2012 - Volume #BFS, Issue #12, Page #102
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"Pick Your Own" Flower Business
Selling U-pick flowers is not an easy way to make a living, admits Cathy Lafrenz, but she says it has been a good sideline income producer.
  The 20 by 20-ft. bed of flowers she started with in 2002 has grown to a full acre of annuals and perennials. She works 60-plus hours a week during the busiest part of the season. Customers travel to her rural Donahue, Iowa, home from mid-June until the first hard freeze, usually in October. The deal is $15 for as many flowers as you can fit into a cut-off plastic gallon milk jug, which Lafrenz provides. Usually that’s between 25 and 50 stems or enough to make three nice bouquets. Some thrifty customers really get their money’s worth, but Lafrenz is known for adding even more flowers to many of her customers’ bouquets.
  She wants “Miss Effie’s Country Flowers and Garden Stuff” to be more than just a business.
  “It’s not summer until you come to Miss Effie’s,” she says people tell her. Besides providing a product, she provides an adventure and a welcoming atmosphere. There’s a bed to rest on in the garden and a “Cornzebo” to rent with tables and chairs, gas grill and a fire pit. A tree filled with hanging teacups given to her by customers symbolizes the relationships she develops.
  Work begins in early spring when she plants 8,000 annual plugs.
  “The flowers have to have at least two re-blooms and be taller than normal varieties,” Lafrenz says. She has old-fashioned and new varieties including zinnias, snapdragons, cosmos and sunflowers, just to name a few. There are also perennials – daisies, Asiatic lilies, Echinacea, Veronicastrum, and more.
  Flowers are grown without chemicals and planted close together in rows 30 in. apart so they will grow tall. They are supported by cattle panels that the Lafrenzes cut and bend. She collects up to 3,200 gallons of rainwater and uses a pump and hoses to irrigate when there isn’t enough rain. She pulls weeds and mulches (63 yards worth) for weed control.
  “About 60 percent of my time is working with customers. I teach them how to cut the flowers and what to look for,” Lafrenz says.
  Location is important (she’s near the Quad Cities), but so is marketing. “Facebook works just as well as anything,” Lafrenz says. She has over 1,000 fans, and she lets people know about events, what’s in season, and other products that are available from people who sell at her on-farm store. It’s also helped her develop a wedding market.
  “I’m working with a bride for a September wedding,” she explains. “We’re looking at $240 to $250 for everything.”
  Besides saving lots of money, picking flowers adds to the wedding experience. One couple brought their bridal party, family and friends to the farm at 8 a.m. Each person had a list of what to cut, and by 11 a.m. the group left with all the flowers they needed. They had time for a brunch and plenty of laughs while getting the job done.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Cathy Lafrenz, Miss Effie’s Country Flowers and Garden Stuff, 27387 130th Ave., Donahue, Iowa 52746 (ph 563 282-4338; www.misseffiesflowers.com).

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2012 - Volume #BFS, Issue #12