In this episode, you’ll learn…
- How Niki started Flourish Flower Farm with no farming background.
- The capital and equipment needed to start a flower farm.
- “Surprise” expenses Niki encountered in running a flower farm.
- Niki’s tips for storytelling and marketing on Instagram and social media.
- Selling and arranging flowers for the wedding market.
- Why Niki doesn’t like the CSA model and why she sells to retailers
- The importance of soil testing in starting a farm.
- When/how to harvest and and store fresh cut flowers.
- How Niki used a CoolBot to set-up refrigeration for her flower farm.
- The shelf-life of cut flowers and when to harvest.
- Why Niki chose flower farming even though she apprenticed on a vegetable farm.
- The research and business planning Niki did prior to starting her farm business.
- Why Niki thinks you should quit your job if you want to farm, and how she found the courage to do so.
- How and why Niki started with leased land instead of purchasing land.
- Whether you should grow flowers on flat land or sloped land.
- How Niki chooses which flowers to plant and what are her most profitable crops.
- Dealing “organically” with Japanese Beetles, deer, turkey and other pests.
- Niki’s best flower arrangement tips.
- Don’t forget to check out the Small Farm Nation Academy whenever you’re ready to GET GROWING!
This week we learn that the local farm movement reaches beyond food and includes fresh cut flowers. I had a delightful conversation with Niki Irving of Flourish Flower Farm, and she shared her story of starting a flower farm. She also shared great tips on what she’s learned about starting and running a profitable flower farm business.
It’s another informative and inspiring entrepreneurial story, so listen in.
CLICK HERE TO READ FULL TRANSCRIPT
Tim Young: [00:00:00] Small farm nation is sponsored by Farmers Web, software for your farm. Farmers Web helps farms inform buyers of available product handle orders simplify customer interactions and reduce the administrative load so check them out at farmers web dot com. People have been talking about the importance of local food for years but what about local flowers. Hey Is Tim Young of small farm nation dot com. Today I’m speaking with a farm producer who found the courage to quit her job and start a thriving flower farm. Even though she had never farmed before
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Tim Young: [00:00:40] Joining me today is Niki Irving the flower farmer and florist behind flourish flower farm in Asheville…man that is a mouthful of f’s. I feel like Elmer Fudd with a mouthful of cotton. Niki’s farm grows specialty an heirloom cut flowers using sustainable and natural practices and Niki also creates seasonally inspired floral designs for weddings and special events so Niki welcome the small formation.
Niki Irving: [00:01:09] Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be chatting with you today.
Tim Young: [00:01:13] My pleasure Niki. I’m fascinated to learn all about how you became a floor flower farmer but first can you do stuff for the listeners describe what your farm and business looks like today.
Niki Irving: [00:01:24] Absolutely. So we’re entering year four of me being a full time farmer. My husband has a job off the farm but he helps as much as he possibly can and so we actually only grow about two acres of cultivated. I guess we have two acres of cultivated land out of 28 total and that is more than enough flowers that we can possibly handle. But we grow probably close to 200 different varieties of flowers and foliage on the farm and sell them to other florists in our area. I actually experimental a little bit with shipping our flowers. I supply a local grocery store post to workshops on the farm where we learn a little bit about floral design and our farming practices. And then I also do designs for weddings and special events so keeps us pretty busy and growing flowers. Is just. Something. That. Brings me and a lot of other people a whole lot of joy. And. It’s Kind of interesting how how we got started but I really wouldn’t have it any other way. So.
Tim Young: [00:02:51] Yeah I can’t wait to dig into it because to me the growing flower flower sounds more beautiful and tranquil than gotten chickens so I can’t I can’t wait to talk more about this now where are you. You mentioned two acres out of 28 but where are you located and what are the seasons like.
Niki Irving: [00:03:07] Yeah. So we’re in Asheville we’re not within the city limits but we’re in Buncombe County so far western part of North Carolina and our property is great because we’re located only about 10 to 15 minutes from downtown Asheville. So it’s really close to a lot of my sales outlets but we’re still out in the country. And in the county. So it’s kind of a perfect perfect blend for our location we have. It’s just vacant land. So the only thing out there is the farm and we’re slowly adding infrastructure which is always always a challenge. But we just feel really lucky to have this beautiful piece of property we were looking for many many years. Then I actually started the farm on leased land which was great for getting the business going makes making sure that you know it was actually going to be profitable and viable without the risk of actually having the mortgage payment. So by the time we found the right piece of property for us we realized OK we can we can do this and we can make money we’re not we’re not crazy.
Tim Young: [00:04:17] So you’re in Asheville North Carolina which is in the south of course but that doesn’t mean I guess that you don’t have a winter. So what’s the seasons like for you.
Niki Irving: [00:04:24] Sure. Yeah we have. I guess I would say usually fairly mild weather this past year we had some pretty extreme rain. But in general the winter we stay probably in the 30s at night. A lot of times we’ll have highs in the 50s. It can dip down into single digits in the winter but that’s not very common. And then in the summer because we’re in the mountain we’re at probably about two thousand feet elevation it stays pretty cool compared to a lot of other areas in the south. Sometimes we’ll get highs in the 90s but more often our highs are in the 80s. So it’s pretty great for for growing we grow pretty solid three seasons out of the year now.
Tim Young: [00:05:15] Asheville though the general area has a lot of serrated and steep and hilly terrain. So what is your farm like out of the 28 acres that you have to and cultivation is that two acres that’s flat here or slope. What is it.
Niki Irving: [00:05:32] Yeah it’s. It’s only are only two flat acres out of the 28. The rest is kind of rolling hillside part of the reason that it took us so long to find property. It’s really hard to find Flatland and Asheville and most of the flatland is actually bottom land. We have a lot of creeks and rivers in our area and on our property we have a creek that runs through and it jumps its banks and it will flood my field which has been an interesting learning curve to deal with that. But it’s just part of farming. So yeah we you know the land is flat enough and then the great thing about flowers is they’re pretty pretty adaptable and a lot of things that can actually grow on a little bit of a slope. And so so I do that as well so all right.
Tim Young: [00:06:30] So let’s go through the whole journey we’re going to put you on. I guess we’ll play a farm psychologist and put you on the sofa. I’m interested in how somebody becomes a flower farmer. I mean if you are you are you a kid thinking about what to be a flower Farmer did you grow up with farmers or what was your path from there to how you got here.
Niki Irving: [00:06:47] Yes. So I didn’t grow up with flower farmers but I grew up with with a tree farmer. So my dad didn’t always grew and I grew up in Charleston South Carolina. So what different climate than Asheville but still in the south. And my dad was always in the plant nursery business. And he was a landscaper for most of my life. So I mean as a child he used to take with me to the out to the tree farm and pay me you know a quarter to water all these giant trees and their root. And so I was kind of always around plants and my mom is an avid gardener and they’re always working in their yard and so I think I grew up with an appreciation of horticulture but never really considered it until after I’d had a separate career and went to college studied outdoor education I worked in outdoor education for about 10 years. We led wilderness trips all over North America Kind of like summer camp on steroids. And I feel like it’s a very was a very different experience what I’m doing now but working for a small business. I learned you know so many valuable skills for now running my own business. And then after that I worked in traditional education a little bit and then all the while I just had this feeling in my head like I want to be doing something else. I had done a short stint as an apprentice on an organic vegetable farm in my early 20s and I stayed in touch with those farmers. And they actually live fairly close to me. So I would leave my day job and go volunteer with them and we always jokes because it was like oh Nicky’s here it must be time to weed the carrots. I was just like the timing of it. So. So I think it was always rolling around in my head like I really want to be in agriculture. And I just didn’t know how to get there. And it really wasn’t until.
