So You Want to Become a Flower Farmer?
So, you’ve decided that you want to become a flower farmer?
Congratulations! Being a flower farmer is honestly one of the most impactful and wonderful things I ever decided upon in my life.
We had always been avid gardeners and Steven had a background in floral design, but it wasn’t until back in 2013 we realized that there was actually a way to grow enough flowers to supply enough to sell at farmer’s markets and design for weddings.
I’ve learned so much and experienced so much since then that it almost seems like I’ve been flower farming for a lifetime.
It’s not all armloads of dahlias and picking flowers with the sunset behind you though. There’s a lot of downsides and a lot of hard work that flower farming entails - all of the stuff that you can’t see on an Instagram post or from a grand wedding or large arrangement.
I’m going to be sharing with you in this post the good and the bad about flower farming. I’m not here to necessarily push you either way - but I wanted to share a couple things I’ve learned over the years from both our own experience and other flower farmers’ experiences.
Let’s start out with some of the downsides:
Flower Farming is Hard on your Body
Whether we’re talking about the back-breaking labor of harvesting and lifting buckets and weeding and deadheading, or we’re talking about the fact that your arms and shoulders will ache after digging up hundreds of dahlia tubers, or that your feet are killing you after the all-weekend wedding that you’ve just designed and delivered, flower farming is hard, physical labor.
The majority of flower farming is not skipping through flower fields with daisies woven through your hair.
The majority of flower farming is hot, sweaty, dirty, exhausting work. There are so many days that I stagger into the house, so exhausted I can’t even think straight.
Weddings and events are even worse in some cases. There is so much lifting and dragging as well as fine movement in arranging and tying things together, and you are all doing this as the minutes tick away prior to your event starting. It’s stressful.
That’s not to say that you should shy away from physical labor - I always joke that I don’t need to go to the gym because flower farming offers the full body workout that everyone strives to emulate - but know that it is very hard on your body and will cause wear and tear on you.
It requires you to be in good physical condition, and can make you very, very tired - it’s not something you should attempt if you are running short on energy for the other parts of your life.
It’s also important to note that you’re also not going to be in a nice, climate-controlled building - you are outside in the wind and cold and snow and rain as well as in the heat, the sun, the humidity (oh the humidity!) . You’ll get scratches from brambles and branches, bug bites and bee stings and poison ivy and stinging nettles. You’ll strain your wrist, twist your ankle, slice your finger, pull your back and more.
Flower farming is rough. If you don’t toughen up physically, you won’t make it.
There are a lot of people for whom flower farming (or farming in general) is not a good fit. And that’s okay - but it’s something you should know about yourself before you commit to flower farming.
Flower Farming is Stressful
Two years ago, one week before our biggest wedding of the year there was a freak hailstorm.
It was centered only in our part of town (two miles over, it was completely dry and sunny the entire time) but we were pounded with marble to golfball sized hail.
It lasted a whole ten minutes - but that was enough to destroy our entire summer crop. Dahlia stems were snapped off, hanging listlessly where they had been smashed by hailstones. The basil was frozen and crushed by the hail that collected in the bed. The mint looked as if someone had fired a shotgun into the bed, every single leaf and stem punctured by sharp little bits of ice and sleet.
We suddenly had to scramble and buy-in materials for the wedding. It was a disaster, one that I never hope to ever experience again, but one that we were essentially powerless to predict or to prevent.
Something happens every year - whether it’s a hailstorm, a wildfire, a cold spring, an early and hot summer, a herd of cows that break through your fence, floods that drown your lisianthus, a helpful child or spouse that mows down your dahlia patch, an attack of thrips or a literal horde or locusts - there is always something, and always something new.
Flower farming is not for the faint of heart - you need to have a great constitution and have a tough personality to weather through what nature can throw at you.
Flower Farming Has a Very High Overhead
Flower farming has one of the highest overheads of any business - it ranks up there with food service and coffee to be honest.
