I was a teacher long before I was a farmer, much less a floral designer. So when I finally came to my senses and realized that my life's work was waiting for me out in the flower fields, I approached flowers with an eye towards education. I payed attention to my own process of learning the requisite skills both out in the fields and in the design studio. What came easily? What was trickier than it seemed at first? There's something really special about being an adult learner. It's humbling and instills in you a sense of empathy for others learning any new skill set.
I went into farming so that I could teach and be outside at the same time (and as it turns out, I love growing things too). As I left my old job running the educational farm at Petaluma Bounty, where teaching was a formal part of my job description, I had to really think about how to keep flexing these muscles. Incorporating on-farm classes and workshops into my business plan seemed like the natural next step. Most of the classes I offered were rather general - some tips and knowledge sharing along with some time for strolling in the flower fields. They were festive, experiential, and sent people home with a few new skills (and a lot of flowers).
Venturing into Consulting
When I started to get requests for more in-depth advice on flower farming, I decided to offer a few private and group consulting sessions where we could really dive into the specifics of building a flower farming business. I advertised these as really standing apart from my classes. They would be smaller, more intimate, and the topics we covered would really be based on the participants' needs and questions (which I encouraged them to send me in advance). The sessions would roll out as conversations rather than scripted presentations.
I promised that I would bring all my knowledge to the table (along with all sorts of reference material for us to paw through), and that I would follow up to track down answers that I couldn’t come up with on the spot. But I wouldn’t be developing a curriculum (read: formally preparing). I tried to set the price accordingly - properly valuing my experience but acknowledging that I was venturing into the unknown with these loose, open-ended sessions.
So Many Farmers, So Little Time
For my first group, I spent the better part of the afternoon with two awesome women that were stepping into the world of flowers and wanted to sit down and hash it out. It went swimmingly, but I was reminded of certain challenges inherent in any group setting. In this case, with such a small group I really wanted to be able to troubleshoot each farmer’s respective plans. But they were coming from completely different places - one was deep into planning her own little flower farm, had read all the books and blogs and catalogues and needed some help putting all this information into a solid plan for year one. The second farmer, on the other hand, had recently taken a job with a community farm and wanted to learn more about incorporating flowers into their crop plan. There wasn’t much if any budget for this, and they would probably best succeed with simple flowers that volunteers could help to grow.
What different situations! We essentially switched back and forth from one farm plan to the other, and both participants hungrily scribbled notes on any valuable tidbits, even if they didn’t apply to their particular situation. Those are some great students. I can attribute the success of this session to both this flexibility on their part, as well as the fact that I was clear from the get-go as to what I would be offering.
I was reminded that there’s such value in being upfront, clear, and comprehensive when offering your services. I have to say, it was a fun departure from more formal teaching, and a great way to help others, flex the mentorship muscles, and look into new ways of diversifying my income stream.
Tips For Beginning to Mentor Others in The Flower World:
Put the word out. If people don’t know you’ve got the goods and are willing to share them, how will they know to reach out to you?
Do a real assessment of your strengths and what you have to offer. The list is probably longer than you think. If you’re brand new to farming, sure, you’re probably not ready to really advise others in a formal way. But if you’ve been at it a while, and specifically if you’ve achieved some success through focused and sustained trial and error, chances are you’ve got something to give. Start with beginner farmers who are looking for tips on things you’ve already gone through.
Start with a package, rather than an hourly consulting rate. This sets a realistic framework for how much time you will use and inspires your mentees to come with concrete goals rather than a list of questions with no beginning and no end. (This is a tip I gleaned from Jennie Love).