Tim Young: [00:08:58] But that’s really fascinating. That’s really fascinating because you apprenticed on an organic vegetable farm and then you had this feeling that you really wanted to be an agriculture but didn’t know how to get there. Yeah. You would think that you would think that would lead you to starting a vegetable farm but why were you not interested in that.
Niki Irving: [00:09:14] Yeah I just felt like we have that covered in Asheville. We have a really really vibrant local food scene and so many amazing farms that. I’m sure the market’s not saturated but it felt like to me that like we had that covered. There’s plenty of of vegetable farms and I just I love vegetables but it kind of didn’t make me get excited. We grew what I love.
Tim Young: [00:09:42] What I love about what you just said there is a lot of people really get intrigued with wanting to start a farm because they want that lifestyle which makes perfect sense. I mean I did it. You’ve done it. Many people have done it but the fact that you said it looked like it was covered in Nashville means that you were thinking about this first from a business point of view. It’s not just that you want to farm but you also want it to be financially successful so were you doing some business planning or had you researched any kind of business planning to do for your farm.
Niki Irving: [00:10:11] I did actually. So I kind of feel like the flowers were sort of just an inspiration and it’s pretty funny. I didn’t know that flower farming was actually almost having like a resurgence in the US. And but I just all of a sudden one day new like I want to grow flowers and I had this vision and I came home and told my husband and he didn’t think I was crazy. And we said OK well let’s see if this could work. So I actually did write a business plan and started doing some financial projections as best you can when you’re working off of kind of you know just statistical numbers not actual data. And it really seems like it could work and it seemed like Asheville was a great market for that. There were a few small farms at the time but it felt like there was plenty of market share still to be had and that was something that was really important to us because I knew that if I was going to farm I needed to quit my day job because I just couldn’t do it. You know and really give it a go. If I was doing it only on evenings or weekends. And so we knew that. You know. It had to not just be a hobby it had to be a real viable business. So that was always important to us from the start.
Tim Young: [00:11:30] You know I’m interested in that. You know you’re if you’re four years into it now and you said you did your business planning and financial projections especially could and you know I’ve done this a bunch of times too it always looks great on paper you start doing it but but but how did your how did your performance actually compare to what you projected.
Niki Irving: [00:11:51] Great question. I would say in terms of income I Really exceeded my expectations. But then again so did my expenses because there are still many things that. You know I. Just didn’t know that I needed right away. And people think it’s so simple you just throw some seeds in the ground and you have a farm but. There’s actually a lot of. Kind of infrastructure and supplies that are needed especially with The flowers. And. But I think. When I look back on what markets I thought were going to be important for my business like for example a farmer’s market or doing a flower CSA I’ve cut out so many of those that were initially a big part of my business plan just because they don’t work for me personally and I. And then I had other opportunities which were much better sources of revenue. So it’s it’s interesting it’s really changed a lot and I keep saying I need to go back and revise my business plan but. I don’t know maybe One of these winters I’ll get around to doing it.
Tim Young: [00:13:00] I think make my experience actually as similar to yours I’ve started a number of businesses and take every one of them I’ve put down on paper where I thought my customers were gonna be and how much revenue I thought I would get and where I thought it would come from and so on and I’ve always been wrong not so much but this comes from different places I mean you may think you’re selling to restaurants and you don’t you know the consumers or you may think you’re selling to be to be next on the BBC or whatever it may be. It’s something different than what you expect but it’s always it always ends up being successful if you’re committed to it. And the thing that you said that’s intriguing to me that I agree with completely. But I know a lot of people in the farming community don’t is quit your day job. I wrote a blog post last year in an article to you know 10 rules for starting a farm business and one of them was quit your job so you from the bridges behind you so you can successful. I mean do you have that same mindset.
Niki Irving: [00:13:55] I really do. I mean I saw how much work I was already putting in before I quit my day job. So I was working in a school and I would get home from school every day and I would sit down at my computer and I would work on my business plan. I worked on my Web site. I was really getting all the pieces in place before I actually quit and was doing the actual farm work and I saw how much time that was taking up and there’s no way I could have done that working a 9 to 5 job. And I knew like I just really wanted to give it my all part of that is my personality. But I just had this sense of like if I’m going to do this I’m going to be all and you know we were all in and the fact that we were we used our savings it wasn’t very much but we knew that we needed a little bit of capital upfront to make purchases. And so I felt that the weight of that and like I don’t want to fail because you know we’re using our money. This is my time and I really want to make this work. And now that I’m a few years and I can see a direct correlation between how much of my time I put in and how well the business does. Obviously we’re still really small but that’s one of the things I love about being self-employed is the harder I work the more results that I see. And obviously Mother Nature plays a big part in that. But even this last year where I lost. Probably one of my most profitable crops we had so much rain and flooding. I mean it felt like it was sort of a disaster year. And yet I look at the numbers. And. We were still profitable by. Way more than I thought that we were. Just because I never let up. I. Really tried to use what I could and make sure that What flour they did have gotten to the right hand but there was no waste. So I just love being able to work really hard and. And. See those results. Not only in the numbers but just in. The. Success and kind of. Following that our business. Is getting as well. So it’s really fun.
[00:16:12] Well like I said I agree with you about the burning your day job basically and burning the bridges behind you because as long as you have that other job off farm job is when people have that or any business when people want to start any entrepreneurial endeavor. They keep their other job that is so easy for them to go. And to say well this didn’t work or whatever and when you quit and are committed to this you don’t have that option you have to do it. But it is it’s easy for us to say this now four years later for you. But at the time we put you back on the farm or psychological sofa here. You had to deplete your savings. What did it feel like. I mean what were you feeling when you said oh my goodness I’m going to spend my money put my savings and quit my job and what are the emotions like for that.
Niki Irving: [00:16:56] Oh my gosh I was really scared. I was I was terrified because I felt the weight of not only the finances. OK. Well my husband is going to have to cover our mortgage until this is making money and oh what if it doesn’t work and then I had all the emotions tied and two of you know I’m kind of a perfectionist then and I wanted to do well and I felt really vulnerable like what if I screw this up. And I’m a failure and all my friends and family know that we’ve taken this big leap but I just knew that I couldn’t let the fear of being a failure rule like how this was going to go. So I had to stay positive and just keep working hard. I think that’s how I pushed through that is like well I’m just going to have to have a good plan and I’m going to have to have a really high quality products. No one is going to come to me to buy my flowers. So I have to keep putting myself out there and and I mean the other part is I couldn’t do this without my husband and his job. And you know we had to really look at our personal budget and see where we could cut back because it was going to be tight. I gave up you know my health insurance through my job and went on his health insurance which was a lot more expensive for us. And so we really made a pretty informed decision before actually just quit my job. And I even tell people like don’t you just quit your job like make sure that you can do this and like look at your personal finances.
