his keynote address didn’t include much information about actually farming. He used the conference title “Building Bridges” as his metaphor; bridges with other businesses, people, and community. Too often we are so focused on our little bubble. It is hard for farmers to ask for help or bring someone in.

During the winter months you can think about bridges you can build between businesses in your community. Be creative, think outside the box, how can you work with others? Approach your local cool, hip coffee or espresso bar and ask them about having your flower bouquets for sale at their location. We teamed up the local espresso bar. Our tulips came on before our farmers’ market opened. We could have dry stored the tulips but we ended up selling them from the espresso bar. My Dad build a bucket stand and I was delivering daily. I would post on Instagram and Facebook letting our followers know that I had been in and they would venture down for a latte and some flowers! It was a win/win for both of us! They also would save the espresso pucks for us to use in our compost. They were thrilled that more customers were coming in and I enjoyed my daily latte and visit with the baristas.

Another great bridge, if you do weddings, is with wedding venues. A new venue opened near us and we have partnered with them to offer flowers as part of the couple’s wedding package. We have it streamlined that we do x number of bud vases per eight-foot table, a decoration for the arbour, and hanging flowers for the altar. We design with the couple’s colour palette in mind. The setup is the same for each wedding so we know what we are doing—it is quick and easy.

We are partnering with this venue to have a booth at a large local wedding show. By occupying the space together, we are splitting the cost of the space but still getting the same exposure as other vendors, but I’m paying half the cost.

This winter we also hosted our winter wreath workshops at this venue. It is a beautiful setting. The wood fire was burning and there was warm tea to drink. We split the revenue from the workshop 70/30. The venue did the ticketing, collection of funds, and remitting the taxes. We both did the advertising. Our advertised posts reached my followers as well as hers. When participants arrived many of my customers had never been to their farm and hers had never met me. They have a small on-farm shop that sells their teas and honey so she had some sales that day too. We both ended up very happy with the events.

You definitely want to bridge with local photographers! It is invaluable to have professionally photographed photos of flowers that you have grown and designed. At a Floret workshop Erin Benzakein talked about the need for high quality photos to tell your story in all media forms (print or digital). Right after the workshop we hired a local photographer we met through a styled photoshoot. We clicked right away. Kayleigh came out once per season that year to capture images of our farm and family. They are some of my most treasured photos. She has a wonderful way with our kids—she could get them to respond in ways that I couldn’t. This was two years ago, but I still regularly use her photos in our posts. In 2018 she came to the farm to capture images of the Master Flower Farmer Course that Jennie Love taught. The participants received stunning images they can use to advertise their work. Kayleigh will be coming out in 2019 to take more photos for us. The kids are growing and changing too fast. The business photos double as priceless family photos.

Community over competition attitude is essential. Florists, farmers, and farmer-florists all have a space. How you look at the relationship will determine your success. Once you find a local florist who understands the amazing qualities of locally-grown and seasonal flowers, he or she will look to you for the best you can grow. At an event last spring, I met a local florist I had been following on Instagram for a while. Her business does many large weddings and day-to-day arrangements. I invited her to the farm to see what we do. That evening was so fun. We walked through the fields and she was in awe the whole time.

We made a deal that night that each week her delivery truck would come and pick up x number of buckets of the best stems we had. She didn’t care what, just the best we had. Each week she would post a clip on her Instagram saying how happy she was with the flowers she had received from us. She decided that Wednesdays were her favourite day because Harris Flower Farm flowers arrived. The original standing bucket order increased often because she would see something on my social media that we said we had and she wanted some of it. It has been a great relationship. I don’t do many florist sales but she is my ideal customer!

Build bridges with your neighbours. Luckily, I have lived in the same 5 km radius all my life except when I went away to school. This summer I designed a wedding for a neighbour’s daughter. I babysat the bride many years ago. Even in an urban setting you need to be able to rely on your neighbours. You need them to watch over your flowers and property when you are not around. We have called on our neighbours to spread manure or disc up a field that is too large for our equipment. My Dad and the neighbour bought a post hole auger together. It’s a piece of equipment that you don’t use often but when you want to put up a new fence it’s nice to have. If it’s not at Dad’s then it’s at the neighbour’s farm. The neighbour boy looks after our kids on Saturday mornings when my husband and I are at the market. Not recently (thankfully) but in the past they have helped with escaped heifers and teaching a new puppy its boundaries. They are also our biggest cheerleaders! They are always telling their friends about us. If they have any event suitable for flowers they know where to come. It is a great relationship. Sometimes payment is dollars, sometimes it’s flowers or meat. But we know that we are all looking out for our community. We can count on them for more than just a cup of sugar.

Get to know your suppliers. You need them when you are looking for that super popular seed or when the plastic needs to be changed on the hoophouse before the snow flies. Make an effort to get to know them and show gratitude when they go the extra mile for you. While I was in Prince Edward Island, I was able to meet with our tulip bulb supplier. He picked me up at the hotel and took me to the farm to show me their operation. It was great to finally put a face to the voice and emails. I was amazed with their facility and so lucky to get a backstage tour of the operation. We were able to talk about our relationship and how we can both benefit the most from working together. Even though we just planted thousands of bulbs I can’t wait for next year’s orders!

The last bridge to think about building is with other local growers. This can be a difficult one to build mostly because ego can get in the way. No matter how confident you are in your place, when you find out about a new grower in your area it can be somewhat unnerving. Are they going to be your biggest competition? Will they take your customers? How can they do what I do? It’s a hard one to be okay with. But have the conversations. Being honest with each other is best. What are your intentions? Do you grow really great lisianthus but you really hate growing glads? Maybe they really love growing glads? You never know when you might need them or they need you. Be open to the conversation. It may turn out to be a good thing and not the horrible situation you imagine. There are many co-ops and groups forming to make it easier for the customer to get local flowers. The more that we show the florists and other parts of our industry that growers can work together the more they will realize that it is only a positive thing for all.

I encourage you to take some time to think about the bridges that you have built and ones that you can work on. There is no “I” in team. Who is part of your team?

Janis Harris

Harris Flower Farm

Janis Harris Harris Flower Farm [email protected]