Advice for First Year Flower Farmers and Dreamers

Taking the leap to become a cut flower farmer and farmer-florist either made me one dumb person or an adventurer.  I’ve been told it’s a bad idea.  I’ve been told I’m a genius.  I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  I don’t think anyone ever saw the writing on the wall that this is what I would grow up to be.  I sure didn’t.  It happened.  Flower farming is demanding work in every aspect.  Physically demanding.  Money sucker.  Emotionally draining at times.  It is also incredibly rewarding.  Sure, my lower back is sore and my feet ache.  A good night’s sleep after a day of turning over rows will set it all right.  At least I’m getting in better shape!  Sure, there’s up front cost in flower farming but really, the flowers have been carrying their own weight for some time.  If I would say “no” to a pretty flower once in a while, I’d be pretty set!  Sure, some days I am emotionally drained and am sitting glum pondering why I even started this journey?  What the heck was I thinking?  Then the good times happen, which is 90% of the time.  Smiles plastered on customer faces, gorgeous flowers that I wouldn’t have access to if I didn’t grow them, a gorgeous bride in love with her bridal bouquet.  My flowers enhance lives, they bring beauty on dark days and celebrate once in a lifetime moments.  Worth it.  If you’re here, you are thinking flower farming might be worth it for you too.

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A popular question I’m asked by first year flower farmers or those dreaming of taking the leap into flower farming is: “what would you do different your first year of flower farming with the knowledge you have now?” There are variations of that same question: “what advice would you give yourself?”  Each variation of the same question is boiling down to: what advice do I have for first year flower farmers and dreamers?  


It is a deceivingly simple question. Lurking on different forums or social media accounts of more esteemed flower farmers, they may have more enlightened answers than mine worth digging up.  In all fairness, you guys were asking me not those other farmers. Perhaps you’ve read their answers and are still seeking.

Guess what?! Every flower farmer has a different answer! All solid advice but it definitely highlights that we all face incredibly unique challenges.  As I always say: flower farming is not a one size fits all.  


I know!  I just gave a pretty lame answer that seems to be a cop out.  I will say my first year flower farming I had small successes and many face-planting-in-the-dirt-failures.  Let me tell you, muddy tears are the worst and the specks of dirt in your eyeballs make it worse!  Do I have regrets?  Well, not the kind you would think.  Overall, I wouldn’t change the experiences: the successes or the failures.  They built the foundation of what Sierra Flower Farm is and what it will become.  As a Christian, I also take comfort that those failures were lessons.  Doesn’t mean they didn’t suck when they happened.  It also doesn’t mean I was beyond frustrated at times and my poor husband was there to help pick up the pieces.  


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There are a couple of things I would tell myself looking back.  Not tips on succession planting or efficiency in my business.  Those kinds of tips can be told to my first year flower farmer self until my face went blue and it wouldn’t have penetrated.  I had to experience the failures and successes for myself.  Things like having a website or marketing myself I knew from the gate I had to do in some way.  After all, I was starting a business.  There are business essentials.  Heck I have my BA in accounting.  I hope I know these basics! These aren’t mind blowing things to know.  Also, what other flower farmers have done and made them successful doesn’t always translate into being successful for me due to a number of reasons and variables.  You all won’t be able to completely replicate my successes, what works for me won’t necessarily work for you.  That’s a hard truth.  Maybe some of my successes will help you to become more successful, those times are a total win!  There is a great amount of knowledge sharing in the flower farming community but not every piece of information works for every situation.  With that said, I think there are a few lessons that can translate to each of us:


Be Kind to Yourself


If I could time travel to my first couple seasons of flower farming, I would tell myself to be kind to…myself.  We are our own worst critics!  The reality is no one is perfect and working with nature is volatile.  Take any delusional hopes of perfection and throw them out the window.  If you can accept this from the gate, it will make your life more manageable.

Taking on the learning of becoming a flower farmer and starting a business: those two things are HUGE! Oh, you want to throw in being a florist as well? You just took on three huge endeavors!  Let’s be honest, most of us are beginner farmers, honing florist skills and starting a business in one go.  They are yin and yang to each other.  Codependents.  It’s how we talk our husbands into letting us take the leap!  The flowers will pay for themselves and my trips to Target!