Think about it - your product is only available during half a year (at best) is extremely perishable (lasting a shorter time than even fruits and vegetables in many cases) and can’t really be stored or saved for the off-season (with the exception of dried materials).
The input of seeds, tubers, bulbs, plants, infrastructure like greenhouses and tunnels and tractors and tillers as well as compost, water, and more starts to add up very quickly. You also get what you pay for - cheaper equipment and cheaper materials mean more issues and end up being more expensive in the long run.
You can very easily lose a lot of money flower farming.
If you spend $500 on tulips but can’t sell them all, then you are just out the money - there is no coming back from that.
If you put up a high tunnel, only to have it shredded by hail the next month - there’s really not much you can do except buy new plastic and start over.
If your dahlia tubers freeze unexpectedly, then that’s hundreds or even thousands of dollars that end up just rotting before your very eyes.
You can either have a lot of disposable income (and make it a vanity business) or you can also go out of business very quickly as a result of running out of cash.
It’s tough to make money farming - just ask any farmer, small or large, and they will tell you to stay away from it.
Let me go as far as to say you have to want to start a flower farm for more than just the financial benefit of it, and few will ever get rich off flower farming.
Flower Farming Has A Small (and Competitive) Market
Back ten years ago, before flower farming became popular, it was very much a niche market.
Nobody wanted locally grown farm flowers back then. Sure, you could buy a bouquet at the farmer’s market, or maybe get a jar of sunflowers at a u-pick operation, or maybe even find locally grown hydrangeas at a local co-op.
Things have changed. The demand for locally grown flowers has exploded, and suddenly flowers that were only grown by amateur gardeners like zinnias and dahlias and sweet peas have overnight become a luxurious and coveted item by the public.
And yet, that demand has not quite reached the point to where it can really expand beyond a few growers in the area. There are usually one or two main flower farmers in each area, and as each new grower comes into the marketplace, it becomes harder and harder to make a profit off flower farming.
Granted, this means that each business starts diversifying or specializing into niches that the market presents - one person may end up doing more floral design while the other person does more growing, or one person may specialize in dahlias while another specializes in woodies and perennial cuts - but it may mean a lot of struggling and ill-feeling in the meantime.
We’ve experienced this struggle locally, but the number of new growers and flower farmers keep popping up every year. We’re all growing the same things, and we’re all trying to pursue the same markets, and it’s getting very crowded.
If you are going to go into flower farming, ensure that you are aware of who else is in your market and be aware that you are going to be the newcomer - it will take much more to establish yourself and gain a loyal customer base, especially with other flower farmers present.
It Takes a Long Time to Grow Your Business
If I took a poll of all the successful flower farmers out there, most people would say that it took a long time before their flower farms became successful. Success being defined as being financially profitable, or being able to gain a loyal customer base, or booking events and weddings or being able to brand themselves and gain momentum in the marketplace - it takes a while to build up to this.
We’re not talking months - we’re talking years.
It takes time before your business starts gaining a good reputation and word of mouth starts to spread and people start taking notice of what you’re doing. Even if you come out of the gate really fast and hard, great businesses and brands aren’t built overnight.
And even if you get popular quickly, it takes time to make that impression last and for people to realize you’re not just some novelty flash-in-a-pan business.
Many flower farmers don’t make it past the first year - they decide flower farming is too hard, or their business doesn’t work out, or for whatever reason there are a lot of people that don’t make it.
If you want to see our business succeed, you’re going to have to see it through. And that takes a lot of determination and mettle to make it happen.
Again, flower farming isn’t for the faint of heart.
So Why Does Anyone Do Flower Farming in the First Place?
I know what you’re thinking
“After everything you’ve told me, why on earth would anyone want to start up a flower farm? You’re making it sound horrible.”
I would say that’s not untrue - if I haven’t scared you at least a little bit with the experiences of flower farming, then I haven’t done my job properly - but there are a lot of great things that can be experienced with flower farming.
Let’s talk about those!
Flower Farming Gets You Outdoors
There are so many people who will spend thousands of dollars on a trip to “get out into nature.”
