2020—A year of uncertainty, challenges, and the unexpected.
I am writing my first Report as the incoming North and Central Regional Director and am honored and humbled to join the ASCFG Board. Many thanks to Jamie Rohda for serving in this role and for her wisdom and commitment to the members of the North and Central Region.
I will use this first column as an introduction to our farm and “about us”. My husband, Brad Peterson, and I own Arcola Trail Flower Farm located just outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota. I began flower farming in 2015 after retiring from a 35-year career in health care administration. My sister, who lives in California, put the idea in my head that we should grow cut flowers as a business on our 15-acre property along the St. Croix River in Stillwater.
I wasn’t sure what “flower farming” was all about, but was intrigued enough to begin digging into the books, publications, workshops, and internet searches to learn all I could. I wasn’t so sure growing flowers commercially in Minnesota’s zone 4b was a smart idea, but like many of you, the more I learned the more motivated I became to build a business around flowers.
The first workshop I attended was Jennie Love’s Master Class on The Business of Local Flowers in Philadelphia in April 2015. I remember hearing terms that were foreign to me—plugs, brokers, 1020 trays, bumping up, tubers, etc.—and I’m sure I couldn’t tell the difference between a dahlia and a lisianthus. Jennie’s advice to anyone serious about growing cut flowers as a business was to join the ASCFG, which I did as soon as I got back to Minnesota. I think Brad and I attended at least one if not two ASCFG events every year and our knowledge and friendships grew exponentially allowing us to hit the ground running. We found that it took about five years to feel the momentum of our “retirement business” really take off.
Initially, most of our flowers were sold to florists and designers, then we added our local food co-op, a flower subscription CSA, DIY brides, and then design work for clients and à la carte weddings. Dried flowers and winter wreath making helped generate income beyond the growing season, and we hosted small events, tours, and classes at the farm prior to the pandemic.
Neither my husband nor I grew up on a farm, but I always felt like Brad must have been a farmer in a previous life. He has been able to combine his experience and knowledge in engineering, construction, equipment, and soil with his affable personality to contribute greatly to our success. He built an incredible garage/studio which works efficiently for our processes, and sought out new information about cover crops and soil health. When asked about his role on the farm, he always says, “I am only in charge of two things…dirt and shit (meaning organic compost, of course) and Susan does everything else”. It always gets a good laugh.
At her course, Jennie encouraged us to write a business plan. I remember she said to consider the things that are potential risks to your business that could affect your ability to operate—the old SWOT analysis exercise. There is always the unpredictability of weather, but she said a farmer’s health is critically important.
We experienced this personally last fall. On September 27th, one week before “Frostmas” and as I was getting ready for our final afternoon dahlia sale, Brad had a severe stroke. He spent 10 weeks in the hospital and is now home where he can be with his family and his English Pointer. Due to COVID, hospitals were closed to visitors so we are fortunate we could make arrangements to bring him home. He’s tough but has a long recovery ahead of him.
Given our current circumstances, I don’t know what our flower farming plans will be in 2021.While I carefully considered whether I should give up my position on the Board, I have decided to begin my term with full commitment. I appreciate the patience and encouragement of the ASCFG Board and staff. Having flower farming friends at times like these is heart-warming. I have received so much kindness over the past three months in many forms—messages, calls, food, help digging dahlias, and putting the farm to bed for the winter. It allowed me to spend the time I needed to focus on Brad and for this I am forever grateful.
My hope is that we will be able to come together for in-person conferences, farm tours, growers’ schools, and other networking opportunities in the near future since that is what I found so valuable as a member of the ASCFG. Thankfully, the ASCFG is offering great online education and learning opportunities until it is safe to meet.
In the meantime, I am looking forward to hearing from you and welcoming new members in the 14 states of the North and Central Region. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if I can be of any assistance or just to introduce yourself.
My 2021 mantra: keep going, keep growing.