How To Become A Farmer/Florist - My Talk At The Oregon Small Farms Conference

Oregon puts on a mean Small Farms Conference, with over 900 attendees this year moving between concurrent sessions on all things farming. Erin and Aaron of Raindrop Farms pulled together a flower track for the conference, and I was delighted to present a session on how farmers can start to think about adding floral design work - specifically wedding flowers and workshops - into their plans. I've pasted my slideshow below in the hopes that some of you out there can glean some good information. Thanks for reading! 

photo courtesy of frances von wong of student work at a 2016 workshop 

photo courtesy of frances von wong of student work at a 2016 workshop 

Reasons To Add Design Work To Your Farm Business


◦       Showcases your farm to a new customer base

◦       Diversifies income stream

◦       Lets you ‘play with your flowers’

◦       It’s easier to sell flowers to yourself than to others – no availability lists, transport, etc

◦       Lets you use random numbers of things that are blooming (1/2 bunches, etc)

◦       Lets you use weird angles, short and bendy stems, etc

◦       Allows you to expand your business and shift your role in it. You can hire people to fill in on the design end or the farming end to help you grow.

◦       You get to cut fresh flowers that don’t travel well when you buy them from others (café au laits, cosmos, zinnias, etc)

◦       If you’re dead set on diversity on your farm (IE growing tons and tons of varieties), this can work for you

Challenges of Adding Design Work


◦       You’re probably already multitasking like crazy - get ready for this! It ain't easy.

◦       Marketing, relationship building, and consulting with brides and planners is an entirely different job

◦       Easy to lose focus on your core goals when you’re pulled in different directions

◦       Example: big weekly restaurant installation vs selling bulk flowers. Which is more worth your time? Which fits into your business model? Which do you like better? Which is more scalable?

Invest In Yourself As A Designer


◦       Find a local florist and work for them – even if it’s once a week

◦       Watch some online videos

◦       Practice, practice, practice

◦       Take a workshop or private design lessons – take notes, pictures, practice, and then whatever you pay will be worth it

◦       Try out a few different methods for bouquet building and see which one feels comfortable

frances von wong photography

frances von wong photography

Changing Your Crop Plan

◦       Grow more of:

◦       - things you can imagine yourself using weekly in your designs

◦       - workhorses

◦       - colors popular with designers

◦       - greenery

◦       - specialty items that will set your design apart

◦       - flowers that don’t travel well or have super short vase life

◦       Grow less of:

◦       - crazy bright saturated colors

◦       - ‘farm-y’ flowers (bachelor buttons, calendula, etc)

◦       - things you’re growing just because you always have

Flowers I Grow A Lot Of


◦       White focal flowers: dahlias, zinnias, ammi ‘green mist’, lisianthus

◦       All pastel and peach dahlias

◦       Zinnias in colors that match my booked weddings or trends that are happening right now, both small headed and big headed

◦       Things I can cut at the last minute that have shorter vase life: café au laits, other dinnerplate dahlias, cosmos

◦       David Austin roses!

◦       Annual greenery that’s prolific like basil, not cheap one-and-dones like bupleurum

◦       Scented geranium

◦       Specialty items: Japanese anemones, columbine, etc

janae alyssa lloyd photography

janae alyssa lloyd photography

Weddings – How To Find Them


◦       Put the word out. Have a weddings page and description on your website. If you build it, they will come.

◦       Find your nicest photos, and schedule a few photoshoots if you don’t have any. Do it now. Buy in flowers if you need to, it don’t matter. Fewer, high-quality images are better than lots of crappy Iphone ones.

◦       Reach out to planners and venues in your area. Tell them you’re expanding your wedding services and you would love to work with them.

◦       Paid listings on Wedding Wire or Yelp might be helpful. They were for me in the beginning.

Weddings – It’s All About Education


◦       It starts on your website – have a page that says what you grow and when

◦       From your first conversation, tell them about your philosophy and pride in local flowers

◦      Give potential clients a run-down of your business - how many weddings per week, what you grow and don’t grow, etc

◦       Think about your language, assume the consumer doesn’t know anything about local flowers or what you do (how would they?)