You know what else can get you into nature? Farming. And flower farming in particular.
I’ve never been more in tune with the weather, the rain and the sun and frost dates, the soil and the insects and weeds and nature than when flower farming.
You have to know everything about your environment - and it makes you appreciate the seasons, the changing of weather, and the succession of flowers and plants so much more.
There are studies showing positive effects of being out in the sun, being outside, spending time in nature and being around flowers and the outdoors. When you are regularly out doors, there’s an excellent quality of life that you can’t have in an office.
Flower Farming Can Bring You Greater Meaning
For some people, there’s a greater calling.
A greater calling to do something for more than just financial gain, more than just status or bragging to your friends.
For some people, growing flowers is all that they can think of doing. It’s a greater calling to do what you were meant to do, to pursue your passion solely and so brilliantly, that makes you feel alive more than anything else in the world.
There are other people too, that grow because they are firmly committed to the principle of growing for their communities and providing the people and lives around them with beautiful locally grown flowers.
And even further still, a lot of flower farmers grow for the sake of creating beauty in the world. There’s something about flowers that touches other people on a level that is unsurpassed by few other things in this world. Flowers can give joy, peace, gratitude, inspiration, hope and so many other emotions - and for many people that is the motivation to grow and design with flowers.
Flower Farming Can Be Profitable
Despite my naysaying in the first part of this post, it is possible to be profitable as a flower farmer.
It takes a lot of work and the correct person to make it happen, but it is happening with many people around the world.
For some, it is through farmer’s markets sales and customers that have been purchasing from them for years and continue to do so.
For some, it is by selling their flowers at a variety of places including coffee shops, grocery stores, floral wholesalers and to floral designers.
For still others, it is through their designing for weddings and events that they are able to create a living through flower farming.
I can’t give you a magical formula for being profitable - there are so many variables including your market, your business model, the socioeconomy of your clientele, your growing zone and environment and so much more. But it is definitely possible to make a profit with your flower farming business.
You Can Do What You Love With Flower Farming
As I alluded to earlier, there is something about flower farming that is different than anything else.
It’s different than even vegetable farming, it’s closely related but still very different cousin. It’s different than other visual or design-related businesses.
There’s just something about flower farming that changes you, that brings the best out of you - and you just fall in love with it, become obsessed with it.
I know, because I’ve been bitten by the flower farming bug and it’s been continuing for the past five years, and I see that spark in so many other people.
And when you have that spark, things start to happen. You get better at growing, you start having more successes, and you start finding what it is you’re meant to do with flower farming.
People start catching word of what you’re doing, and you’ll garner the attention of other people. Other businesses will want to work with you, retailers will want to carry your flowers, brides and grooms will start wanting you to design their weddings.
As your business grows, you too grow and change until you start becoming a better version of yourself.
Perhaps you find yourself designing in a way that you never had thought possible.
Maybe you find yourself making a difference in your local community, becoming part of a greater collaborative effort to emphasize local businesses and agriculture.
Perhaps you become an advocate for American Grown flowers and for local flowers within your local area.
I never thought I would be in the place where I would be able to talk to others or teach others about flower farming and design - but yet, here we are.
I promise you that no matter your background, no matter your ambitions, no matter your purpose with flower farming, you will become greater - and that is the magic of flower farming. It is transformative.
So You Still Want to be a Flower Farmer?
If after getting this far, the idea of flower farming still interests and excites you (and makes you a little bit terrified) then you’re in the right place.
But you have a lot of questions
Where do you go from here?
How do you get started?
Where do you get started?
What do you start growing?
When do you start growing?
All these questions are normal - you’re in the developmental phase of becoming a flower farmer, and you’re still figuring things out. And being in the learning phase, you’re going to have a lot questions.
Here are a couple suggestions of where to start with finding answers to those questions:
I hope that this truly has been helpful to you as a beginning flower farmer, even if you haven’t even started on your operation yet.
I hope that it has given you a better idea of what all flower farming entails.
And I hope most of all that it helps you get excited for the upcoming year and the flowers it will bring!