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Learning to flower farm and starting a business each on their own are extremely time, financial and emotional consuming.  Give yourself a break.  Sure, you just killed a whole tray of lisianthus: it’s okay.  You’ll get it next round!  Oh, this is your second batch of failure?  Dry those tears and don’t throw in the towel.  Don’t beat yourself up, learn from your failures and try again.  Also, hey, you can always buy plugs (just make sure you charge enough for those stems to profit!).  Take awesome notes, weigh the worth of those particular flowers and have back ups!  I love growing a variety of flowers, in case for one reason or another a particular variety is just failing me that year.



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There are going to be plenty of haters and haters are gonna hate.  Sadly, you’ll find people in your lives that will not be supportive and may even be harsh (that sure was my story!).  You don’t need to be judgmental or harsh to yourself.  That’s a bad place.  Be kind to yourself.  Prove them wrong!  The ones closest to you may judge you the most, they may have the most opinions.  The ones watching you struggle to get your dream off the ground may not ever see how much you’ve grown through the seasons.  This isn’t just with flower farming, my other artisan friends have shared having the same experiences.  Us humans are strange creatures, the closer you are to some the more strange their reactions!  

You will have customers shake their head and educate you on your pricing, methods, any and everything: they will have opinions.  Whether this is a customer at the farmer’s market, a bride, a mother of the bride, a passerby: it happens! Guess what?  When you’re selling direct to consumer you are face-to-face with their initial reaction, their sticker shock, their insights good or bad.  Be kind.  Be gracious.  Don’t get offended.  Take the opportunity to educate them in a fun way.  Make them feel heard.  Smile at their advice and let them sit with their opinions.  Not every potential customers equals an ideal customer.  You want fans!  Not haters.  These customers may come around, they may not.  Either way, it’s okay.  At first it won’t feel okay but trust me: it’s okay.


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Be Patient.



This leads to patience.  I am not the most patient person in all kinds of respects.  My kids getting out of the car feels like pouring molasses from a jar.  Thus, why I always tell them “you move like molasses child!”  Be patient with yourself and you skills.  Don’t panic about “not being good enough” or “not selling enough subscriptions.”  You’ll get better!  You’ll sell more! Your intuition in growing and caring for the flowers will kick in. Your floral design skills will dazzle with practice.  In those beginning moments, frustration will tell you otherwise but with time and experience: you will get better.  You will be hustling, answering emails and phone calls of inquirers at all times of the day or night.  You will educate, educate and educate: you will actually get tired of talking about flowers!  I know, blasphemy right?!  It will happen, especially during those times where all your effort and heart was poured into that proposal for that bride and you get no response.  When you create the cutest ad for your subscription and no bites.  It’s not you, it’s not your flowers: it takes time to build an empire!  Or just a little following.  Be patient, it will all come together.  With your efforts, how can it do anything but come together? Eventually, you will turn your phone off at night and not fret about making that needy bride happy for that sale. There will be others and less needy brides.

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Be patient with those in your life who just don’t get it, and maybe don’t bother talking to them about it until they can be shown.  My husband has supported me from day one… in his own way. Like building greenhouses and prepping growing beds. Chatting his ear off about this pretty flower and this idea and that cool awesome flower farmer I’m going to grow up to be… he didn’t like that.  It became too much and he’s hand in hand with me on this endeavor! It’s hard not to talk about our passions!  Especially while in the throes of of the puppy love phase.  People will want to begin to heave at your mention of flowers.  Not everyone wants to hear about every dahlia cutting that rooted for you or every type of sweet pea variety your are growing! Other flower farmers perhaps, other than us cool kids the topic becomes a bore.  It’s not that they don’t believe in you it’s just not their cup of tea or out of their realm of understanding.  Be patient with them. Network with other farmers/growers: they’ll get you!  Network with other creatives: they’ll get you!  Even if they don’t flower farming, creative people get creative people.  


Be patient with your family and your kids.  Sure, your kid just deadheaded every cosmo you were about to harvest. that’s why you grow lots of other flowers and you are going to start planning on where you’re going put their own cut flower garden!  Your market customers will have a good laugh at why there are no cosmos that week.  Your kids will learn quickly that those flowers translate into money which translates into ice cream dates! They’ll learn how to become a little less helpful.

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Be patient with the flowers: they will grow.  Do everything you know you can do and then you have to be patient.  This means letting them do their thing: don’t over water or fret.  Don’t kill them with love. Put your best effort forth and enjoy the process, enjoy the wait.  Once those flowers kick into gear, you’re going to be dreaming of the calm days of winter! 



