Joining forces in the Southeast Region—a sampling of who’s doing it

Just about every time I talk with fellow ASCFG members it comes up: there’s SO MUCH interest in doing more informal meet-ups and creating more networking opportunities. Sometimes it’s purely to get to know fellow flower farmers and farmer-florists, visit each other’s farms, and talk about what’s working. And sometimes it’s about the possibility of joining forces to create some kind of co-op.I thought there was a fair amount of this already going on in our Region but needed to get more information to share it in this column. To find out, I sent an email to all of our Southeast Region members, asking:
•   Please let me know if you’ve participated in a co-op and/or any kind of local flower group meeting in 2019 (beyond our ASCFG grower meetings).
•   If so when and where was it, and who’s in charge (if you know).
•   If you have photos, please send them!

Almost everyone who responded didn’t know of any group meetings in their area, but they all said they’d love to be involved in local meet-ups. I also found there’s a MUCH higher level of interest in how to start co-ops than I had even thought.

A big part of my job as Regional Director is to help share information, best practices, and learning across the region and within the ASCFG organization, so I hope this article is a small start in that direction. The information below is based on the feedback I got, so if you know of more things going on that I haven’t included, please drop me a note and I’ll add it to the list.

In no particular order:

Anne Phythyon of Franklin Flower Farm in Franklin, North Carolina wants to start a regional flower co-op in her area (2 hours north of Atlanta, and an hour and a half west of Asheville) to cater to the Highlands/Cashiers/Western North Carolina area.

Almost everyone who responded didn’t know of any group meetings in their area, but they all said they’d love to be involved in local meet-ups. I also found there’s a MUCH higher level of interest in how to start co-ops than I had even thought.

A big part of my job as Regional Director is to help share information, best practices, and learning across the region and within the ASCFG organization, so I hope this article is a small start in that direction. The information below is based on the feedback I got, so if you know of more things going on that I haven’t included, please drop me a note and I’ll add it to the list.

In no particular order:

Anne Phythyon of Franklin Flower Farm in Franklin, North Carolina wants to start a regional flower co-op in her area (2 hours north of Atlanta, and an hour and a half west of Asheville) to cater to the Highlands/Cashiers/Western North Carolina area.

Karen Yasui of Petalland Flower and Herb Farm in Tullahoma, Tennessee is a member of the Tennessee Cut Flower Collective (www.tncutflowercollective.com), which she says has been working for the past five years to form a co-op marketing group. Due to the hurdles the group kept facing, Misty and Andrew Moman of Twin Rose Farm in Murfreesboro decided to develop the collective themselves. The Tennessee Cut Flower Collective is now a wholesale and retail flower company offering collectively-grown flowers and foliage from its participating flower farmers. Its goal is to create accessibility to local, often organic and sustainably-grown flowers, to build the local floral industry in Middle Tennessee and surrounding areas. The group did a soft opening this past spring and plans to sell at the Nashville Farmers Market in March 2020, and will also have a retail location at the same time.

Jodi McCord of Great Blue Farms and Garden in Webster, North Carolina is “super interested” in getting a co-op started in her area.

Laura Mewbourn of Feast and Flora Farm in Meggett, South Carolina is a co-founder and board member of Lowcountry Flower Growers (www.lowcountryflowergrowers.org), a 501 ( c ) (3) focusing on education and support for local and regional commercial flower growers. She says they started off as something similar to a co-op but that it didn’t last. The group’s mission has always been focused on education, both in terms of educating both the public and florists about locally-grown flowers, and educating its members on the unique challenges and opportunities of growing in a southern climate. The group hosts events for American Flowers Week, most notably its “Bloom Battle” featuring floral design with locally-grown flowers. They also hosted their first Southern Flower Symposium last year, which drew farmers from all across the South. They plan to host the Symposium again this winter

Emily Copus of Carolina Flowers in Marshall, North Carolina is founder (my words) of WNC Flower Farmers (www.wncflowers.com) an informal wholesale flower group started about three years ago that holds one or two meetings a year. Emily also runs an informal co-op that sells wholesale flowers to Mayesh Charlotte to help small farms gain business they couldn’t get on their own, primarily selling dahlias. She says the administrative work around these ventures is intense, and “in order to make a business case for it, you have to want to make a business case for it.”Georgia growers Lacy Armstrong of Clay & Ice Farm in Watkinsville; Lori Huster of Broad River Flower Farm, Decatur; and Wendy Mason of Madison Flower Company, Madison, are members of Georgia Local Flowers (www.georgialocalflowers.org), an informal cooperative organization of locally-grown flower farms in northeast Georgia.

 The group is dedicated to providing florists with the freshest flowers for design and event work. Gail Zorn of Daybreak Farm in Loganville created and mentors the group, which meets quarterly at each other’s farms, pools their flowers for florist routes throughout the week, and sells through farmers’ markets. Gail and Stephanie Kilroe of Dancing Hearts Homestead in Monroe organized “Monroe Blooms,” Georgia’s first-ever flower festival. It was held this past June in the historic town of Monroe. The all-day festival included flower activities of all kinds:  floral and art-in-bloom design competitions, flower jewelry classes, a variety of workshops, farmers’ market demos, and flower installations in and around downtown Monroe. The festival rallied downtown businesses, garden clubs, master gardeners, and the public together and is expected to become an annual event.

Martha Mason of Bloomin’ Idiots Flower Farm in Northport, Alabama says networking with ASCFG members (through Facebook live and the ASCFG members-only Facebook site) has turned the farm around and “in many ways has allowed us to stay in business.” Martha and her flower partner, Sherry King, are a great example of what good will come when growers take it upon themselves to reach out to other members and network both electronically and by visiting other members’ flower farms.

Alexis Sheffield of Wild Roots in Harrodsburg, Kentucky put together a flower farmer and florist meet-up this past August at a historic wedding venue that also co-hosted the event. Included on the agenda was a local photographer who showed the group how to take great photos of their flowers and events for social media and websites—a nice perk for attendees.

Sarah and Charles Brudecki of Sarah’s Spice & Posies in Knoxville, Tennessee, organized a meet-up of flower farmers in east Tennessee last November, inviting all ASCFG members and flower farmers within a 100-mile radius of Knoxville. (Yes, your Regional Director can share a spreadsheet of regional ASCFG members for events like this.) Sarah says her goal was to host “a gathering of like-minded folks to discuss good ideas and hopefully help some people improve their processes.” The first meeting was intended purely as a meet-and-greet and to gauge interest in working together on a cooperative of some kind.

As I said, this is likely just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope this sampling of some of the networking and cooperative efforts going on in our region will spark MORE grower-led meet ups and—who knows?—#localflowers co-ops!