COVID’s Impact on Our Southeast Region Members

Thinking about my article for this Quarterly, I wanted to circle back and ask members about how the year has gone with the pandemic still raging, as a follow-up to their feedback I shared in the summer 2020 issue. I asked if 2020 has been more profitable, about the same, or less. And, if possible, to please share a photo that captures the year.

I’m hoping the feedback I heard will be useful, even provide a few ideas (and a glimmer of hope) to help more of us deal with the situation. At the very least, I hope you’ll feel like you’re not alone.

First, some hard news …

Linda Doan, Aunt Willie’s Wildflowers, Blount, Tennessee As I was moving through the growing season, I thought we were doing pretty well, but when we looked at the numbers we definitely made less money this year. We had been planning to cut back so didn’t expect to be quite as profitable, but fell short even of what we had projected. Petals on the Porch was good and we were able to sell most of the flowers we grew, but porch bouquets prices just don’t add up to bridal work prices. We really missed workshops and farm tours also. Did a couple small workshops but even these made me nervous so didn’t do the volume of most years. We held two small tours at one-third capacity rather than 5-6 at full capacity. I felt for every grower, and while I really enjoyed seeing the hustle and creativity folks came up with, I realized there were many small growers who weren’t able to get into shipping and online sales, and hope they’re able to try another year.

Donna Mills, Floral & Hardy Farm, Lexington, South Carolina It was one of the worst years we’ve had in years. Cancelled weddings and the Masters really hurt! I’m wondering if I should find a job next year. We lost the only decent market to COVID and I haven’t been able to find any decent help. We are busy making wreaths right now, but those sales are way down as well.

Susan Wright, Shady Grove Gardens & Nursery, Vilas, North Carolina Struggling to deal with all the new competition and the undercutting that follows. We finally perfected a technique of storing peonies into July. This photo was taken on July 17.

Katy Thelan, Happy as a Coneflower Farm, Pittsboro, North Carolina 2020 has been a really bad year for me. I made less than half of what I usually do. For the first time in 7 years I’m questioning whether I still want to do this. I sell exclusively to florists and without weddings demand was way down. A local florist in my area (my biggest customer) sold her shop and the new owner bought flowers from me only a handful of times as opposed to weekly. I wasn’t set up to sell to the public so I hung in all year thinking things might get better.

This year has been doubly hard on parents and business owners—my kids have been home since March. Farming certainly provides flexibility as a parent because you are home but, of course, raising children is a job unto itself! I think that extra responsibility kept me from taking too much risk with my customer base this year. It’s definitely hard to get excited about a new year but I’ve put so much energy into building my business, I want to give it one last go.

 

And then there was a bit of light.

Mary Alford, Alive and Digginit, Rockford, Tennessee More profit overall but less in the cut flower week by week average from farmers’ markets. This was the year to be in the nursery business. I sell plants, too, and increased my inventory. Spring was good with folks needing some beauty in their lives and staying home working in their gardens and freaking out about food thus trying to grow their own. Interest waned with summer. Fall was not so great and without bulbs would have been fair and not even middlin’. The man in the photo works for a woman who is being treated for cancer and is too weak to come to the market. She has shopped with me for several years and sends her husband and workers to pick out what we think she would like. Ain’t he gorgeous?

Lauren Smith, Ivy and Oak Farm, Holly Ridge, North Carolina I think people just needed something to look forward to and for me, flowers were able to provide that. There were so many older couples who purchased one of my subscriptions and it was literally the highlight of their week when the flowers were dropped off and they could see them through their life stages.

Linda Bradley, Purple Tuteur Farm, Columbia, South Carolina Profitability improved in 2020 from an operational expense perspective, but if I include new capital expenses— including a new processing shed, a hoophouse and a walk-in cooler—it’s less. 2020 was a building year for the business and 2021 holds the possibility of increased growth and profit. The new infrastructure allows for better season extension and less product loss. We reached out to more florists and event planners for sales, with good interest, and I expect these relationships to grow next year.

Our subscriptions flourished last spring and we are planning for increased demand ahead. This will be year 3 for our first peonies so hoping to see that they were worth waiting for!

Kayla Dineen, Well Rooted Farm, Winston-Salem, North Carolina Much more profitable! Customers have said they started buying flowers BECAUSE of the pandemic. With the shutdowns, more folks were drawn to our local market instead of buying from overseas. We excelled this year far beyond our wildest dreams.

Karen Yasui, Petalland, Tullahoma, Tennessee Yes, 2020 has been more profitable for me. First, because the Tennessee Cut Flower group buys from me regularly. Second, with COVID, and my husband retiring, I have not used hired help this year.

Cathy Jones, Perry-winkle Farm, Chapel Hill, North Carolina Flower sales at our three farmers’ markets have been excellent this year. We were able to sell most everything we took to market each week. We had very few “special events” this year, but market sales made up for any shortfall in that area.

Kathy Campbell, Campbell’s Hollow Ranch, Albany, Kentucky 2020 has been more profitable for me. I did a lot of contactless porch deliveries and my farmers’ market sales more than doubled. I believe that people were and are hungry for beauty in these uncertain times, and flowers fit the bill.

Karen Hogsten, Wild Paint Cut Flowers, Ashland, Kentucky Season started out very slow in the spring and early summer, and really picked up in July. Continued increased sales from late summer through fall. Key to success this year: Stopped going to farmers’ market, increased bouquet prices, made deliveries, and designed non-traditional wedding bouquets using wildflowers and locally-grown flowers.