[00:18:38] Yeah don’t misunderstand what I’m saying small farm nation don’t just quit your job and say now what do I want to do. I do have a vision for what you want to do first have have something that inspires you and then what you have that inspiration and that vision cancel out on paper do your business plan do a simple business may not has to be a 30 page business plan but you know a simple business plan of how you can go to market how you’re gonna be successful and then commit to it. Yeah.
Niki Irving: [00:19:02] And I just remember standing at the farmer’s market and whether you know with my flowers and people would say Oh well did you grow these in your garden. And then I’d say Well I actually have a farm. And yes I did grow all of these flowers and they would kind of ask about my business and people would say well I really hope that that works for you. And I would have this like Pride bubble up of like this is going to work you know like I’m going to prove to you that that this is not a crazy idea that they’re oh this some girl in her 30s is starting a flower farm. Like no this this I’m actually going to make this work. I think there was a little bit of competition. Oh yeah absolutely.
Tim Young: [00:19:46] You want to. You want to but you’ve got to prove to yourself and to others I mean and definitely there’s a necessity there. You mentioned you started with leased land so how does because you did what you had you had a vision for what you wanted to do but you had no land. So how did you find land the lease.
Niki Irving: [00:20:00] Yeah. I mean this was amazing. So a good friend of mine he works and I’m the landscape industry and he one of his kind of nursery plant providers had some vacant land so so my buddy John Michael they’re more like family we are talking about it and said Hey I’m looking for land and he said Oh I think this guy Brad here we buy plants from him he’s got some you know like two acres that he used to lease out to somebody else. You want me to see if it’s still vacant. And I said sure and went out and saw the land and it was beautiful and flat and he’d actually even just had a soil test done. And the rent was you know really really kind of him to make it so affordable for me and so I feel like that totally just worked out.
Niki Irving: [00:20:56] And it was you know 20 minutes from my house. So it wasn’t even too far. But yeah just kind of a friend of a friend and on a native plant nursery which which was really fun too because I work by myself so much to have other people around and other you know plant plant geeks and if there is a weird bug we could say Hey do you have this going on over there and you know are you have any aphids and oh the Japanese beetles are starting and what are you guys doing for it. And it was just really fun to have that kind of camaraderie as I was starting to.
Tim Young: [00:21:30] That’s a good question. What do you do for Japanese beetles.
Niki Irving: [00:21:33] So because I try to follow organic guidelines I don’t really use brave but I do use the traps that you put kind of outside of your field. I found that the traps work really well. And then I actually pick them off by hand a lot too. Yeah. Not very glamorous but the traps are kind of they actually work pretty well. You just have to make sure you put them far enough away from your field. You’re not actually drawing more beetles onto your crops because the traps I think have like a synthetic pheromones that that draws them in.
Tim Young: [00:22:13] So ow did you go from how and why did you go from this leased farmland to the 28 acre site you talked about a minute ago.
Niki Irving: [00:22:22] Yeah so I mean really I just wanted to be able to invest more into the land and invest more in perennial plants. So I only grew Annuals for the first two years which is great. You can grow you know a lot of amazing flowers that are just annuals but. Knowing like how much work it is to grow annual crops when you probably know it’s it’s pretty bad. Backbreaking and I really wanted to be able to grow some plants that might take like five years to get established. And that’s just not possible. On. Leased land. And I really wanted to. You. Know. Buy. A lot of. Really nice compost to feeding back into the soil. And I was doing that on leased land but. Just not to the level when it’s. When it’s your own dirt. So there were just a lot of Longer term things. And then being able to have infrastructure. Like. Have my cooler. Nearby where. The fields are and have. Just been able to have everything in one place and we’re not there yet but. We’re working towards it. So. Yeah.
Tim Young: [00:23:44] I know that we talked we’re talking about flowers and your business you know is about flowers but does that mean just vegetative flowers or do you do anything for trees with flowering branches or anything like that.
Niki Irving: [00:23:55] Yeah. So I mean that’s part of what I’m starting to plant now that I have my own land flowering branches and foliage like there’s a lot of really great nine bark and hydrangea beech trees and I mean there’s just so many trees and shrubs that you know florist use and then I also want to use my own floral designs and there’s a lot of like really specialty things that you know not to be a common flower farmer doesn’t really grow that that we’re trying to focus on growing. And then you know from a sustainability part of my of my sanity not having to replant these every year once once they get established they require maintenance. But you know I’m not having to replant these perennials every year which is really nice. So
Tim Young: [00:24:53] Yeah for sure. You know one of the things you mentioned earlier when we talked about how your financial performance has compared to your you know your very initial planning as you said your income is exceeded expectations but so did your expenses and you said there were a lot of surprise expenses. What are some of the surprise expenses that you’ve run into that you had no idea of a few years ago.
Niki Irving: [00:25:15] Yeah. What’s the So I mean one example from this last year because we have vacant land we don’t have a well we don’t have electricity. So I had to buy a pump so I could irrigate out of the creeks that we have. Which you know thankfully we have usually plenty of water here in North Carolina but that’s just a bigger purchase that I had no idea that I was going to need. I knew I needed irrigation supplies when I started but not a fairly expensive pump or you know like like if you.
Tim Young: [00:25:56] Are using or using crosses and greenhouses and things like that or is it all planted.
Niki Irving: [00:26:01] Yeah I am using unheated hoop houses and that was something that I had budgeted in right away because I knew I wanted to be able to grow certain crops under cover and be able to have flowers a little bit earlier in the spring and that hoop house protection gives me that. So I had that budgeted and I think probably just the volume of things like I knew I wanted to grow and landscaping fabric because the weed pressure was really high at my leased land and at my new land just because it hasn’t been cultivated it was basically pasture and my plants are in the ground from anywhere to like five to nine months. And the weeding would just be a full time job for four people. So landscape fabric really helps me keep the weed pressure down but it’s expensive.
Niki Irving: [00:26:53] So I knew I needed some but I didn’t really know how much landscape fabric I would need to buy and that was a cost right away that was pretty astronomical. But I don’t have to buy it every year and last me probably eight to 10 years. So. You know flower bucket and there’s there were just a lot of things I didn’t realize how many buckets I would go through or that people don’t give me my buckets back and then I have to buy more. You know I knew that I would need a walk in cooler. But then things like when the power goes out I need to make sure that if it’s you know 85 degrees and in July I can’t afford to not have my cooler and have those flowers die. So we had to get a generator and just a lot of things that it makes sense but there’s no way to really think every scenario through when you’re starting Yeah.
Tim Young: [00:27:54] And it’s like that with every type of farm enterprise there’s always these things that you just had no idea that you’re going to need since you brought up the walk in cooler. I’m only used to using coolers for storing cheese and storing eggs and things like that or our freezers. But when it comes to flowers what is the shelf life like. I mean once you cut flowers and you put them in a cooler How long do they last.
