Spotlight on Montana

“We are here to expand the reach of Montana grown cut flowers, to connect growers with florists and buyers, and help new growers step into the market.” When I read the first Instagram post of the recently formed Montana Cut Flower Association a few months ago, it piqued my interest. I reached out to Andi Thatcher, President, to learn more.

When did the idea of forming a collaborative of flower farmers in Montana begin?

Our journey began in February of 2021. An email was sent out to a long list of growers throughout Montana asking if anyone would be interested in collaborating to form an association. After many Zoom meetings, phone calls, and texts, we launched the website in December of 2021. 

What model did you choose for the collaborative (e.g. co-op, farmer-owned, etc.)? 

We decided to form our association as a grower-operated non-profit. With this type of group, we can easily facilitate networking, education and community among growers.

Andi Thatcher
Jennifer and Connor Barnard

Who are the board members and what are your roles?

President: Andi Thatcher, Rimrock Flower Farm. I oversee the website, email communications, assist with social media, and work on connections with other industries throughout Montana (state florist association, distribution companies, television networks, etc.). Vice President: Jennifer Barnard, Millay and Meadowlark Flower Farm. Jen oversees our social media account, researches opportunities for our association to gain traction with local Montana flower buyers, and has a talent for conveying our mission and goals in the most beautiful way.

Secretary/Treasurer: Crystal Allison, Two Kays Flower Farm. Crystal handles all finances as Treasurer, and as our Secretary manages our meeting agendas, keeps us on schedule with time-sensitive tasks, and has spent countless hours writing our Specialty Crop Block grant with the department of agriculture, which will hopefully give our Montana flower industry a huge boost!

Crystal Allison

Board Member: Megan Leach, Dragon’s Breath Farm. Megan is our resident growing guru. She provides our group with a plethora of valuable growing information, writes articles for our member resource page, and runs admin for our member communication forum.

Board Member: Sandy Perrin, Missoula County Extension. Sandy is knowledgeable with association boards, grant writing, and the cut flower industry. She helped us narrow down our target goals, what we hoped to achieve and how to accomplish those goals. 

How has the Association been received by farmers and designers? 

We have had nothing but positive responses! We asked our members what they wanted most out of the MCFA and the answer was a resounding “grower networking and community”. In Montana, a large percentage of flower growers are new to the scene. With only a handful of growers having more than 5 years of experience, we have an opportunity to band together and expand this great industry together! We reached out to the Montana Florist Association, and they are excited for us to collaborate with them. 

How many flower farmers and designers do you currently have and how does one join?

We currently have 23 farm members and one local-only co-op. There is a $75 annual fee for growers, florists, suppliers, and a $50 fee for “aspiring growers”.

What is your marketing plan? 

We currently use social media and email marketing. This year, in conjunction with the grant that we have applied for, we are working on producing a commercial that will air throughout all of Montana. Our commercial will aim to educate Montanans of flower growers across the state,  where “other” flowers are coming from, and the importance and uniqueness of buying flowers in their optimal season. Other plans include inviting news stations to our farms to air stories about flower farming in Montana. Networking with local Chambers of Commerce and tourism groups, we can highlight the farms that offer agritourism.

Narcissus from Dragon's Breath Farm

What are the biggest challenges facing the Association? Are there specific challenges related to the Montana market?

There is a joke in Montana that we are always about 10 years behind everything. In western Montana, where flower farmers are more common, locally-grown flowers are better known. But in central and eastern Montana, our biggest challenge is educating Montanans that flowers don’t have to come from the box stores, that they can be sourced from a local grower. Another big challenge is playing with the big dogs in the agriculture world here. Montana is known for its production of grains, lentils, and beef. But Montana also is a huge destination wedding location, and does big business when it comes to purchasing flowers. We are working on educating our growers on how to capture some of the funding that comes down to commodity producers through the Department of Agriculture and NCRS, so that we can sit in the same room as the wheat and beef producers. By moving forward together as a group, we have a better chance of achieving goals than if a few of us tried to go it alone. 

What are some of the logistical issues connecting farmers and designers in such a large geographic footprint such as Montana?

The biggest challenge we face is solving the distribution problem of getting flowers from a farm in Kalispell to a florist in Lewistown. This year we are working to find a distribution company that services much of the state and can get our flowers from one end to the other without damage. We recently connected with a local company that operates as a courier service (mostly for medical supplies), but has experience in transporting flowers. Our farm will be running the distribution tests to see if this new connection can help solve our logistical problem. Once we have this piece of the puzzle solved, we will launch a statewide marketing campaign that will target local florists into seeking out product from Montana farms. 

How many months of the year will you be selling flowers? What are some of the most popular flower varieties in your market?

Our growers with greenhouses and high tunnels start as early as April and grow into late October. Field growers are about May to September. Because our summers are more mild, many of our growers can grow cold-loving flowers all summer! So some popular varieties are peonies, sweet peas, ranunculus, anemones, snapdragons, and rudbeckia. 

How will you define your success? Is there money to be made with the model you have chosen?

I believe our success will come as growers utilize our resources and find economic gains from them. Our goal is to help get Montana-grown flowers into the hands of people who already do, or perhaps will, buy flowers. We have chosen a non-profit, so we will invest income back into the resources for our members. This year we will hold a MCFA conference for networking and education, and have future plans to fund trials for growing practices here in Montana. 

Your mission is very similar to that of the ASCFG and your board members all belong to the ASCFG. What has that relationship meant to you?

The ASCFG has been instrumental in the success of all of our farms. As we worked to develop this association, we often looked at how the ASCFG serves their members. For the Montana Cut Flower Association, we started with the fundamental needs:  education, resources (for seed, bulbs, equipment orders, etc.) and networking. The ASCFG gives endless support to its members, allowing them a leg up in this tough market. That is what we hope to be to our members.

Thank you, and good luck reaching your Association goals in Big Sky Country!

Zinnias from Rimrock Flower Farm

Susan Rockwood

Arcola Trail Flower FArm

Contact her at [email protected]