Patagonia in Bloom
Local flowers have a big following in a small Arizona town.
Patagonia, Arizona, is small town located 60 miles south of Tucson and 30 miles north of the United States-Mexico border. There are no major supermarkets in town and, until Aishah Lurry started Patagonia Flower Farm launched in 2017, there were no flower farms.
“I loved having cut flowers but you had to travel pretty far to get them,” she recalls. “I knew that I wanted to walk out my door and see a sea of flowers…and it sparked the ideas that if I could grow flowers, I could sell them; it was a selfish whim.”
Although Lurry loved the idea of growing cut flowers, she had no experience. She purchased books and took flower farming classes through Floret before sowing the first seeds in a 4,000-square foot plot of leased land that sits 4,000 feet above sea level.
Lurry installed tall fencing to keep javelina, destructive mammals that look like wild boars, out of the gardens, and transformed a field of Johnson and sacaton grass into a flower farm that uses organic growing methods to produce colorful cut flowers.
With the first flowers in the field, Aishah turned her attention to marketing the blooms. She knew that most flower farmers set up booths at farmers’ markets to reach customers, generate sales, and build brand awareness but the self-described introvert didn’t want to follow that path.
“I never wanted to do farmers’ markets and have people asking, ‘Why are your flowers too expensive?’” she explains. “As an African American in a predominantly white area, I didn’t want to put myself out there and deal with all of the microaggressions.”
So Lurry developed alternative sales channels: she sold flowers like anemone, narcissus, sedum, scabiosa, snapdragons, yarrow, verbena, sunflowers, and zinnias from her farm through the local health food store, and developed a popular subscription program.
The subscription service included three different sizes of arrangements delivered over four, six or eight weeks. She started off delivering flowers in local areas, calling the subscription model “the foundation of [her] business” but the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.
“COVID changed the model,” she recalls. “I had to think fast.”
When the pandemic started, Lurry worked overtime to meet the demand for fresh flowers but sales slowed this summer when regular customers left town for vacation; her subscription sales decreased 50 percent.
“My foundation was pulled out from underneath me,” she says. “I started doing things I said I’d never do.”
Aishah traded her red convertible for a van, which allowed her to haul more flowers and travel greater distances; she expanded her sales into Tucson and reached a much larger market.
“The first few years, I sold just in my town and built my foundation,” she says. “I always knew I’d have to leave town eventually.”
In addition to selling her cut flowers at a farmers’ market and an artisan market, Lurry also launched a mobile flower bar. She sets up three times per week, twice in Patagonia and once in Tucson, setting out flowers and inviting customers to choose their own fresh cut blooms and create one-of-a-kind bouquets on-site.
“I’m inviting people to have an experience,” she explains.
For Aishah, who operates Patagonia Flower Farm solo, setting out flowers (instead of selling pre-made bouquets) also reduces labor and increases profits. The flower bar has another unexpected benefit—it’s increased the amount people spend on flowers.
Lurry finds pricing individual stems much easier than establishing a price for an entire bouquet, and believes that flower bars are a good option for growers who are tempted to fill a vase with 40 stems and charge $10.
Instead of setting out $15 bouquets, she’s discovered that customers will spend $25 to $50 on DIY bouquets at the flower bar. It’s helped ease some of her nerves about establishing prices for her flowers.
“[When I make a bouquet], I have these thoughts like, ‘Oh, this is too expensive,’” she says. “The flower bar gets me out of that mindset because people are making their own decisions about how much to spend.”
Keeping Up with Demand
The farmers markets’ and flower bars have done more than help Lurry recoup the revenue from lost subscription sales; she’s also learned some unexpected lessons about herself.
“If you take an introvert and put them next to them what they’re passionate about, it works out really well,” she says. “I love being able to dress up and talk about flowers.”
Selling at events has also allowed her to introduce Patagonia Flower Farm to a broader community and to new customers—and she expanded the farm to keep up with the demand.
Aishah added an additional 4,000 square feet of growing space, filling it with native plants like penstemon, columbine, solidago, and jewels of Opar; she also added hoophouses and started experimenting with straw bale gardens (that the javelina tried to devour).
Expanding the farm doesn’t mean that Lurry has aspirations to become a large operation. She’d rather maintain a small farm that’s manageable for a solo grower, and plans to continue hosting pop-up flower bars and promoting the subscription program to new and returning customers.
“Even though there are crazy things going on with COVID, there are some great things, too [and] I’m so happy with where I’m at right now,” she says. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is how to use my flexibility muscle, and ebb and flow with the business to keep providing an outstanding, beautiful product for my customers.”