Brunch & Blooms at Ardelia Farm
One of our favorite parts of summer is filling our “Party Barn” with guests for our Brunch & Blooms event. We started this event in 2016 as a way to combine the two sides of our business. As some of you know, my husband Thomas is a professional pastry chef. We used to sell our flowers and baked goods from the same stand at farmers’ markets, and we quickly learned some valuable information. Food and flowers make people happy, and when you combine the two, the joy seems to multiply. I’d like to share with you some of the ins and outs of this successful event so that perhaps you can do something similar on your farm!
Guests arrive between 10:00 and 11:00 am. After parking near our high tunnels and greeting our beef cows and pastured pigs, guests walk up the drive towards the Party Barn. On arrival in the barn, soft jazz is playing, and Thomas and I are there to meet and greet. We hire two servers, which frees us up to be the hosts. This is crucial, and absolutely worth the added expense.
Guests help themselves to coffee and tea, or perhaps a mimosa (it’s brunch after all!), then move onto the buffet where they’ll find scones, muffins, coffee cakes, breakfast sandwiches, fresh donuts, cinnamon rolls, our own bacon and sausage, fresh fruit, local yogurt and cheese, granola, frittata, cheese grits, and more. We use mismatched china from thrift stores, as well as real silverware, glassware, and cloth napkins purchased wholesale from a restaurant supply company. Not only is this more sustainable than disposables, but it elevates the experience.
After a leisurely meal, guests are encouraged to explore the farm. We have five high tunnels full of sweet peas and other cuts, as well as a half-acre herbaceous perennial field and a two-acre field of woodies. I always designate an area where folks can cut some of their own flowers if they so choose. They are welcomed to forage in the wild areas of the property as well. I am also very clear where they cannot cut! Most folks don’t cut anything, preferring to use the pre-cut material, but they appreciate the option.
Flower time! To begin, I do a literally 90-second demonstration of how to make an arrangement just to put those at ease who have no experience. I remind them this is not a workshop, but simply an opportunity to express themselves with flowers, and that they need only to like the final result. I throw stems on the floor. If I break a flower I toss it and grab another. People don’t do this at home. It excites them and gets them in the mood to be just a little carefree. After my demo, guests grab a pair of clippers (which we provide), select a container, then go to town on the wall of flowers!
Vases are included in the price of the ticket, and we have a range of shapes and styles available. We try to find containers with a 3-4” opening, which limits how many flowers can be used. It is also easier for amateur designers to work with a smaller vessel. We order most of our containers in bulk from Accent Decor with an average price of $3-5.
The flowers are set up buffet-style in metal sap buckets or glass jars. I feel that plastic buckets cheapen a display, so we keep plastic out of sight. The wall of flowers is set up during brunch so that guests can gaze upon (and photograph) the blooms while they dine. The flowers are simply an assortment of whatever we have on hand that did not sell earlier that week. We may have only 4 or 5 stems of a certain crop, and that’s fine. Similarly, we may have five buckets of one kind of flower. Even if we expect only a few stems to be used, we’ll put them all out. The experience of abundance is highly valuable. When else does someone get to gorge on a flower buffet?
The vast majority of the flowers are our own, but we sometimes need to supplement with flowers from other local growers in order to add varieties or colors. We are transparent about this with our guests, and we love the opportunity to support other farms! We have also bartered event tickets for flowers if we know other growers are attending. Again, abundance is the key here.
Some folks are done within five minutes, while others take hours. Some use seven stems, others use fifty. Some ask for help, and some want to be left alone. I am on hand for as much or little intervention as needed. I always compliment something about an arrangement, and ask those who seem to be struggling if they would like assistance. Most gladly take some advice, but others are just having fun and don’t care. It’s a low pressure, high fun experience.
By 2:00 p.m. most people are packing up and headed home, but some linger and keep playing with flowers. If there are stems I know I can’t sell, I try to force them on the guests. Some people are shy about using “too many” flowers, but they’ve paid for them, so I encourage them to take more.
The event is limited to 50 guests. We charge $100 per ticket ($25 for food/$75 for flowers) and sell out every time. We approximate our food and beverage cost to be $400. We spend about $200 on extra flowers if needed, $250 on containers, and $300 on labor. We allocate an additional $250 per event for overhead costs (clippers, insurance etc.) and port-o-potty rental.
Before considering the cost of our flowers, expenses are approximately $1,400. Of course our flowers DO cost us money to grow, but we grow nothing specifically for this event. These are simply the fresh flowers I was unable to sell that week to other outlets. Even if I budget a theoretical $600 for the wholesale cost of our flowers, that still leaves a net profit of $3,000, which more than covers our labor preparing for this event.
Why it Works
People love food and flowers, even moreso when they’re brought together. Being on a farm is exciting for those who don’t have one. The perceived value of a large buffet of food or flowers is greater than the actual amount of food and flowers consumed. We create a friendly and warm environment, and people feel welcomed and relaxed on arrival. We also don’t have to leave home, which is priceless. It is a short event, and the guests create their own experience. By Sunday, we have sold any flowers we are going to sell for the week, so what remains is likely to become compost without such an event.
If you don’t have your own chef, food costs will of course be higher. This would be a great chance to collaborate with another local producer, and could easily be adapted to a wine and cheese type event, or any number of other variations depending on your resources and customer base. Insurance, zoning, and department of health laws vary by region, so do your research and ensure that you are compliant with all local regulations.
Parking is a concern. Make sure you can accommodate the crowd you expect. Clearly communicate expectations with your guests before arrival. Provide signage and clear directions to the farm, information on when to arrive, what to wear, where and how to park, and what to expect throughout the day. This puts the guest at ease and makes your life easier. Some people won’t read. Be patient with them.
We do one such event per month, from June to October, which is when we have flowers. Each event has a different selection of flowers and a different feel, and several guests attend multiple Brunch & Blooms in the same season. We get many requests per year to visit our farm and we direct them to one of these events. This is the perfect setting to show off our space and our flowers and to get to know our customers on an individual basis. It is just one piece in the puzzle of keeping our little farm profitable.