flowers + reading
May 18, 2016
Now with eight years of floral experience, I am becoming increasingly interested in becoming a farmer-florist. As much as I love my job and designing events and being in an urban environment, I am craving something a little more earthen and natural. I feel there is so much waste in this industry, and I want to be a part of something that gives back. Where is a good place to start? What education is typically expected to be hired by a farmer-florist? What experience is needed? What are the pros and cons of the industry?
Congrats! I’m really excited to hear about your burgeoning passion and you are definitely not alone.
I think expectations will really vary, but I think most growers who are looking for help are looking for people with some basic growing knowledge. But given that you’re a florist (which necessitates physicality, hard work and passion!) and know your flowers, that definitely will set you apart. You may want to consider apprenticing with a farmer part-time for a season to really see what it’s like.
If you are interested in testing the waters, you may want to start by growing a few flowers on your own. You may want to consider my digital course Garden to Vase, which is designed exclusively for small scale cut flower growers.
The industry is changing in a big way and there are tons of opportunities right now for growers.
Another way to “give back” is to consider offering your studio waste to a farmer for their compost pile (compost is one thing we can never get enough of!). And it’s so much better than your waste ending in a landfill which is sadly still the case in many urban areas.
Clare Day (Clare Day Flowers)
While not a farmer-florist myself, so I can not answer specifically, I do work a large garden and polytunnel, and use local growers and nurseries to help. The thing you need most is time – growing is a discipline which requires a good sense of planning, and I would recommend a horticulture course to give you the knowledge and confidence to move ahead. If I could travel through time and give myself some advice early on, I would tell me to get a good composting system up and running from the beginning, get friends and family interested as you will need some help at times, and to get comfortable with learning from your mistakes. The wonderful part is growing whatever you want, being truly seasonal, and working with the rhythm of the seasons. You also take your floristry to another level when you have created your own colour palette to work from, which you can change each year and develop as your work does.
Jo Rodwell (Jo Flowers)
It’s been a great joy to see the farmer-florist movement grow and to lend leadership to it over the years. Love ‘n Fresh Flowers was one of the original farmer-florist operations when I started it back in 2008. I’ve learned from a lot of mistakes in the past eight years! It’s tough to answer your question(s) succinctly here since the answers are so complex. Being a farmer-florist is intensely involved. It’s much more than just growing flowers or just designing flowers. It’s two full-time, super-stressful endeavors rolled into one. Adding to the challenge is the unpredictable whims of Mother Nature and oft unreasonable demands of clients. So you also have to be an incredibly flexible and calm person who can handle all of that. And you need to be comfortable working seven days a week, usually more than eight hours a day. I say this to encourage you to think carefully about your own strengths and weaknesses before making a leap into this particular niche of the industry. It’s very popular right now, but it is most definitely not the right fit for everyone.
All that being said, I absolutely love educating farmer-florists who have decided to make the leap! We have a master class series at our farm that is specifically geared towards flower professionals that want to learn strategies and skills for becoming successful farmer-florists. Two of those classes are already finished for this season, but there’s one left in June specifically geared towards tackling weddings (Love ‘n Fresh does 70+ weddings a season with the flowers we grow at our farm). You can find more info about the class and grab a seat by following this link.
If you don’t already have experience as a grower, you’ll definitely need to take classes and/or work with an experienced flower farmer since growing flowers for cutting/designing is a very specific science. Just having a green thumb is not enough. You should also consider joining the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. If you are hoping to get a job with an established farmer-florist, being a member of this association and proving you are eager to get educated about growing is going to go a long way towards getting you a job! 🙂
Jennie Love (Love ‘n Fresh Flowers)
With an active floral design business you are perfectly positioned to begin growing and moving towards the title of Farmer Florist. You will find your designs have a new purpose and inspiration, a new found beauty by cutting from your own gardens. If you are growing to support your event design business you should be very successful. If you hope to become a grower because you want to sell wholesale or because you believe it could be profitable I would caution you to be careful. Those that grow, grow because they have a passion and love of growing. To become a profitable grower is a long and twisted route and most growers are designers as well to help supplement their income. As a grower your profit margins will be scarce and always teetering on Mother Nature’s mercy. I myself got my start as a grower. I used to go to farmers markets and sell small bouquets. This was over 20 years ago and I have to admit the farmers market did not have the big appeal it has today so sales were slim. I would often come home from market with little or no proceeds. Sometimes my profit was cheese or bread from other vendors at the market. It was at market that people began to ask me for wedding flowers and I found my niche. All these years later it has taught me that what I grow makes my designs special but there is nothing like a booked and confirmed client on the schedule. A special event client pays in spite of the weather and that client also pays for things to be properly designed and delivered. At market the consumer is looking for things that are affordable and fresh.
Your question deserves a long and lengthy answer and I am happy to spend time talking with you if you would like. I myself have always grown without formal training; however, I am from a long line of farmers and nurserymen. If you would like formal training, I would suggest Erin from Floret or Andrea from LynnVale Farms. Both of these Farmer Florists offer classes.
Holly Chapple (Holly Heider Chapple Flowers)
Becoming a farmer florist is one of the most exciting, stressful, fulfilling and rewarding adventures a flower lover can embark upon. It can be both breath-taking and heart-breaking, soul-soothing and crazy-making. I would suggest starting small by dedicating a part of your garden to growing your own cut flowers, maybe some of the bigger players and popular picks- dahlias, roses, spring bulbs, etc- along with a carefully curated handful of unique additions that could set your flower arrangements apart from the more “mainstream” wholesale market- interesting foliage, fun vines, etc. Starting small will allow you to see what works… and what doesn’t. It will also allow you to ease yourself into flower farming rather than diving in head first.
I’m not sure if you need much education in the traditional sense. You can gain so much knowledge through talking with other more experienced farmer florists (most are happy to share tips and help out!), joining specialized groups via various social media outlets, and, most of all, through good ol’ trial and error. If you are looking for hands-on education and experience, I think that a workshop similar to the ones Floret offers would be absolutely wonderful.
If I had to come up with a quick list of pros and cons, mine would probably look like this…
Pros: Totally unique selection of flowers tailored specifically to you and your clientele, full control over where your flowers come from and how they are grown, ease of picking what you want exactly when you need it, amazing sense of self-sufficiency.
Cons: Unpredictability (sometimes seeds don’t germinate, bulbs don’t sprout, colors don’t match the description, rodents chew your roots, beetles nibble your petals…) and labor and time intensive.
For me, the pros far outweigh the cons… I wouldn’t give up being a farmer florist for the world. My garden and flowers have become such a large part of who I am and what I do 🙂
Emily Avenson (Fleuropean)
Note: Here are some images that show the variety and unique selection Emily has achieved as a small-scale farmer-florist in Belgium…