Running a Farming Business

Jennie Love

When I tell people I’m a flower farmer, inevitably one of the questions they ask almost immediately is “What do you do in the winter?”   I always find this question a bit amusing, not just because of how frequently it comes up, but more so because it hints at an underlying misperception about farming. 

Farming is not just work in the fields, sweating and getting a sore back from hours bent over, tending to plants.  Farming is, at its core, a business.  And running a business is a year-round, full-time job. 

All farmers spend the winter at the kitchen table, studying seed catalogs and crop spreadsheets.  The truly successful ones also spend the winter writing marketing plans, running financial reports, updating their website, drafting employee handbooks, and doing some long-term, big-picture planning.  Winter really isn’t a time for rest, but rather a shift in focus.  Granted, it is nice to not be nursing a sore back for a few months!

Love 'n Fresh Flowers

When I started Love ‘n Fresh Flowers, I tackled it as a business, not just a flower farm.  Thanks to my earlier professional background in marketing and business development (which feels like a lifetime ago now), I saw the value of writing a business plan and website content right from the beginning.  And it has paid off in a big way, landing Love ‘n Fresh in numerous national publications and on Martha Stewart’s venerated Top Floral Designers list in 2015.

These days one of my favorite things to do in the winter is plan our Master Classes, the most popular of which is always The Business of Local Flowers.  I love this class because I get to teach the really important stuff of running a solid flower business, not just the pretty flowery bits that always pop up in social media.  Yes, when compared to billowing Dutch-inspired compotes full of flowers, discussing employee protocols and how to run a P&L statement in Quickbooks does seem a little dull.  But, my lord, it’s important!!

A particular focus in this year’s class will be the necessity of building a business infrastructure that allows a business owner to step away from the business, either for some personal time to find balance and rest or for an emergency.  I experienced the devastating and unexpected loss of my mother during the peak of the 2015 autumn wedding season and there were a lot of hard lessons learned along the way.

Ellen Frost

The cherry on the top of this class is I get to teach it with Ellen Frost, a dear friend and a kick-ass business woman who has built Local Color Flowers, a locally-grown-only floral shop, from the ground up with some seriously savvy networking and management skills.  She has an MBA and clearly knows how to use it.  Ellen is single-handedly responsible for an inspiring flower and urban farming renaissance in Baltimore, runs a thriving delivery business, services several restaurants, and leads a stellar team of designers who flower over a 100 weddings each year.  You want to know how she does it, don’t you?

This year’s Business of Local Flowers class will be held at our farm in Philadelphia on April 24th and 25th.  If you are new to the flower industry or someone who has been in it for a while but is still struggling, this class is a game changer.  Sign up today!

Below are two glowing reviews from students last year.

I am so glad I decided to take the advice of a new friend in flowers, Josie Crowson, and take the class offered by Jennie Love and Ellen Frost about starting and maintaining a business of local flowers.  The time and expense to participate were well worth it.  Everything I learned was useful information.  Participating in the class with other women from around the US, who are both growers and designers gave me the confidence to begin the process of turning my five-year hobby of floral designing into a business.  I took the class on April 21-22—unsure of my decision to start a business, but  by May 4, I was officially registered with the Virginia State Corporation Commission as “Virginia Flora LLC.”

Although I am a designer and home gardener—not (yet) a grower, hearing the grower’s perspective from Jennie was helpful in learning what to grow, how to plan to grow, and how to have a good business relationship with the flower farmers I buy from.  Hearing from the business owner/designer’s perspective from Ellen was equally relevant.  They both shared time-saving insights about the “nitty-gritty” of business, such as bookeeping, time management, hiring employees, and state and local regulations to be aware of.  Both Jennie and Ellen shared their business plans, which covered marketing, operations, and finances.  They also provided an excellent resource list for purchasing what you need to grow and maintain flowers, and a list of favorite flowers, foliage, bulbs, and woody perennials to grow.  One very useful exercise we did was a SWOT analysis—considering Strengths and Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats—that could affect our businesses. 

Have I mentioned that the best part of attending this class was the people?  Jennie, Jennifer and Ellen were engaging, funny, honest and responsive to our many questions.  The other women attending were wonderful to connect with.  Getting to know each one’s “flower story” was a part and parcel of the experience.  I was very excited to take the class with a new flower friend– a grower and designer in the same vicinity of the flower farms I currently buy from.  I appreciated what each instructor, support staff, and participant brought to this lovely bouquet of learning, connecting, laughing, eating, drinking, and quite literally, taking time to “smell the flowers.”

Sending some flower love to you lovelies from hot and humid Virginia,

Kathy Wirtala

Love 'n Fresh Flowers

Jennie and her team were my first experience when my direction towards flowers started to unravel. I started by attending her “Designer’s Cutting Garden” class.  Jennie’s fun, down to-earth character make the living classroom.  Her in-depth topics and hands on demonstrations spewed of valuable information. As a group, we walked through her fields and hoop houses discussing all facets of her operation. The experience was so rewarding that I went back for the “The Business of Local Flowers” class!  This made everything full circle and gave me direction. First impressions are big, and I couldn’t be anymore grateful that it was Love’n Fresh Flowers. Thank you! 

Rebecca Sadlowski
Rooted Flower Farm

 

8 Responses to “Running a Farming Business”

  1. mandy oshea

    Thank you for your ever sharing of knowledge. Your advice from friendly conversations and workshops have made waves in the way we do business and how we approach our farm.

    Reply
  2. Killoran

    I wish I could telecommute! This will be my first real season as a business and I’ve been wondering about this stuff! There are business classes locally, but it’s all geared toward retail or stores with brick and mortar locations. Not things like farming or agriculture. And while I’m sure some of the same principals apply, it’d be nice to attend a more relevant, focused class.

    Reply
  3. Phoebe A. Brubaker

    Jennie Love,

    I don’t know if you remember riding the bus with me in Juniata County long ago, but I am so thrilled to see you thriving in something you love. I had already discovered your wonderful floral work while researching how to set up a floral CSA when Linnet said, “Hey, you know that Jennie Love is doing something like you want to do!” And I was suddenly able to put two and two together. I was so thrilled that the designers work that I loved, turned out to be you!

    I just recently took the plunge into becoming an organic flower grower full time after managing a restaurant for several years and although I grew up in an organic farming family the learning curve is steep, particularly on the business side of things! I’m so thankful for your tutorials and blog posts and I can’t wait to attend a workshop. Best wishes for the coming season, I can’t wait to see what phenomenal things you will do.

    Phoebe Brubaker

    Reply
  4. Newton Rolle

    I like your post. Flowers are symbolic of beauty, love and tranquillity. They form the soul of a garden and convey the message of nature to man. Flowers and objects of aesthetic, ornamental, social, religious and cultural value.

    Reply
  5. Kim

    wow, running a flower farm business is one of my dream too. I wish I could make it happen. I live in tropical country and I wonder if I need to grow most of the flowers in a green house.

    Reply

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