If you have ever interacted with Erin, you know she’s the real deal. She’s kind, thoughtful, and has an amazing eye for design (she even does cakes!). Here’s a peak behind the scenes of her flower farm, Handpicked Homestead, in Vashon, WA.
What circumstances lead you to start your farm?
I left my lobbying career due to a move for my husband’s job, had baby #4 and then needed something to do. I stumbled into flower farming almost by accident but it was truly providential and I haven’t looked back.
How did your friends and family react?
Everyone has been supportive and excited for me. They ask me lots of flower questions which are flattering when I know the answers, and encourages me to research further when I don’t.
Who helped you/what challenges did you face in the beginning?
The idea of flower farming came about due to reading an article about Dori Smith Troutman’s Tennessee roadside flower stand in a magazine. I contacted her and asked if she would mentor me and share resources about how she grew flowers. She shared great information!
I also took Sarah Funk’s Flower Farming Planner online course. I learned a ton there, as well as gained a friend! The other farmers in her class were wonderfully kind and encouraging.
The biggest challenge I have had is my lack of knowledge or background in growing. I have no previous gardening or agricultural experience so everything is new knowledge. I think learning about soil and fertilizing have been the greatest challenge. I am pursuing no-till farming.
Who/what helped you?
Online classes have been a lifesaver for me! I discovered that it is a form of learning which I really enjoy. Being taught by an expert, in an online self-paced forum to which I can also return any time I need a refresher – is perfect for me and the limited time I have. I also enjoy the social aspect of online classes, getting to know the teachers and other students and building relationships with other growers.
Online classes I have taken that have taught me a ton:
– Sarah Funk’s class “Flower Farmer Planner:”
– Lisa Mason Ziegler’s “Flower Farming School Online”
– Jonathan & Megan Leiss’ “The No-Till Microscale Flower Farm”
– Charlotte Smith/3 Cow Marketing “Farm Marketing from the Heart” and “Sales Made Simple” courses
Was there ever a point where you wanted to give up?
No, I have never wanted to give up. I have had big discouragements: ground squirrels ate most of what I direct seeded my first season. (I did not seed start indoors – didn’t know about that yet!)
When we moved to our current home, we cleared tons of blackberry/nettle/willow morass. Our property went from similar to Sleeping Beauty’s castle to a nice deer-fenced 1/8 acre growing space. I planted, so excited, and things tanked because I had near-zero nitrogen in the soil.
Understanding soil is for real and I did not get it, so that was frustrating. I’m hoping for much better results this summer after cover cropping and soil amendments but I know I still have a long way to go in soil-building and knowledge of this realm.
What has been the most fulfilling part of the process?
I’m a Type A perfectionist and usually don’t try things that I might fail at. Flower farming changed all that. It challenges me because it’s a huge learning curve, and even if I get it all right, nature can still throw a curveball and crops can fail! But I feel a great sense of growth in the fact that I’m 40 years old, learning something new that is often out of my comfort zone, and it brings me joy! I think it’s a great example to my children, and one of the very biggest positives is that it gets my husband and I outside together, tackling projects and brainstorming together. I love sharing this venture with him.
If you could go back and change one or two things that you did – what would those be?
It would be nice if I bought property that was flat and cleared and all ready to go – ha ha! Our space has limitations…but I think everyone’s growing area has pros and cons. I would have tried to learn no-till practices sooner than year 3, so that I would not have wasted time in year 2 planting seeds that struggled all season because they didn’t have the nutrients and healthy soil necessary to succeed.
What advice would you give to a 5-year younger version of yourself?
The advice I would give to a 5-year younger me is:
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. No matter who you are or whether you know flower farming or not, each year builds upon the one previous. We can’t go from zero to 60 in one year, so be at peace and give yourself grace with where you are in life and what you can accomplish. Every flower you grew was not there before, and even one flower given can change someone’s day – so whether you grow one small garden plot or acres of flowers – we have the ability to improve each season, and we always have the opportunity to share beauty with others, no matter how many flowers we produce.
Then two other pieces of advice not necessarily for a 5-year younger me, but what I would like to share with other flower farmers:
1) Try not to say no. Yes we need to have healthy boundaries, but I have been told no from other growers/vendors and it just didn’t make me feel good. If you have to say no, try to pair it with a yes or way to help in a different way. If someone reaches out, “no” is not a good answer and they likely won’t come back.
2) Be cooperative with other local growers! Yes, feeling like we are in competition can make us feel nervous or envious sometimes, but don’t let that feeling win. There are enough sales opportunities for everyone, and each grower will be very different and attract their own ideal customer. Someone who is the best customer of the farm down the street is attracted to buy there for a reason, and others who buy from you will be attracted to buy from you for a reason. People aren’t buying our flowers, they are buying US. Be yourself and “you do you” when growing, designing and selling and you can do that while still supporting, encouraging and cooperating with other growers! Lift all boats. We are stronger together.
Be sure to like Erin’s page, and check out her website, www.handpickedhomestead.com for more gorgeous flowers!