◦       Sell your potential clients on all the beautiful things that will be blooming during their wedding, rather than listing things they can’t get

Weddings – Identifying the Good Fit and Learning to Say No


◦       Look out for red flags from the get go (next slide). Listen to your gut on these!

◦       Think about your budget and minimum that you need to make it worthwhile

◦       If people have seen your work and like it, that’s a good start

◦       If people bring up seasonal flowers, also a good start

◦       Words that you want to hear: rustic, local, natural setting

Red Flags For The Farmer-Florist

(Potential wedding couples that might not be a good fit for your model)


◦       Listing very specific flowers from the get-go, many of which aren’t in season

◦       Listing flowers that don’t jive with your design aesthetic

◦       Using the words ‘cheap’ or ‘tight budget’ - we understand being on a budget, but we also need people to value our work

◦       Asking for colors that make your stomach turn (not a good fit!)

◦       Being at all short or rude

◦       Not saying thank you! Seriously!

◦       Not being at all familiar with you. If they say they’ve seen my work (even in pictures) and are drawn to it, it’s a great sign.

◦       Asking for a price list right away in a demanding tone.

◦       If they seem wishy-washy, flaky, confused, or change their mind excessively, know how to set boundaries

Ways To Say No To Business That's Not A Great Fit


◦       Be kind and take a few minutes to refer them to someone else, and be fine saying that you don't have availability or don't think it's a good fit

◦       Thinking of how to deal with friends who ask you to do their weddings ( It will happen, so be prepared

◦       Think out a few options and type them out into a PDF you can send to your friends

◦       Option 1:  Bulk buckets at wholesale rate, they can pick out what they want the week in advance, BUT to be ‘friendly’ you can assure them that you’ll give them a few extra buckets of flowers, whatever you can spare when it comes time to cut

◦       Option 2: option one PLUS ‘I’d also love to make you your bridal bouquet as my gift to you, if you have specific requests I’ll just charge you wholesale for the fancy flowers

◦       Option 3: Send them your price list but tell them because they’re a friend, you want to give them a 20% - 30% discount and say that “this way I can still pay my workers but give you a gift as well”

How To Say Yes Creatively – Buying In Flowers From Others


◦       You can choose to design only with what you grow, but early on you probably won’t have enough variety to do this.

◦       What I do:

◦       - My first year doing weddings I only used what I grew, but my designs were pretty basic, ‘farm-y’, and not very elegant

◦       - My second year I bought in whatever I wanted, and spent a little too much on flowers and didn’t pay myself adequately

◦       Now, I tell customers that I use around 75% of flowers that I grow (and expand on the benefits of that)

◦       I buy flowers that are local and seasonal if a) I had a crop failure with a major crop, b) I don’t have the variety I want, or c) someone else is growing something really sexy

◦       This is up to me though, on my terms. If there is a couple I like and they have a budget I like, and they really want a specific flower, I’ll add it in and charge extra for it

Weddings – Tips For Success


◦       Give yourself more time than you expect, especially for your first few.

◦       Try to look more professional than you are – hire someone to help you setup so that you can get it done quickly and efficiently.

◦       Find out the going rate for wedding items in your area. If you don’t know, reach out a a few designers. “I don’t want to undercut you so I’m doing research to make sure my prices are adequately high.”

◦       Make time to take pictures. You need to start building your portfolio.

◦       Connect with the photographers.

two foxes photography

two foxes photography

Weddings – Week In The Life


◦       Tuesday : Harvest and process your flowers

◦       Wednesday: Source, pickup, and process other flowers. Clean vases and setup studio.

◦       Thursday: Make centerpieces and other vased arrangements.

◦       Friday: Make personal bouquets and any wearable flowers. Pack up all arrangements.

◦       Saturday: Finish up all designs, wrap bouquets with ribbon, fix that broken corsage, replace any flowers necessary. Pack up vehicles. Deliver and setup wedding. Sweat your butt off.