Niki Irving: [00:28:15] Yeah that’s a great question. It’s all about the stage of harvest. And that’s you really. You can read a lot about you know when to harvest flowers but each and every variety is a little bit different. And so basically you have to cut them right at the exact time where they’re not blooming so perfectly because you want to save that perfect bloom for your customer but then you can’t cut them too soon because then they’ll never open. So they’re kind of a sweet spot when you harvest them and then it’s all about getting them into clean water. I use the holding solution which has a little bit of a little bit of flower food not like as much glucose as what you get in the packets at the grocery store but and then a little bit of antibacterial And then I just try to cool them down right away so they immediately go in the cooler my cooler usually sat at about thirty eight. And that pretty much stopped. The blooming process which is what I’m trying to do. I don’t want them to open up any more for me. I want them to open up. For my customer. And then I am
Niki Irving: [00:29:33] Getting them into my customers hands within 24 hours. But that conditioning period in the cooler when they’re in clean water they’re rehydrated. You know they’re they’re kind of just I guess resting a little bit after being cut and then and then they go out to the florist or the grocery store or wherever they’re going. But it’s a pretty. Yeah.
Tim Young: [00:30:01] So you’re getting them into the customer’s hands within 24 hours after that you’re saying is that this is where I might even I’m I’m really enjoying this conversation. What if you don’t have customer demand on the back end. Do you keep them. Can you keep them in the field longer. Or will you lose that crop you’ll. How do you manage that whole thing.
Niki Irving: [00:30:19] Yeah it’s pretty tricky. So you really can’t leave them in the field because they will if it’s a warm day they’ll blow open. They’ll be in full bloom or they’ll start to get pollinated which really decreases their base life. So if you have nowhere for them to go certain flowers you can hold for a few days in the cooler some varieties for example tulips I harvest them with the bulb on. Before they’re open and I store them dry in my cooler. I could keep those for you know a week or two before they go to a customer. If I was going to use them for myself I could store them for almost a month. They’re pretty incredible. But then other flowers you know I wouldn’t keep them more than two days without two days in the cooler without selling them. But really you have to cut them at the proper stage. Otherwise they just have no base life left in them. So every flower is a little bit different. And you know that was part of the learning curve for me and I kept really open communication with my customers of like if something does not last.
Niki Irving: [00:31:35] Before you need it let me know if this doesn’t hold up. And when I say hold up I mean you get it into a base and it just kind of flops over it well like let me know. I always kept kind of those open lines of communication so that I could be learning what my product is doing for my customers because I want to make sure that they’re 100 percent satisfied. So if something didn’t hold up you know I would either refund them or bring something new. But for the most part the feedback had been your flowers last so much longer than anything that I buy from you that’s been imported. And it’s because I’m cutting them at the right stage. They’re properly hydrated and I’m getting to my getting them to my customer so quickly. It’s crazy like the Valentine’s Day roses that we’ll see this year. They were cut probably in November and they’ve been sitting in a coolers sprayed with chemicals just waiting for months and months until Valentine’s Day. And it’s it’s just crazy the different I.
Tim Young: [00:32:43] So I did that. Thank you very much for for giving me a plausible reason why I can tell my wife Honey this is why you’re not getting roses for Valentine’s Day.
Niki Irving: [00:32:50] Yeah. People say Oh they never even really opened up and I’m like No kidding they were cut three months ago or four months a couple of poor plants.
Tim Young: [00:33:01] Yes so as we talk about harvesting your flowers at the right time like you’ve got to get them today versus tomorrow because they may open up and get pollinated or whatever but you do your different different types of flowers ever need to be harvested at different times of day.
Niki Irving: [00:33:19] Not really. Mostly they just need to be harvested in the coolest part of day. So treated kind of like a like a lettuce crop or greens you know like they’re really prone to wilting. So I I usually harvest early early in the morning. You can also harvest in the evening in the cooler part of the day and there’s a lot of different science and people say oh you should harvest this more in the evening because it’s got a higher water level within the plant. Honestly I do it when I know that it works from my schedule and mornings work best for me so that’s when I harvest a
Tim Young: [00:34:39] So back to your your cool for a second did you buy a traditional walking cooler or did you make home with a coolbot.
Niki Irving: [00:34:45] Yeah. We built on with a coolbot and we actually built it. We built the cargo trailer into a walk in cooler because. Because we don’t have power at our farm. We had to put the cooler at our house and we didn’t really have the space or really want to put that permanently in our home. So the cargo trailer has been an incredible solution for us.
Niki Irving: [00:35:11] And a coolbot what amazing I know right I’m going to ask you about that.
Tim Young: [00:35:16] I’ve built a few walk in coolers with coolbots and they’ve always worked fantastic for me.
Niki Irving: [00:35:20] Yeah they’re they’re really great and I just heard they came out with a new version of the coolbot that actually has an app on your phone that can tell you if the power is out or if the temperature drops. Because I know for a lot of us you know if that temperature drops to a certain point you can lose everything in there and it’s kind of a constant source of stress if you’re out on deliveries or not at home in your life wondering what’s going on with the cooler. So I think I’m going it puts out my cool bottle to this new one just for a little bit of peace of mind.
Tim Young: [00:35:55] Yeah I’ve done. I actually did the same thing for my cheese cave. It’s a Wi-Fi enabled coupon yeah. Oh cool tool. Yeah. You know speaking of cheese cave and speaking back about your cooler. One of the things with cheese for example is it isn’t just that you’ve got to be a temperature in your case 38 degrees but also you’ve got What’s cheese you’ve got to really maintain humidity at a high level. Do you have any humidity requirements for your flowers.
Niki Irving: [00:36:17] They do need humidity but because I’m putting them there in buckets of water inside my cooler I haven’t really found that I’ve needed to take humidity out or add any more and I think the buckets of water that they kind of seem to make it a pretty good balanced. So knock on wood no problems with that.
Tim Young: [00:36:40] Yeah. You got an advantage that. You can’t exactly store cheese and water. Yeah they created. So you know you talked about you know the land and requirements of like when you move to your new farm and it was mainly pasture before and yet you had a lot of weed pressure because you had to convert this pasture to something that you could grow flowers. And so you’ve been using the weed block but how did you go about prepping that soil laying out the fields. I mean what what tools did you use what a M.S. that you have to add. What was your process.
Tim Young: [00:37:09] Yes. So I mean very first thing I did was get a soil test as soon as we probably even before we actually bought it. I just want to know what I was working left so I could start to make my plan in an ideal world all my bed would be the same length and width but because we live in the mountains and I have a limited amount of flat space I got out there with my flag and my little kind of measuring wheel and I just started laying out where I thought my field could be leaving enough space for the tractor to get in between everything and then that way I could go back and calculate OK how much land do I think that I have that I can put in cultivation is that going to work for what I know how much space I know I need to be able to grow what I need and that all worked out. So once I had them laid out the first thing I did is just do a really shallow till to rip up the grass so the grass had been mowed pretty short. And basically I just kind of ripped it up with with the tiller.
