So, it’s been a busy spring! The Seasonal Flower Project really blossomed in the most amazing way… a dream come true. My goal, I thought last fall, to myself, should be 300 members. A somewhat random number. A guess, not the exacting result of financial planning, though it was later vetted by some hard time put in over excel. “Surely, in a city of 9 million, there are 300 people who want flowers every week, from local farms!” I told myself and others, trying to will it to be true. But, could I get there? What would that look like? How would it fit into what I’d already been doing? How did e-commerce work???
It sounded a tad lofty. But, I hadn’t paid myself (or logged my own hours) in 2020 – the tell-tale sing of a passion project. And I knew that I needed to get serious about numbers if I really wanted to incorporate this project into the core of Molly Oliver Flowers. And I really did want to. In 2020, we had at most 120 members in one month; but an average of 70. So 300 was a bit of a leap, but a good challenge.
and, turns out – “fitting into what i already do” didn’t mean much. for 8 years, i had straddled 2 “part-time jobs” that were actually both full time jobs. I managed a farm 20 hours a week, and did anywhere from 30-40 weddings. but pre-pandemic, i already knew i really wanted a partial out from that full time wedding grind. i wanted some weekends back in my life. then, the pandemic. the unplanned was all i had. and this little pipe dream of a flower csa – something i’d done for years as a farm manager but never as a florist – was able to come to be. or at least, i was able to experiment. trial by fire.
There’s a reason why large corporations exist – scale is the key to profit. And when margins are as this as they are in locally produced perishables, scaling is necessary to make profit and sustain your business: to pay yourself a living wage, to afford new technologies and equipment that will improve your product, and maybe that perfect work table you’ve been envisioning for years.
A few weeks out from our first March delivery date, it was looking a bit sad. I think I had about 40 people signed up. And now that I was fanning out to partner with local businesses for distribution, I needed a lot more than 40 people to make 10+ delivery drops worth it.
Long story short, we wound up at about 180 by the end of May! So many folks sharing their photos; word of mouth and the enthusiastic support of host sites helping to spread the good word that locally-grown flowers were now available at their locations. I am really happy about this number, and i know I’ve learned from many mistakes this spring. I’m honestly glad we did not hit 300, because i’m not sure i could have sustained twice as many snafus. a common complaint of small business owners – and i would guess especially of start-ups like this little project – is imposter syndrome. every time i realized we had somehow shorted someone, or completely missed their bouquet, or got back feedback from members on a crop my first thought was “this is a complete failure. i have no idea what i’m doing. i’m not cut out for this. a corporation can do it better.”
but for every problem (and there have been problems every week), and every sneaky, mean bit of self-talk I concocted as a result, there were probably 2 or 3x as many compliments from such very kind and appreciate members. and, when people were shorted, or worse, they often showed real compassion and understanding. that connection, and that understanding is hard to find these days. I am really grateful to you all for bearing with the trials and tribulations of this newbie of a project. i still aim to get to 300, but will hopefully do so because of improvements made along the way, and the helpful feedback people have shared.
i have loved beginning to highlight SFP members in our newsletter and on instagram. it’s so fun to learn about you, what you do, what you’re passionate about, and why you’ve decided to invest in local flowers. if you’re interested in being profiled, please reach out!
oh, and the flowers… anemones, forsythia, ranunculus, tulips (ohhhh the tulips!!), hellebore, and peonies. classic spring line up, but each week we were just bowled over by the incomparable beauty of each and every flower. i am so grateful to the farmers. what would we do without these treasures? these emotional support flowers?
I am really proud of this work to support local farmers and celebrate and grow education around local, seasonal flowers. It’s become clear, through polling and member feedback, how flowers can be the plant version of an emotional support pet. They bring energetic medicine and mood lift – an escape from the stress of our daily lives into the sublime beauty of unique, layered, colorful petals.
This spring, The Seasonal Flower Project collectively supported 10 small local flower farms with nearly $17,000 in total purchases. This week, I’ll be making a substantial first donation – about 4K — thanks to SFP members, to a new collective of Black Farmers based in the Hudson Valley! This means so much.
There have been weekly challenges along the way. Last week proved one of the challenges of working with perishable product and its susceptibility to disease when just the right combination of conditions strikes. Asking for refunds from farmers is NO fun. All that time and energy, over months, to plant and water and weed and tend. And then hours to harvest. Farming is so hard. While the consumer appetite for flowers is somewhat huge, the availability of locally-grown flowers is comparatively miniscule. I have been spending about ~10 hours in the car each week sourcing enough blooms from 2-5 farms. I am somewhat flexible with flower type. Last year, with a smaller membership, I was able to give single variety bouquets to everyone pretty much every week. This year, there is much more competition for locally grown flowers – a good thing! And so, I need to be quick with my orders. But I find that still, there aren’t too many local farms growing at a scale where I can buy 300+ bunches from them.
That might be a good thing for the environment, but a harder thing for the florist like me trying to source as efficiently as possible. Arguably harder on the farmer, who needs to specialize approaches to planting/weeding/harvesting and “post-harvest handling” for many different varieties at any given time.
I’ve had many conversations of late with farmers and members alike about how we can grow the local flower industry to become more resilient and competitive in the marketplace. I really am incredibly hopeful that as more folks choose flower farming as their career, we will continue to see incredible diversity in local flowers as well as specialization – something I can’t wait for. We essentially have to build back the scale and the wholesale channels and depots to make it easier for florists to buy local. To do this, farmers need to be supported with training, loan forgiveness, and business planning support. I am a member and supported of the National Young Farmers Coalition – they have been doing incredible work to support young / new farmers. Check them out!
In case you missed it, I hired two part-time employees last month, Adrienne Sorg and Sally White. They are the first people I’ve hired as employees officially, besides myself since I launched in 2012! Typically floral studios hire assistant designers as contractors, which I’ve done for years. I wanted to offer workers comp, and more security in terms of regular hours to people. They’re still part-time, but growth is a process and I’m trying to grow slowly and sustainably. Sally and Adrienne both bring serious design chops as they’ve both been working as designers for 5+ years. I’m so happy to have them on the team!! I’ve also had a couple of volunteers/interns, pitching in for a trade of flowers, or just to learn about flowers – Melissa Johnson (who also helps deliver SFP flowers on Wednesdays), and Lo Alalay. Everyone brings amazing energy and it’s so much MORE joyful to share in this work with a team!
The biggest news of late is that I’m in the process of moving into a larger studio space — across the hall from my current one. I’ve loved sharing space with photographer Tamara Staples, now a dear friend, for the past 5 years. It will be phenomenal to have more room for the growing Seasonal Flower Project, and for wedding work. However, I’ll be looking for an artist to share this space with soon! Stay tuned. (Or, just reach out if you’re looking!)
Speaking of which, micro weddings are trickling back into the calendar – We did two in May, and have two more this month. There are few scheduled for July, and it’s basically back to back weddings August – Nov. It’s going to be a hectic fall – as imagined, as so many of these weddings were originally planned for 2020. This means I’ll likely be moving back to the city for a sustained period of time. After becoming shipwrecked at my mom’s last March (in between apartments just as stay-at-home orders began), I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to the city mouse / country mouse life.
I’m still not entirely sure the Seasonal Flower Project has staying power – only 2022 will tell. And so, it is still difficult to plan financially around it. Happy to say I have a first appointment with a financial advisor (after 10 years!!) this week. Baby steps. I’m still taking them in what is unofficially the 10th year of Molly Oliver Flowers.
I hope you’re healthy and well, and able to stretch your legs a bit more now that vaccines have become available to all.
Thank you so much for the support — I am wishing you all well!