I always think its interesting to hear about how small farming businesses came to be. It’s always the information I’m digging for and I find the journey to creating a business really quite fascinating. That being said, I realized I’ve never written down how Old Slate Farm came to be. As weird as it feels to share what amounts to my life story over the past decade, my first year growing for profit and running my own operation, I was constantly searching out how – to forego a paycheck, put yourself out there, deal with uncertainty.
Brad and I grew up together in a nice little suburb directly adjacent to downtown Columbus, Ohio. We lived on the same street, attended the same schools, and had a lot of the same interests. In high school, we began dating and have hardly spent a day apart since. We loved animals and the outdoors, spending much of our time riding horses, camping, more riding horses…
We attended college together, which garnered quite a lot of side-eye but we knew we were in it long term. Just weren’t sure what ‘it’ was quite then.
As graduation came closer, Brad and I knew the young 20-something urban-dwelling apartment lifestyle would never work for us, and it really wouldn’t work for the horses. So we looked for jobs in rural areas. He was looking to be hired as an engineer, and I was a botany major. His immediate income prospects were a little more substantial than mine, so his location was prioritized. Brad got hired in Mount Vernon, so we moved there. His parents fronted us the money for a down payment on a small farm, knowing I wanted a garden for growing vegetables and we wanted place to keep our horses, and we found our current place. A diamond in the rough, I thought. I’m so glad we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into…or I may have been too hesitant to take on the project of restoring this place. We moved in with $400 between our two bank accounts, a six pack of Fat Tire and a carpeted kitchen with harvest gold…everything.
I began working full time for a real estate developer, with tasks ranging from setting up utilities, reading through environmental reports, and picking out paint colors. It was a great job for me. I like to do lots of different things at once. But I did love my farm, and I was determined to find a way to support myself with the 8 acres. In the back of my mind, I really didn’t think I’d ever be able to do it though.
Our first year of gardening was certainly full of lessons. We started very small (always a good idea…start SMALL!) My first year, my goal was to feed the two of us only, I spent $200 on seeds and supplies and that’s what I had to work with. On a shoestring with little equipment, we had some okay harvests of lettuces and pumpkins, but lots of our efforts were lost to our inattention. We were both working hard at our day jobs and trying to make our house less disgusting.
After a year of working on our house and farm, we were engaged and began planning our wedding. I was chatting with a friend from work who had a wedding planning business about the farm and my dreams of having my own business. She suggested growing flowers for local florists. I had never considered that, but once again, I listened. (Molly, incredible woman who created MStyle, is a connector of the people, and later one of our brides).
I threw all of my energy into growing flowers. We set aside some money we had set aside already for the house (hence, farmhouse still under construction 3 years later…) to purchase landscape fabric and flower seeds and supports and seed trays and light benches and all of the other supplies you need to start a real-deal farm. We really couldn’t have pulled it off without Brad’s ingenuity and ability to be a jack of all tradesman. He built all of the light benches from scrap wood and lights I had gotten for free that needed rewired. As I’m writing this, he is putting up a 24×60 hoophouse outside.
That tiny plot of flowers really cranked out the stems. I had tons of flowers to share and a little roster of very eager and supportive florists who bought what I had every single week. We would cut after work into the night, and I’d wake up very early on Thursday mornings to load up my hatchback with the week’s orders and deliver to florists before heading to the office. A farmer cruising around the city in business casual attire hawking flowers. I’m getting tired remembering it.
As the demand continued to increase, so did the garden. The next year our gardens became 3x larger than the first. So did the workload. I didn’t have the time to tend to such a large plot while working full time, and I couldn’t see myself making the leap to full time farmer without some additional source of value added income.
I never wanted to be a wedding florist. I’m a botanist, a farmer. I thought everything that came with floristry was not for me. I resisted it. But, determined to have the funds and time to continue to grow my flowers, and my entire farm was growing flowers targeted toward the wedding market, I relented. I started practicing from online tutorials, books, youtube. Luckily, I had an unlimited amount of flowers to toy around with to try and reach some semblance of looking as if I had mastered this craft.
I managed to book a couple small weddings, make friends with wedding planners, have other friends getting married who trusted me to get my feet wet on their dime. And I really don’t have any clarity on how I got from there. It just kept growing.
This past year has been a bit challenging. I felt a lot of pressure to book as many weddings as I could. The most common question wedding industry folks ask each other, ‘hOw MaNy WeDdInGs do you have??” – I hate this question. It’s a question I’ll never ask anyone again. It’s irrelevant to everything. That number has nothing to do with the quality of your life, business, or frankly your bank accounts. Having so many weddings pulled me away from my gardens, and the flowers suffered, and in turn, I suffered. I’m a Libra, I crave balance, so we are making some changes.
Now, we are focusing on increasing the quality of our flowers and offerings to create unique and amazing arrangements. Couples who believe in what we do are finding us and hiring us for their weddings. We are a farm first, because without the flowers we grow, we can’t do what we do. So I’m demoting myself. I’m delegating more of the business side to my trusty employees, one of which being my husband who will run the financial side of things (I’m truly awful at that), Samantha will continue to run the studio and ordering, and take on more communication with our clients (she’s better at professionalism and emails and counting and remembering things). And I’ll manage the farm and making flower arrangements. Hopefully with an intern. And I’ll also try to keep writing. And attempt to not make my new-found CFO husband hate me because I must grow every single sweet pea, regardless of the fact that I’ve never grown sweet peas before.