Be patient with your business.  Your business will catch on, it will take time and your hustle.  Don’t think that “if you plant them they will come,” you’ll have to educate and shove flowers under their noses… then about a couple seasons later your customers will catch on!  It’s uncomfortable shoving flowers under noses but you’ll have to get comfortable doing just that! Also, don’t grow every single flower under the sun your first year.  It’s a lot to take on!  Then again if you can’t say no to a pretty flower (that was my problem) be ready to hustle to keep up.  You just signed on for the fast-track of all learning curves in flower farming. Not only are you now having to figure out how to start each flower variety but how to coddle them into becoming thriving plants and properly harvesting/post handling of each flower.  It is a lot to take on at once.  Sound overwhelming?  Be patient, grow a handful of varieties and add more each season once you feel confident in handling what you have. 



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In time, you will be able to invest in super cool dahlia tubers and garden shrub roses.  Make your business earn those high investments!  Be patient and while you are practicing being patient: limit judging yourself against all those drool worthy instagram photos!  Own your story and where you are at in your flower farming journey.  Make the best of this time, soak it in.  This flower season will only happen like this once for you.  It will change, it will evolve, it will get better and crazier!


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Embrace.




Lastly, be ready to embrace.  Be ready to embrace those inevitable failures.  Be ready to embrace the long days and physically demanding work.  Be ready to embrace saying “no” or being told “no.”  Be ready to embrace: you will kill many many plants, from your own mistakes or because well, nature and things happen!


On those exceptionally rough days, be ready to embrace your family and kids: their hugs and laugher will carry you through the tougher times.  Embrace the successes, no matter how big or small.  Celebrate those successes!  Life is too short to do anything but celebrate your success.  Only sold two bouquets at market out of twenty?  Well, two people couldn’t resist your flowers!  Next time, more people won’t be able to resist.  

Embrace your place in life and your story, your journey, your unique challenges.  I had a hard time with this.  Being a micro-urban flower farmer with less than 2,000 square feet of growing space: I felt kind of like a joke.  People would want to see photos of our property, I was embarrassed to show!  I even had friends and family not take me seriously because of my small scale growing.  I’m glad I didn’t wait for that “perfect” property or waited until I felt I had a worthy image.  I am a flower farmer.  I work my land and as we’re learning with this new property: working on such a small scale was in many ways more challenging!  Sure, we had less volume but we had less space and would have to get creative in many ways, it took more time.  

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Embrace constructive criticisms and embrace compliments.   Criticisms are hard, especially in the beginning.  Sometimes it’s hard to be able to tell if the criticisms are mean spirited or are there to help.  Write down the comments in a journal and come back at a later time, you’ll be able to better judge without the cloud of emotion to see if those comments have merit.  Taking compliments has always made me uneasy.  Flattery is awkward, be gracious and take the compliments as they come.  Stay humble but accept the kind words.  If someone decided to write you that email or come up to you and share those words with you, they deserve you taking them to heart.  


Embrace being uncomfortable.  You will be uncomfortable emotionally, physically and socially.  There will be interactions that will make you cringe. They make for some hilarious stories! You will have dirt in places that will make you blush.  Mud in your bra just means you had a fantastic day doing what you love!

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I think there’s a pattern where we are all creatures of comfort, of habits.  Who likes failure?  The fear of failure can paralyze you, panic you and lead you to make hasty decisions.  Failure is dirty and uncomfortable, it can be heartbreaking.  It is also inevitable.  Don’t let failures scare you, don’t let them harden you.  Be kind to yourself.  Be patient.  Embrace what may or may not come.  Carry these three pieces of advice in your shirt pocket.  Flower farming and being a farmer-florist can be pretty, those instagram moments do happen… even if it’s just for thirty seconds to capture said moment!  It won’t always be glamorous but hey!   What do you expect?!  You chose to be a flower farmer and it starts with poop and dirt!


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As always, I am looking forward to helping you hand blooms soon!

Jessica


We want to help you hand blooms!

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We have had such an abundance of love from our fellow flower farmers and dreamers! Each of you have great questions, therefore, we will be launching a flower-farming series of blog posts! As always, it won’t be so much of a how-to series (flower farming is not a one size fits all after all!) but more of a “how-we-do.” Find inspiration, tips or just a community that gets you! Sign up for our Flower Farming Newsletter to get our latest content!


Have a specific subject/topic/question you would like us to cover, feel free to email us and let us know!