Niki Irving: [00:38:26] I let the grass die down and I did this in winter. And you know enough of a dry spell which these days seems to be hard to find and let it die down for a few days. And then I went in and I added the amount of lime that I needed which thankfully wasn’t too much. And every everything else was pretty balanced from the beginning. So added lime and then I did a little bit of a deeper till to really start incorporating that. And then I knew what fields I was going to need to grow in immediately and I kind of let that hang out until I was ready to actually you know get my bed shaped and everything and everything else I put into a cover crop right away. And I have maintained that I try not to leave any of my field just bear one because then that gives the grass somewhere to grow back to. But to you know I’m just not adding anything into the soil so depending on the season I use different cover crops.
Niki Irving: [00:39:32] But that’s that’s pretty much what I did and then I learned I needed to grow everything and raised beds because of the flooding. So starting this fall anything that I have planted I have actually built this really cool bed shaper because we’re cheap and didn’t really have the money to buy a nice fancy one. And it works it works great. So it gives us just enough height to allow for better drainage.
Tim Young: [00:40:01] So we talked about Japanese beetles earlier and you’ve got all kinds of pest problems. But what about the big pest like deer or turkey is you getting a kind of animal pressure. Oh yeah. You got to start with Carolina. Yeah do about that.
Niki Irving: [00:40:12] So we knew deer we’re gonna be a problem from the get go. So we did a ton of research and put up deer fencing before we even planted anything. And because the aesthetics of the farm are really important for me and I take a lot of photographs. Social media is really really huge source of marketing. I knew I didn’t want like this giant barrier fence around my field. They’re also really expensive. So we did a kind of a 3-D the electric fence with a solar charger again because we don’t have power. So we need it now it needs to be solar powered and it works amazing. We got it through I think premiere one supplies and knock on wood haven’t had any problems with deer. That seems to help and it’s dated as well. So it’s 3-D because I think even though it’s not very tall it messes with the deer’s depth perception and they don’t want to jump up over it and then it’s baited so that they’ll actually go nip it and and lick it and then they learn Oh that hurts. I’m not going to go this way to get to the creek I’ll go around. So I think we’ve kind of maybe the poor dear.
Tim Young: [00:41:34] Yeah right right. People don’t understand that. I mean you know when you’re farming and you put so much of your blood sweat tears and money into this I mean you’ve got to protect your crops.
Niki Irving: [00:41:41] Absolutely. I mean I I knew that they were they were going to be a problem because there we we would see the deer And and we love they have they have you know twenty six other acres that they can forage and enjoy. And so yeah I did a lot of research on that and we do have a huge flock of turkeys. I have not found that they do any damage except they like to if I use any sort of straw mulch they like to get in there and move the straw around which is pretty annoying but I don’t know how to get rid of the turkeys. So all right.
Tim Young: [00:42:17] I assume you’re planting and see blocks and doing transplants.
Niki Irving: [00:42:25] I am yeah. Yeah I don’t do any direct seeding. So yeah.
Tim Young: [00:42:31] So you mentioned that social media is a huge source of marketing which of course it is. You know we all talk about it but how do you how do you how effective are you at actually getting people to go from liking what you do to actually buying and supporting your farm.
Niki Irving: [00:42:49] Yeah I have been blown away at how important social media has been to my business. And I put a lot of time into it. Someone once told me when it comes to marketing either you have money or you have time because you can pay someone else to do it or you do it yourself and I don’t have money to pay someone else so I do it myself. But I really monitor not so much the likes because you know. That doesn’t really tell you anything. But I love the I love the insight for the analytics particularly with Instagram I can see how many people have saved a photo I can see how many have sent it to a friend I can see how many people have visited my website where on my Web site they’re going so I pay attention to that. Those factors a lot more than just how many people have liked it. And it’s really interesting to see what you know maybe a photo doesn’t get very many likes but I get three inquiries and on my Web site about weddings or workshops or something. So I tell people it’s not so much about the like. That’s kind of a popularity contest. It’s about what people are actually doing with the information you’re putting out there. Are they commenting and asking questions you know are they. And then what’s the purpose of it. Which for me and my purpose with any sort of post is I want people to come to my Web site. You know that’s like my home base. That’s where they can actually engage and ultimately spend money with my business. So I’m really trying to get them to go there.
Tim Young: [00:44:37] So what have you found in terms of tips. You know I’ve put you on the spot here a little bit because I agree with you completely on social media. A lot of people get hung up on how many people like what I do or whatever but really you want engagement. Have you learned anything about what you can do to cure rate content that actually is more likely to be engaging. Yeah. So what tips you have for sure.
Niki Irving: [00:44:59] So one thing is I only post pretty photos. And it sounds really silly. But. No one wants to see. I’m going to say not very many people want to see. The Ugly Behind the scenes. Other farmers want to see that but not necessarily your customers. They want to see the beautiful finished product or. A pretty part of the process. So that’s something I really keep in mind. But I’m going to tell a story with my word. About. It could be something hard that’s going on. So when I lost the crop this summer. I posted a really beautiful photo of. What I lost. You know like this beautiful dolly. But then I talk about all the really hard stuff that people are getting the story. So to me it’s always about. Storytelling. I would say only post. Beautiful photos. Because. That just kind of evokes this like. You know I do like farm feeling. But then you can still tell the reality of farming with your words. And I know a lot of people don’t. Agree with that. I’ve found that it works. Really really well. If I post an ugly picture
Niki Irving: [00:46:14] It doesn’t get very much engagement it doesn’t draw people in. But then they get the real story with with what I’m writing. And then I found like I don’t really. Post if I don’t have. Something nice to say if I’m not in a good head. Space I’m feeling really. Depressed I’m not going to. I’m not going to really share that with my customers. They don’t. They don’t need to know that that’s not their problem. They’re never going to fully understand how hard. Farming actually is. So I don’t want to be Debbie Downer. With my post either. And then just putting in a lot of time people say to me all the time like Gosh your photos are so beautiful and like. I spend time. Taking good photos just with my phone. And. It doesn’t just. Happen overnight. I might have to take 20 photos of the same flower to get a good one. But. You know that one photo could bring me. A wedding customer or. Something. I’m always trying to keep that in mind. Like part of my job. It’s not just farming it is. Taking good photos and it’s sharing my story. Well.
Tim Young: [00:47:27] I love love love that about thinking about everything in the context of a story because you’re a thousand percent right in my opinion about people respond to stories and they want to be part of the story and when you tell stories you can make the customer. You can invite them into being part of that story. Now the pictures that are of your flowers of your farm of course you can take but I’m assuming there’s sometimes some of you and if so who takes those and what’s the process for actually setting that up and you know do you think about that a lot or is that just like a candid snapshot.
