by Lynn Byczynski
There's no such thing as easy money in farming, but adding a U-Pick program to an existing flower operation comes close.
We did this for a few seasons at our farm in Kansas. Before we started, we were a little worried that our U-Pick customers would pick all the prettiest flowers, leaving us short for our florist and supermarket accounts. But the opposite happened: people picked the flowers that were fully open, almost past their prime. They left behind the choicest flowers, those that were just beginning to open.
A few other lessons we learned about U-Pick:
- Space your beds far enough apart that customers won't be brushing up against plants when they are fully grown. Bee stings, pollen, and wet foliage can be a real turnoff for non-gardeners.
- Keep walking areas smooth to avoid twisted ankles. We were surprised by how many people brought frail, elderly relatives out to the farm to pick, and we worried about them falling. Well-groomed paths between the beds make picking much safer and more pleasant.
- Verbal instruction is good, but you still need signs to let people know where to find containers, clippers, and water. If they've never picked before, show them how to do it.
- Set prices that make sense to your customers, who won't know about the relative costs of production for various flowers. Either make everything the same price, or boldly mark beds of higher-dollar flowers. Even then, some people won't notice, and you may have some hard feelings when they find out the flowers they thought were all 50 cents a stem actually cost more.
- Plant all flowers that you don't want to include in your U-Pick program in a separate location. If you do have higher-value flower crops in bloom, you can harvest a bucketful or two and set them next to the cash register to encourage add-on sales.
- Don't stress out if customers pick weeds, short stems, or other things that would never make the grade if you were picking. Remind yourself that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that your guests are enjoying the experience as much as the purchase.
Byczynski and her family have been growing vegetables and cut flowers since 1988, selling through CSAs, at farmers' markets, to chefs, grocery stores, and florists. They currently grow cut flowers and hoophouse tomatoes on about 2 acres of their 20-acre farm near Lawrence, Kansas.
She is also the author/editor of two of our favorite books about market farming, The Flower Farmer and The Hoophouse Handbook.