From Beef to Blooms

Washington cattle ranchers “moo-ve” into flower farming

There are almost no similarities between raising cattle and growing flowers but that didn’t stop Jim and Katie Haack from making the move. 

In 2010, Jim, an architect-turned-cattle rancher, and Katie, a photojournalist-turned-farm operator, started raising Belted Kingshire cattle, a miniature cattle breed developed in the Pacific Northwest known for its excellent flavor. All the cattle raised on their Duvall, Washington, farm are Certified Grassfed and Animal Welfare Approved. 
Katie Haack
While the beef is in high demand, the high school sweethearts knew that in order for the farm to be environmentally and economically sustainable, diversification was essential. Jim thought adding vegetables to the mix was a logical step but Katie wasn’t convinced. 

“Katie said, ‘Kale doesn’t get me up in the morning,’” Jim recalls.

Cut flowers, she said, were a better—and more lucrative—option. 

“Flowers have a high per acre value,” Jim explains. “We can generate a lot more income from three acres of flowers than we can from three acres of beef.”

Post-its and the Bible

In 2019, after taking Floret’s online course, the Haacks transitioned a half-acre plot on their farm, Wild Canary Farm, into cut flowers. Erin Benzakein of Floret provided the roadmap the couple used to get started. 

Based on the Floret formula, the couple created a bouquet recipe—50 percent filler, 30 percent disks or round-headed flowers and being disks 20 percent split between spikes, the focal bloom, and airy elements—and built out their seasonal plan based on that formula. 

“We used colored Post-it notes to lay out our field and fiddled with it until we had the right mix,” Jim recalls.

The husband and wife team used the information to create a handbook, which Jim calls “the bible”, to guide them through the season and ensure all the seeds are started, and plants moved to the field at the right times.

The farm is located in a floodplain. Although Jim and Katie chose high spots of land for their fields, and the worst of the flooding happens during the winter months when it has little impact on their crops, it is not uncommon for cut flowers like narcissus, nasturtium, monarda, dianthus, and celosia to be underwater.

During the rainy season, the couple decamps to a tiny house nestled among the dahlias. The house, which is used as an Airbnb rental for guests who want to experience life on a cut flower farm when the weather is pleasant, also provides the Haacks the only access to the farm when the flooding starts. Without it, Jim says “We’d have to kayak in and out.”

Driving Demand

Katie knew that growing great flowers and tending to them in all types of weather was not enough to ensure success. 

Wild Canary Farm is among an ever-increasing number of flower growers in the Snoqualmie Valley, and competition at local markets was intense. So, in addition to focusing on beautiful blooms and bouquets, they also prioritized marketing. The solution:  The Wild Canary Flower Truck, an adorable mint green truck with roll-up sides that turns into a one-of-a-kind market display.

“When we come to the farmers’ market, we come with an eye-catching flower truck that helped us stand out from the other farms,” Katie says.

During their first season, Wild Canary Farm sold their flowers through local farm stands, two small farmers’ markets, and partnered with a local farm co-op that offered CSA subscriptions; their bouquets were an “add-on” option for subscribers.

Partnering with existing farms allowed the couple to benefit from an existing subscriber base and infrastructure to expand their reach and connect with new customers. Adding cut flowers to their offerings also helped local farmers provide a value-added product to their customers without adding new crops or increasing their workload.

In 2020, Jim and Katie significantly increased the number of flowers growing at Wild Canary Farm, expanding the field of summer annuals by 50 percent, and adding one-half acre of peonies and one-third acre of dahlias; the farm also has two high tunnels for season extension. They park their truck at two large farmers’ markets, selling bouquets to the masses; their flowers have also been sold to florists and supermarkets.

Coping with COVID-19

The COVID-19 global health pandemic sparked enormous growth. Jim, who says a cut flower farm is the perfect spot for social distancing, believes that news headlines about food shortages and supply chain issues have increased awareness of the importance of supporting local agriculture, including flower farms.

“The demand has been incredible,” Jim says. “We made more money in April than we did all of last year; if we would have doubled the number of flowers we planted in February, I think we still would have sold out.” The co-op farm that offers Wild Canary Farm bouquets as part of their CSA subscriptions grew from 75 subscribers last year to 300 this year, and many customers are opting for fresh flowers alongside vegetables and eggs.

For now, Jim and Katie are tending to the farm and spending more time online engaging with customers via social media, and building their email list to expand their reach.  The couple hopes to sustain the demand post pandemic and anticipates doubling the capacity next season. 

“The more people who connect with our farm, the better it is,” Jim says. “We really want to be evangelists for local farming.” 

Jodi Helmer

Freelance Writer

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