Niki Irving: [00:47:59] Yes. So it’s a little bit of both. I. Have a farm helper. And. During harvest season we’ll stop and I’ll say OK can. We call it our dork shot. So I’m like it’s time for a dark shot. Because you feel really dorky you like standing there holding the flowers and. Early in the morning. But. I. Make time for that. It’s something that’s important to my business and so I’ll have her take a photo of me. Sometimes if she’s not there helping me I set it up and I take one myself. But then I also. Work with a professional photographer. She’s a friend. And have her come out to the farm. Ideally in the spring and. In the late summer. And actually have her take photos. Of my husband and I and our dogs and usually I’ll put on a dress and Just try to make it a little bit nicer. But having professional photos is. Just something that I decided was a priority for my business from the get go. And. It’s really nice. To have. Good photos. If. There’s ever an opportunity to be included in like local press I know that I have a good. Photo to send them. And we’ve actually worked out a trade. This photographer and I which. I tell farmers all the time like. Bartering is not dead. You have. A product that most anybody want. Like. Figure out ways to. Make that trade work for your business because there are certain times of the year I have an abundance of flowers and giving some away and a trade is really not going to hurt me. But those photos that I’m getting as part of the trade are just invaluable.
Tim Young: [00:49:46] So there’s so much great advice that you gave there. I mean so many farmers I see. I mean I help a lot of farmers with their Web sites and create them and often I mean I’m always asking Can What do you have for farm photography and it’s always pictures they took and I mean let’s be honest most of the time on farms particular livestock farms it’s out of focus picture just bad lighting the light is in the wrong place it is really it doesn’t look good on our Web site at all. And I always tell them spending a few hundred dollars to invest in farm photography is a great investment but I actually did what you did. I mean years ago I had a photographer come out. I mean she took like 700 pictures of this operation and I treated her. I traded her cheese and raw milk.
Niki Irving: [00:50:30] Exactly. Yeah. We each have something that the other person wants and especially you know like getting such a unique product to a lot of photographers would. I. Would love that. And it doesn’t even matter what kind of farm it is. Like We all have things that people want. So. Yeah.
Tim Young: [00:50:51] Right. Totally totally. So you know back to selling a little bit I know you’ve touched on some of this. I’m curious about how you go to market who you sell to. I was going to ask you about whether it’s florist or CSA or director stores or at farmer’s markets but how do you sell today and how has that changed since the beginning.
Niki Irving: [00:51:07] Yeah absolutely. So at the beginning I mean I didn’t really know where I was going to sell but I knew what I was going to try. So even before I had flowers I sat down and I made a big list of all the florist shops in town and all of the places that might not have a store front. But you know they do weddings out of their home or something like that. And I actually went in person with a list of what I was going to be growing and just introduced myself and said You know I would love to provide you with flowers. Here’s what I hope to have. I’ll let you know when I have flowers and it’s not something that I don’t. I feel like it’s cold calling which I don’t love but I knew nobody knows I’m doing this. They’re never going to know that I have flowers unless I tell them. So I people I couldn’t go to in person I emailed them. And then I reached out to one of our local grocery store chains who I knew that they worked with a lot of farms for local produce. But I had never seen local flowers in there and I just called them introduced myself that I would you ever be interested in selling local flowers. They said Yes we’ve actually been. You know that’s been a need that we’ve needed it to be filled. I brought them some kind of sample bouquets. This was when I actually had flowers and started a wonderful relationship and same thing with the florist. And so those are two really big cornerstone markets within my business. And it was all that I did myself out there.
Tim Young: [00:52:57] Yeah of course and that’s so scary for so many farmers a person. I mean I’ve I’ve gone through that as well was that I like a regional chain like Earth Fare or small.
Niki Irving: [00:53:06] Yeah it is. Earth Fare actually. And we have two stores within Asheville and their corporate office is actually based just a little bit outside of Asheville. So I wish I had more product supply more stores. But right now I just do the two store within Asheville and they’ve been so wonderful about giving me feedback. I used to use the brown paper sleeves for my flowers but they said they look really nice. But you know the end gets kind of drippy in the water and you can’t do the color as well. That was a little bit reluctant. I thought well the brown paper goes with my you know business aesthetic better and then I realized now I want to sell flowers and I want it to work for the store and I want it to work for my customers. So I switched to clear plastic and I kind of had to give up my idea of what I thought it needed to be and really listen to what they wanted. And they’re great about calling me like hey you know this type of flower sells really well or you know can we get more of this color. And I’m trying to be really responsive to what you know what people buy because ultimately I want to grow what people want to buy. And likewise florists do because they don’t you know there are certain things that are just they last longer they look better grown locally. And so I asked my florist like hey what do you want me to grow. What what can’t you get that you want more of.
Tim Young: [00:54:44] So it’s fascinating because you’re you’re listening to the market and this is the challenge that I think in any aspect of farming that we have and we battle with particularly when our when our own ideals get in the way. Because you mentioned that you wanted to be in brown paper but you know they wanted to be clear so they can see it you know all the livestock side a lot of people have this was something as simple as chickens I mean the market wants you to grow you know something like a Cornish crossbreed which is your fast growing big breasted chicken but a lot of farmers want to grow something that’s slow growing and heritage and very inefficient from a feed conversion and they’ll stick by that and the prices are higher end of the texture of the meat is different. And it’s not what consumers want sometimes so it’s it’s really hard to make that decision. You made it because you wanted to be successful as a flower farmer.
Niki Irving: [00:55:31] Yeah yeah I mean that was always that was always in my mind. This is not a hobby for me. This is a job. This is a business. So I have to operate it like a business. And a lot of times that gets in the way of that. You know the idealistic version of a farm but the reality is you know I need to pay my bills and I want to be in business in five more years. So I have to make decisions that helped me get there.
Tim Young: [00:56:01] So you get some feedback from them about what this product sells better than others what are your top three or five sellers when you think about planning this year and what you’re going to what you’re going to plant.
Niki Irving: [00:56:11] Yeah. So I would say probably my number one. Well it’s hard. This is this is based on what I think I’d actually have to look at cookbooks and see what those numbers really tell me. But Ranunculus which is a spring blooming flower I have them planted in my hoop house right now. That is a really really profitable crop. Dahlias are another one that’s really profitable. And then zinnias are just they they bloom forever. I only grow really specialty kind of funky varieties of zinnias and. They’re a plant. The more you cut them the more they keep producing. Which you know in the flower farming world is great because I want to get as many stems per one plant as possible. The more you cut them the more they keep producing.
Tim Young: [00:57:04] That’s exactly what the hair on my head did till about 15 years to stop.
Tim Young: [00:58:40] You were talking about dahlias that again this is going to be a very naive question. So you can laugh that’s fine but when you think about when you think something like that and it’s a popular flower when you’re selling that are you just selling those or are you selling something that is part of a book with other things in there. And do you have to plant those other things at the same time or how does that work.
Niki Irving: [00:59:00] Yeah. There’s a lot of spreadsheet planning that goes in every year. So it depends on where the flowers are ultimately growing. And because I don’t I don’t sell direct to the public anymore I stop doing the farmer’s market. I stopped doing the CSA the grocery store just places in order. And then I deliver straight to them with the florist they place an order on my website and then I cut to order what they want. So what the floor is they’re getting what I call straight bunches. So it’ll be. 10 stems of peach dahlias. And so they order by flower kind of color and type. And it’s really I don’t usually mix the colors. It’ll be you know I want you know 10 Burgundy dahlias or I want 100 Burgundy dahlias. Whereas the grocery store they order in bouquets. So these are bouquets that I’ve already made. They’re mixed of flowers. It might have three dahlias five vineyards three stems of foliage and then another flower that’s the filler. So that one is a lot more difficult to plan for throughout the entire year because I know to make a balanced bouquet I eat a pretty much have like five ingredients at all times. I need a focal I need filler foliage around the flowers and something to provide a little bit of whimsy. And I’m always thinking ahead of like what am I growing. OK. This this one crop is is going as soon as it stops blooming. I rip it out. I know OK this is going to be ripped out soon what do I have coming on that’s going to replace that. It’s a little bit of a science and an art. At the same time. But it’s all the planning that goes on over the winter to make sure that I have what I need.
