Farm, flowers, and work work work work work work…2019 in review

2019, for me, was a year of work! Which is not a bad thing! If you’re doing work you love, you’re hardly working, am I right?

Maybe.

We built a studio! It has been so lovely to have heat in the winter and a/c in the summer. After living in this for 9 months it sure doesn’t look like this any more! I’ve managed to fill it up and already wish I had double the space. It’s a huge improvement over my shed!

This was a year of exponential growth here at Passalongs Farm. I almost tripled my wedding work. I more than tripled my growing area. I built a studio that had electricity, air conditioning and heat!!  I stopped doing farmers’ markets (mostly) but doubled the flowers I sold by the road. I hired people to help me! (That was a big step.) I put more money into my farm, but bought more product elsewhere. I started a reflowering project, where I re-made flowers from weddings into small bouquets for folks in local nursing homes. I went to two growers’ conferences. I worked. I worked a lot. I learned as much as I worked.

The reflowering project has been lovely! Sometimes my wedding clients don’t take all the flowers home, or sometimes they can’t, so when I go pick up my stuff after the event I repurpose many of the flowers and distribute them to local nursing homes. It’s fun! And gratifying.

What I learned: 2 full weddings in a weekend (which I did a number of times, and twice did 3) IS NOT FOR ME. It was exhilarating to get all those bookings, and I’m really, really bad at saying no, especially when someone is telling me they love my work, but when it came down to it, 2 full service weddings over 2 days was too much. I had help, yes, which was wonderful, but for my not-young body it was very physically taxing, and the enjoyment and artistry and feeling that I was doing something beautiful and fun and fulfilling (which usually is how I’m feeling when designing a wedding) wasn’t true 100% of the time. Or even 75% of those particular days.

I tripled my weddings from 2018 to 2019, which was both good and bad! I learned so much from doing this. Number one lesson: I do not like to do more than one wedding a day! Or weekend. So I’m changing my approach for 2020. (This wedding, by the way, was a joy to create, and I did NOT do more than one wedding this particular weekend!) Dana and her bridesmaids. Photo by Kelsey and Liam, KeLi Photography

I learned that doesn’t work for me. Which is good. That’s why I took on those bookings (plus, obviously, problems with boundaries.) I also learned that while I valued all the work that my helpers did for me in 2019, I don’t really want to expand much beyond what I did in 2019. The amount of help I had, especially when it came to the farm tasks, was just about right. Same with weddings, but I’m going to reign it all in next year. Yes to great help! No to feeling overwhelmed!

Flowers on the cart. I miss summer!

Another thing I learned: I LOVE my roadside cart! And I love the little patch of flowers I trialed last year down in the spot by the road, where my cart is located. Being out there on an early summer morning, picking armloads of zinnias and sunflowers, listening to a podcast, watching the packs of bikers zoom by, and occasionally getting one to wave or say hi – this is such a meditative and pleasant task. Making those bouquets are pure pleasure. I use what I have, as much as I have. I don’t have to go anywhere or buy anything – it’s all me. So ideally I will do more of that in the coming year. We are going to renovate or rethink the cart so it can hold more and is a bit more polished. I’m going to cultivate relationships with local places to sell these kind of arrangements. More of this, please!

Some other things I learned:

Dahlias and marigolds. Both like sun!

Dahlias need sunlight. If you move them to a spot that doesn’t get enough sunlight you will not get enough blooms! Expansion is only a good thing if what you plant in your new beds will thrive in your new beds.

Communication when it comes to weddings is key. Last year every wedding reminded me that for most of my couples this was the first time they were doing it, so more information, especially about process, timing, etc., was better. I really only had one communication mishap the whole summer, but it was enough so that I rethought some basic procedures that to me seemed obvious, but clearly needed a new look.

I went to two conferences this year: the Flowering in the North Conference in Portland, ME, in the winter, and in November, the Making a Profit Selling Cut Flowers conference in Nashville. Both were fantastic! Conferences are invigorating! Also maybe a little too inspiring, leading me to try new things that I have no market for, and which take my attention from other tasks. Which definitely happened. But as with everything, I lived and I learned.

Lots of weddings = little time for artwork. I miss my art! In January I’m going to spend time with my pressed flowers in a more meaningful way, and I’d love for that work to become equal to my wedding work in terms of time on task, focus, and even sales.

It’s odd to distill an entire year down to a few paragraphs and a few images, but it’s also useful to think about what worked and what didn’t. As a ‘solopreneur’ I need to take time to reflect. How else is a business  to grow sustainably?

Notes like these, stuffed into the cashbox at my cart, ARE THE BEST!
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No floral foam for me! An environmental and sustainable guarantee.

Floral garland made with no foam. Photo by me.

I started in this business as a home gardener. For years before I owned Passalongs Farm or made a single wedding bouquet, I tended large perennial gardens, tried to grow veggies, and worked at a farmers’ market, where I fell in love with farmers and farm culture. Personally, I’ve always recycled, cooked from scratch as much as possible, and tried to reduce waste. I’m thrifty, environmentally conscious – oh, and happen to be partnered up with a husband whose business is energy efficiency in all forms. We are not as green as some, but greener than most.

When I started creating floral designs beyond simple bouquets I was astonished at the amount of waste there is in this business. An example: if I buy 24 roses at our local wholesaler, not only have those roses traveled from who knows where (Central America or Colombia, likely) and have been refrigerated for who knows how long (3 weeks?) but they come wrapped in lots and lots of packaging. 24 roses from the wholesaler are wrapped in layers of paper, cardboard, and finally plastic, then my wholesaler wraps all the flowers up in more paper or puts them back in their waxed shipping boxes.

Contrast that with flowers I buy from local farms: unwrapped, maybe with a rubber band holding them in bunches, transferred from their buckets to my buckets.

Contrast that with flowers I grow myself in my permaculture beds: I simply walk out my door and cut them. Yes, there were costs and fossil fuels and shipping involved, depending what it is I’m cutting, but there’s no packaging to throw away or recycle.

Continue reading “No floral foam for me! An environmental and sustainable guarantee.”

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Who knew? 2018 in review!

photo by Time Bandit Photography

Last night I was at a New Year’s Eve party with friends I hadn’t seen in person for a couple of years. We moved to Massachusetts in 2015, and so while most my North Carolina friends and I stay in touch via social media, many of them I usually only see once a year, if that.

Here’s the cool thing, y’all: every single one of them told me how beautiful my flowers were, how much pleasure they got out of seeing the bouquets, and many of them also said: WHO KNEW? Who knew you could do that? Who knew you had that business in you?

I didn’t. I hadn’t. But guess what? I did and I do!

Continue reading “Who knew? 2018 in review!”

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Putting the farm to bed for the winter…

October is kind of a bittersweet month, no pun on bittersweet, that gorgeous, noxious, invasive vine intended!


October means frost, which means the end of most of my flowers, including the dahlias, ageratum, and zinnias that populated so many of my fall-themed bouquets and arrangements.

October means the end of my summer farmer’s market.

October means I only have a few more weeks to make sure everything I want to overwinter has its best chance of making it. This means lots of digging, planting the stragglers, mulching, snipping, and covering.

October means apples and pears the various jams and butters I make.

October means wildcrafting wreath making supplies and dried bits and pieces for winter bouquets.

October means planning for the late fall and winter craft fairs and markets.

And this October means getting my 4-season store open for business! Which is a beast of a different sort!

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