◦       DON’T GO FOR THAT GLASS OF WINE. YOU WILL REGRET IT. HYDRATE. (looking for post-wedding tips. Swimming and going to the movies are the current go-to’s)

◦       Late Saturday night or Sunday morning: Return to wedding venue to strike or reclaim vases.

◦       Sunday: Clean studio if you haven’t yet (1/2 day)

Items For $3,500 Wedding Floral Budget


◦       1 bridal bouquet = $250 (Sonoma county, people!)

◦       3 bridesmaid bouquets = $150 each

◦       4 corsages ($35 each) and 4 Bouts ($25 each) = $240

◦       15 centerpieces = $100 each

◦       2 statement pieces = $150 each

◦       -----------

◦       Total = $2,740

◦       Plus 20% setup/teardown fee, plus 8.025% tax

◦       ----------

◦       Total = $3,507

Flower List For Wedding

(Example of what you might need for each piece. This is a VERY simple example that lacks variety)


◦       Handheld bouquets (x 4):

◦       Greenery: 4 each olive, bay, euc

◦       Focals: 5 dahlia, 3 roses, 2 ammi, 3 zinnia

◦       Whimsy: 3 cosmos, 5 explosion

◦       Centerpiece (x 15):

◦       Greenery: 5 each olive, bay, euc

◦       Focals: 6 dahlia, 3 roses, 2 ammi, 3 zinnia

◦       Whimsy: 3 cosmos, 5 explosion

◦       Statement Piece (x 2):

◦       Greenery: 7 each olive, bay, euc

◦       Focals: 6 dahlia, 3 roses, 4 ammi, 3 zinnia

◦       Whimsy: 10 cosmos, 5 explosion

The little petunia arrangement at b-side farm - roger elliot photography 

The little petunia arrangement at b-side farm - roger elliot photography 

Weddings – $3,500 Sample Budget


◦       Tax: .0825% = $267

◦       Gross Wedding Income After Tax-  $3,233

◦       - Labor: 40 Hrs of my own labor Wed - Sun (not to mention all the time coordinating with the couple throughout the year, planning, sourcing flowers)

◦        - Labor – 1 employee at 4hrs x $15/hr = $60

◦       - Van Rental = $100

◦        - Flowers = $771 = (24% of gross)

◦       - Supplies: ribbon, pins, frogs, tape = $29

◦       Pro-rated Annual Expenses:

◦          - Studio Rental = $168 ($4,200/25)

◦        -  Other expenses: Insurance, Marketing, etc = $2,000 / 25 = $80

◦       -----------------

◦       Total Expenses = $1,475 = 46%

◦       Total Profit = $1,758= 54%

Workshops – How To Get Started


◦       Plan early. I don’t know what my wedding schedule will fully look like yet, so I plan most of my workshops for Sundays.

◦       Think about your target demographic. What age? What are they most interested in?

◦       Advertise (local paper, facebook ads, mailing list, past customers)

◦       Take the opportunity to create community around your farm! Invite any past customers, people you’ve wanted to connect with, etc – offer them a generous discount.

◦       Use the first year of workshops as a trial year, offer a few different workshops and see which is more popular

◦       Offer the same workshop 2 or 3 times so that you don’t have to think about it too much

roger elliot photography

roger elliot photography

Workshops – Tips For Success


◦       Think hard about how much to charge. What are you providing? What do you have to do to prepare?

◦       If you live in an area where people aren’t likely to pay much for a workshop, then do a lower pricepoint and a pick your own + arranging, or a ‘bring your own vase’ for design, or a mason jar class.

◦       Make sure you’re charging for your flowers and your time

◦       Find a way to use flowers you wouldn’t be cutting anyways

◦       If teaching gardening-only workshops (not design), include an optional pick-your-own for an additional price

◦       Price high and offer discounts for past clients or groups of 2 or more

◦       Don’t overspend on snacks, etc – think hard about your costs

◦       Be friendly, inviting, and inspired above all else. Your weedy mess is their haven.

◦       Be clear in advertising what you’re offering and stick to it


Lennie Larkin33 Comments