Tim Young: [01:01:06] Wow you really learn a lot in the I’m sure you did. I was just in the beginning so I’m sure this is a surprise to learn all this stuff. You know I think you mentioned earlier you thought you might sell some of your products through a subscription model like a CSA but then you move away from that why is a CSA not right for you.
Niki Irving: [01:01:23] Yeah. A couple reasons. One because my I’m going to call it my workshop is in my home. I didn’t really want strangers coming to my house. And I tried to partner with some local businesses to have that be a pickup option but the pickup location was always a challenge for me. And so I ended up meeting everyone in person and I just found that I resented it. I would be waiting people would be late. I would make their book and then they would forget to pick it up and they would want it. You know the next day and then I had to find a time to meet them. And so I just found I was resenting the CSA. I didn’t enjoy it and it didn’t bring me enough revenue to make it worthwhile when I would look at the numbers like well I could not do the CSA and I could just sell an extra X many bouquets to the grocery store even though they’re a lower price point. That model is easy for me because I’m always thinking about how I spend my time personally because it’s really valuable and I don’t have a lot of it. And I read in so many different directions. So instead of me sitting and waiting an hour for all my CSA members to come pick everything up I might just sell a few more bouquets to the grocery store. But you know it’s two emails. I make the bouquets I deliver them and then I’m done so that I was trying to just pay attention to what worked for me personally. And everybody is different in that way. So the CFA might work great for somebody else. But it just it didn’t. And then I knew like if I’m resenting it if I’m resenting having to wait I’m not going to put in the right amount of energy or enthusiasm and I don’t want to pass that on to my customers. Yeah. And I knew I couldn’t do it all to
Tim Young: [01:03:29] See. Yeah I went through that same it’s very interesting whether the same transformation or our farm we started with CSA and and selling direct and had so many wonderful wonderful farm customers many of whom I still stay in contact with but we found that you know there’s always that number that won’t show up or you know that have an issue or whatever and you know you don’t you only have so much time on the farm. So we went there to in the end selling only through wholesale through distributors which you know great as you know you get less money for you don’t get the full retail dollar but you get a ton of time back. Yeah. You can then focus Yeah.
Niki Irving: [01:04:09] It’s it’s true you know.
Tim Young: [01:04:11] So I don’t know if weddings or elopement swear on your initial plan when you start thinking about this four years ago but I think you’re doing a fair amount of that today. How did that happen how did that come about.
Niki Irving: [01:04:22] Yeah. So it’s interesting when I started the farm I said I am not going to do weddings and I always pay attention to things. But I had done flowers for my own wedding and friends weddings previous even starting this business. So it was something I had already done but I felt like I really wanted to focus on the farm and I knew wedding for so much work. So I said I’m not going to do wedding. And then very quickly people started reaching out and asking do you do weddings. And I kept saying no. And then finally I was like Why am I saying no to something that people are asking for. Why am I working so hard at the farmer’s market and millions buying my flowers. But then people are asking for weddings and I’m saying no. So I just started to rethink that. And and I just started saying yes. And it kind of snowballed from there to now. Weddings are the biggest source of revenue for our business. And it’s funny because I enjoy it probably more than anything within the whole business. It’s just so fun to be able to pick that one special bloom to put in a bride’s book. But I feel like if I’ve been stubborn and like no weddings are not part of my business plan I would have missed out on this really amazing part of the whole business. So I don’t know. People just asked and I said yes.
Tim Young: [01:05:57] That’s scary to me probably because I’m very bad at like you know flower design and just I’m not the guy to go to but it’s not. Not only do you now need to be a farming expert on growing but you’ve got to be a design expert. So I mean maybe you were intuitively but how does one go from being gee I would like to do weddings to becoming very good at doing weddings.
Niki Irving: [01:06:18] Well I have invested in my education. I mean some of it is I do feel like it just naturally works for me and and I I think part of it is a little bit of natural talent. But then you know I attended workshops with floral designers that I really look up to and I love their style. And yeah I just I invested in that education and I practiced and I think those two things have really just like and really helped me a lot.
Tim Young: [01:06:56] So so does it does a bride come to you when you’re doing a wedding far in advance and have a request for what type of flower and do you grew though those flowers for her. Or how does that work.
Niki Irving: [01:07:07] Yeah do. It works in that. I promise. I don’t promise specific flowers unless it’s something I know like OK I know that I can promise you dahlias in the fall even if I lose my entire crop. I’m going to be able to buy them from another farmer but I’m not going to promise you a peony. And you know November because I know that they’re out of season pretty much everywhere. So I’m really cautious about what I promise people. But I’ll talk to them about what color palette they want what might be available. I find that most brides don’t know that much about flowers so they don’t really know what specifically to ask for. And they place a lot of trust in me which I am so grateful for but I feel like as a designer that give me a lot more flexibility to make it unique for them. If I’m not trying to copy what somebody found on Pinterest or you know like I’m trying to make it be exactly somebody else’s vision. If I can use the seasonal products that I have right now I feel like it. It allows me to really exceed their expectations rather than like I want only roses and baby’s breath. Well there’s only so much you can do with that but if they say I want this color palette and I trust you to make it beautiful there’s always something really cool. Not only blooming on the farm but that I can forage from the woods around the farm. That just adds this like extra pop that sort of puts it over the top. So I feel like the brides that come to me are really they’re coming because they love what they’re doing or what we’re doing. They love my work and they are willing to trust us. So it’s pretty cool.
Tim Young: [01:09:08] It is cool. I mean it’s. Yeah. Yeah. And never say never right it turned out to be the thing that you love in it. Yes for him. So he of course was with food. There’s been a lot in the last 10 15 years about local food locals important and this happening with other things too. You know with craft breweries and so on. Are you finding that happening with flowers that people are becoming aware that their flowers aren’t local and that they care about that they are they are a little more.
Niki Irving: [01:09:38] I think that people like the idea there of their flowers coming from a farm. But it doesn’t we’re not where food is. Yes I should say I think we’re getting there local flowers are definitely coming on even on the national stage just like more of a part of of what people are noticing but we’re not quite there yet because the education piece isn’t there. I mean 80 percent of the flowers that are used within our country are imported and most people don’t even know that. So I think we’re still as a as a movement. I’ll say working on the education piece. But from my business I think people just you know see the flowers on Instagram and they say oh I want my flowers to come from that place. And that’s why they choose us. And I think for you know the grocery store clients they care that the flowers are you know pesticide free that they’re quote organic and quote organically grown. I think that matters more to my grocery store clientele than it does for wedding customers.