Abigail Helberg Moffitt, Bloom WNC, Black Mountain, North Carolina Farm tours have sold out (people are looking for safer ways to gather and being on a farm with a mask on to cut your own flowers has been a hit)! CSA sales are up. Elopements and à la carte weddings increased, and I prefer these to full-service anyway. Gearing up for a bigger production year and hoping that demand still increases. We shall see.

Janet C. Nutt, Janbil Farms Country Cuttings, Cedartown, Georgia Our market didn’t open this spring until May and it was online orders only. I set up at the Salvation Army near the market area (donated Mother’s Day sales to them for the space) and had orders from previous customers and a few new ones. On May 30, the market opened near the old site but with a lot more space so we had 6 feet between tents. After just a few weeks, my sales were incredible, with a line of customers (six feet apart and mostly masked) waiting for our custom-made bouquets. We have a lot of flowers and greenery that you don’t often see elsewhere. Normally it takes me, myself, and I two days to pick 25-30 buckets of flowers from which we pull on site to make the bouquets. This summer it took me 3 days and we still sold out. Finally, income was definitely up. But time and monies for helpers up also. Net result, we had fun and that was the best part of this unusual season. (Masks off for photos.)

Mary Mason Royal, The Royal Gardens, Elko, Georgia 2020 has been a record-breaking year for The Royal Gardens. People just could not get enough locally-grown flowers to bring some sunshine to themselves or someone else. At the farmers’ market we provided a flower bar where customers requested what flowers they wanted, and we created an arrangement on site. Customization is the key! People were waiting in line for 30-45 minutes to get designs. For the first time I had to hire extra help for picking and arranging. The assistants (one 12 years old and one 19 years old) were so good that they often received hefty tips! The additional support also allowed us to make dried flower arrangements and all-local greenery wreaths. We brought in the most income ever.

Deborah Gibson, Green Meadow Farm, Kings Mountain, North Carolina A much better year, cannot say it was more profitable. I completed my first seven weddings this year; last year I sold only mixed bouquets at the farmers’ market. Every dollar I earn goes back into the farm, so I have yet to turn a profit. This is my third year at full-time farming. I figure this ship will right itself at the five-year mark. We’ll see!

And from a few new growers.

Mary Ann Adams, One Hubcap Farm, Blythewood, South Carolina This is only my second year but it is definitely better than last year. COVID made people more interested in coming to the farmers’ market and it was an outdoor activity they could enjoy even during the lockdown. (Ours was an essential-goods market for a while.) Florists also had supply chain trouble and were happy to have my flowers when the overseas markets collapsed. COVID gave me extra time to work on the farm since I wasn’t driving kids all over the place, and so I’ve been able to expand my beds. This is a photo of my 4-year-old son, Luke (my gardening buddy) in late May.

Sasha Willard, Red, White & Bloom, Moncks Corner, South Carolina We thoroughly enjoyed our first year flower farming in the Charleston area. Our primary goal for our farm is our you-pick experience, and there couldn’t have been a better time to start one. People loved the safe, open-air social distancing activity, as it provided a bit of normalcy from the stresses of pandemic life. Folks were definitely craving the beauty and joy that comes from flowers! Our on-farm workshops were a huge hit, many more to come next year. We also sold out at farmers’ markets this season, and are looking ahead to offering bouquet subscriptions and deliveries in 2021. A successful first year! The photo is a you-pick cup before arranging at our farm’s photo area, where our visitors would take a picture with their blooms.

Virginia Rudnicki, Flora Berry Farm, Berry, Kentucky This was our first year living in Kentucky and our first year flower farming and it was indeed interesting. We were affected by the coronavirus in that it took us a little longer to make contacts as most places were shut down in early spring. It was August before we were able to join a farmers’ market so I would say our earnings were less than they could have been. We did not make a profit this year but were able to sell, so thankful to God for that and hoping and praying 2021 will be a better year.

Jodie McCord, Great Blue Farms and Garden, Webster, North Carolina 2020 has been a roller coaster. This is my second year of growing and floristry. At the beginning of the year, I had a solid marketing plan set for wedding venues, a calendar of on-farm events, a weekly flower bar set for the summer in a fabulous boutique and a couple of weddings on the books. Then came the lockdown. Word: Disappointing.

But to be totally honest, I have no idea how I could have done it all. The pandemic took away a lot but also gave me a much better perspective and time to really understand what I was going to physically be able to do and still be alive to tell about it. So even though almost everything was cancelled it was also a godsend. Word: Reflection.

 

As we began to open up in North Carolina, I did book several small weddings (perfect to start), I set up a flower bar in the boutique. Huge success but no way I could have done it every week. Made a solid connection with a wedding and event venue owner; she refers me to ALL of her brides. Made a much better plan for next year’s garden (I don’t need 400 zinnias). Word: Silver lining and self-care.

I’m gearing up for a holiday wreath-making workshop—the first workshop all year. Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving. I’ve never felt more gratitude for my health, my family, and blessings disguised as disaster.

Well said, Jodie, and thank you to everyone, for all you’re doing. I’m so grateful to see how our members stay connected and keep sharing what’s working and, even more important, what’s not. Stay safe, and please stay in touch.