If we had it to do all over again...
These are notes I made for a weekend presentation about our experiences starting and then "growing" a business on our farm.
|Juno, Blake, first greenhouse, 1979|
So you think you want to have a greenhouse....grow plants under cover, in a climate controlled environment. Do you want to grow bedding plants? Perennials? Vegetable starts for your garden? Vegetables for people to eat?
What is your goal for your product? Farmer's markets, direct sale to customers on your farm, or wholesale?
|Selling mums at the Wine Fest 2013|
.....I wish I could tell you we had answers to all these questions nearly thirty years ago when we started down the greenhouse road. I wish I could say truthfully that we had a business plan, visited with others in the field for advice, and proceeded along a predictable path from minuscule to minute to breakeven to full scale full time business to second generation family sized enterprise.
|Lee and her daddy..note untreated lumber.|
We did one thing right: we started small. We were young, just starting our career farming, still proving ourselves at one job, and short on time and cash. We built our greenhouse business for years like Johnny Cash built his long black Cadillac...one piece at a time. We were risk averse (farming was risky enough!) and we learned by doing. This meant it took us quite a while to build past the hobby stage, move into the too big to be fun and too little to be a business stage, and finally achieve the volume of sales to be worth the time we were putting into our work. We had the advantage of "free" real estate; we had the disadvantage of that land being in the middle of nowhere by any and every definition.
|Note: Westboro's Only Greenhouse..still is|
|The home place 1987|
|Annie peddling the leftovers|
|Multi tasking with Ben|
|hand seeded flats...Lee tagging|
We finally sold enough plants to have a couple of salesmen call on us out in the middle of nowhere. One was a greenhouse salesman; he had a habit of showing up just before suppertime. We bought six greenhouses and fed him a lot of spaghetti over the years. In the beginning, I filled pots and trays and baskets from 3.5 cu ft bags of Metro Mix; we progressed to a hopper and chain driven flat filler with a loose mix bulk bag like that used for bulk soybeans. Finally, we purchased a bale breaker in order to take advantage of the most inexpensive bulk potting mix.
We buy in all the flower plugs now and run thousands of them through a mechanical transplanter. A huge part of our business is cutting raised plants in either 4"or planters or hanging baskets.
Labor and time are always limiting factors in our compact spring season, and especially in a rural area where greenhouse season coincides with crop planting. What you grow will be determined by your market....but we have noticed a trend away from flats of flowers and toward ready made containers of larger plants. We sell more single vegetables than we used to.I have to believe more gardeners enjoy their plants in pots and fewer get down on their hands and knees and plant into the ground. But I admit we don't have a big retail business. Being a small wholesale greenhouse means we survive by accommodation; we are willing to grow whatever plant our customers want in whatever container size they specify and deliver on the date they ask for it. Selling flowers these days is a buyer's market.
We didn't know where our first small greenhouse would lead us. There have been plenty of both ups and downs; flowers are discretionary and sales take a hit during economic hard times. We have lost customers, found new ones, expanded, seen sales shrink, blown greenhouses away in storms, and dealt with crushing droughts. We expanded our sales season by growing mums and other fall plants in the field behind our greenhouses. By far the biggest accomplishment has been the ability to bring our family into the business and see our children raising their children among the flowers and tomatoes just like we did. A greenhouse business, like other types of farming, is a great place to teach children about the wonders of the world they live in and is full of chores to help them learn responsibility.
|Just last week, bay 9 and Josh|