Tim Young: [01:10:57] You know on the on the food side or the small farm food side whether it’s vegetables or fruits or meat there’s there’s all kinds of potential standards or certifications that a farm can either subscribe to or take a stance you know for you know whether it’s a certified naturally grown or certified humane or grass fed or whatever may be. Is there anything like that. You know as it relates to your business that you pursue.
Niki Irving: [01:11:22] Yeah. So I have chosen not to pursue organic certification because for flowers that they’re not being eaten I don’t feel like it’s actually worth it. But I do think it matters to my customers that we follow organic practices. And I love being able to talk about why. You know like I love seeing all the the bugs and the good and the bad and you know the butterflies and the birds and everything that flowers draw and so I explain to people that’s why I don’t spray but organic certification for flowers. It can. It can be tough because like the processing the holding solution that I mentioned earlier it’s basically flower food. I wouldn’t be able to use that if I was certified organic. And it’s really hard to find seeds that are certified organic so that meet the guidelines. We’re still like there’s not a ton of sources for flower seeds so that would also really limit me and what I could grow. And so it was kind of a choice I made and I also just don’t feel like my market really demands it. But I think you know that would kind of be the only certified case and besides I know like some flower farms are certified naturally grown and and that’s really neat. It’s just not something that I’ve pursued at this time yeah I think a lot of farms are in the same boat.
Tim Young: [01:13:03] I mean there obviously there’s a lot of certified organic farms but most people that I’ve talked to you know they take a stand like you do. We farm with these practices but we’re not going to pursue certification for similar reasons to what you just talked about. You know despite despite what all the beautiful farm pictures whether it’s yours or any other farm show on Instagram and all these places the fact is that when you farm long enough you have some really really really low points that kind of make you how how do I go forward. I’m curious what’s what are some of the low points or what’s the lowest point you had in your farming journey.
Niki Irving: [01:13:39] Yeah. This last year I feel like it was honestly a constant low point. We had so much rain. I just it was unbelievable. I think we ended it over 100 inches of rain. Our area usually only gets about 43 annually. So I. Between disease problems and then losing I lost my entire daily crop this last year. So I had just. Which is like I mentioned earlier one of my top three you know moneymakers and I lost all of it and I had invested a lot of money into buying new tubers this year because I had a little more space. At my new farm. So I kind of I kind of went big and I invested a lot and I planted them at the usual time when I plant them in early May they had just started sprouting and then we got about 20 inches of rain and just less than two weeks and all of my tubers rotted and it was devastating like just the amount of work to actually plant all of them was huge. The loss and just buying the tubers is huge. And then the loss in revenue was unthinkable and then just not being able to take photos of them. It just felt like a huge failure. Even though I knew it was not nothing that I did. But it really helps me to look at OK it could it could happen that it could rain 20 inches in two weeks again next year. So what can I do as a farmer at least to try to you know not have the same outcome and so was part of why I decided to grow only in raised beds just to help that. But I would say that’s probably been a really big low point and probably the lowest point in all of my farming so far. And then it just continued to rain.
Tim Young: [01:15:54] And when that happens for us as small farmers I mean small farmers we don’t have crop insurance. So it’s not like we get any protection from that. And to me in addition to that the idea of moving to raise beds and maybe giving yourself a little bit more protection it really underscores the importance of having a farm business model that generates significant profits in times when you can so that you can weather those storms literally when they come.
Niki Irving: [01:16:20] Yeah yeah. I mean and that’s why it is nice like having the wedding income because if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be in the position that I am financially right now because I could buy aliens from other farmers or you know get flowers elsewhere and I and I price all of my work so that you know if I need to buy something somewhere else it’s not going to it’s not going to hurt me because so I was right. Yes.
Tim Young: [01:16:54] And one other thing you can do to replace that income on many forms of what I did and I think you’re doing some as well is offer farm events and workshops that are paid that allow people to learn new skills. So have you tried that and what are you doing in that was.
Niki Irving: [01:17:10] Yes. So that was another one of those things that I started off saying I’m not going to do this and I knew that I couldn’t really be open to the public one because I was operating on someone else’s land when I started. But I also just know like if I have people dropping in on the farm all day long I’m never going to get any work done. So I didn’t allow visitors but then people kept asking to come to the farm and I thought OK this is something people are asking for. How can I give people what they want. And so I just my second year did an experiment and thankfully my landlord was he was more than happy to have me host a couple workshops out there because it didn’t interfere with his business. And I keep him pretty small. And it was the workshops were wildly successful. I had no idea who was going to come if anyone was going to sign up if they would even you know pay what I wanted to what I knew I needed to make to make it worth a while. It was just an experiment that worked and now I feel really great because when I say well we’re not open to the public but if you want to come to the farm check out our workshops. So I feel like I’m not just saying no that I’m giving them an option but I also value my time and I am getting paid for sharing my knowledge and sharing the farm experience and that’s an experience they can’t really have anywhere else. I mean most people don’t get to see the things that we get to see every day and just being surrounded by by nature we can provide that for people on our farms. And it’s probably one of the things I enjoy the most as being able to host these workshops.
Tim Young: [01:19:04] Yeah I’ve done I’ve done a lot of the same and I agree with you completely. There’s a lot of people that want to live at least for a moment vicariously through yourself and others who were doing this and this enables them to do that. All right. Last question for you for a guy like me who loves his wife and wants to give her flowers but just terrible like making a bouquet. Give me some tips for how do I arrange a bouquet. That’s really pretty.
Niki Irving: [01:19:26] Yeah. So you need a few different ingredients and textures. And I mentioned them earlier but if you if you keep these things in mind you need foliage. You need some kind of focal flower and. Those change throughout the season. Anything from peonies in the spring to Dallas in the fall. You want some kind of fillers or something that takes up space. There’s a whole lot of different fillers that could be anything from you know Xenia to root of Vecchia which are black eyed Susans or there’s so many different fillers. And then you want something kind of kind of whimsical to add a little bit of interest. So I use a lot of pincushion flowers or Veronica. Same thing with like a spiky shape just so it’s not totally round. And then when you’re putting it in the case you don’t want everything to be on one plane. You want some flowers sticking out a little bit more than others. Some tucked in you want the focal flowers obviously to be in a prominent space. So there are a few a few kind of tips that it’s almost like a formula of how to how to make a balanced arrangement. And I actually have on my blog a post about how to make just a simple arrangement with summer flowers.
Tim Young: [01:21:01] So OK. So what’s your website. People who want to keep up with you.
Niki Irving: [01:21:05] Sure it’s flourishflowerfarm.com and there’s a tab for my blog right on the top and you’re working they find you on Instagram if that’s your preferred social channel.
Niki Irving: [01:21:18] Yeah. I am @flourishflowerfarm.
Tim Young: [01:21:21] Well those are great tips for arranging flowers you just highlighted everything that I do wrong. I don’t do any of this stuff I make them all this I put I put all the same flower in there make them all the same height. Now I know exactly what to do. Niki is a real pleasure talking to. Thank you so much for being part of small farm nation.
Niki Irving: [01:21:37] Thank you so much for having me on. I really enjoyed it.
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